- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

To a man, Joe Gibbs’ decision to retire surprised his players. And to a man, they understood his reasons for walking away from the Washington Redskins.

“I always enjoyed playing for Coach Gibbs, but you can’t blame a 67-year-old man for wanting to spend more time with his grandkids,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said.

That’s especially true in this case: Gibbs’ 3-year-old grandson, Taylor, suffers from leukemia and has fought the disease for a year. Gibbs’ wife, Pat, didn’t move back to Washington with him in 2004, choosing instead to remain in North Carolina to be near son J.D. and his family.

“I thought Coach Gibbs would be here for the five years we both signed up for, but it’s understandable that he’s leaving with all the family stuff he’s got going on,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said.

The players also didn’t blame Gibbs for not informing them of his decision during Sunday’s meeting. They left that meeting thinking Gibbs would return next season, but Gibbs afterward flew to North Carolina to discuss the situation with his family.

“Maybe he thought he was going to come back a few days ago, and then he sat down with family and talked about it,” fullback Mike Sellers said.

The coaches and players have been Gibbs’ family the past four years, so safety Sean Taylor’s murder in November was like a death in the family.

“There’s not enough words to say what he’s done for this organization, especially this year,” kick returner Rock Cartwright said. “He pulled all of us together and brought us closer like a family. That’s why we were successful. It’s like night and day. We’ve been to the playoffs two times in the last four years.”

Taylor’s death occurred during the middle of on-field disaster — four straight losses and season-ending injuries to five starters. Cornerback Fred Smoot said no other coach could have guided a team through so much trauma and into the playoffs.

The players also recognized the toll the season took on their coach — particularly after a loss to the Buffalo Bills that ended with Gibbs being penalized for calling two straight timeouts and dropped the Redskins to 5-7.

“It was really tough on all of us going through what happened with Sean, but it was toughest on him because he’s the leader,” Daniels said. “He put so much on his shoulders after that Buffalo game, we were worried about his health.”

Like Daniels, center Casey Rabach said he signed with the Redskins in large part because he wanted to play for Gibbs.

“Sad is the word today, sad because of what Coach meant to this team and surprised that he’s leaving,” Rabach said. “But all good things must come to an end. He’s leaving the program in good shape. If we had the same kind of season we had had last year, I think he would still be here.”

Sellers said the Redskins let down their Hall of Fame coach — Gibbs went 140-65 overall in Washington with three Super Bowl titles from 1981 to 1992 — by going just 31-36, including the postseason, this time around.

“The man is awesome,” Sellers said. “We just didn’t do him justice. He’s a players’ coach. He listened to us. He knew what he needed.”

Almost all of the players who spoke want assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams to succeed Gibbs.

“Coach Williams is a great coach,” Sellers said. “All the players love him. It would be sad to see him not get [the job]. He’s a little radical. He’ll get in your face and cuss you out. But if you work for him, he’ll work for you.”

Williams went 17-31 as Buffalo’s coach, but he has enjoyed success directing defenses in Washington and for the Tennessee Titans.

“Gregg’s my choice hands down,” Daniels said. “He’s a leader. Look at what he’s done with this defense. We’ve been in the top 10 three out of four years. And he doesn’t just talk to the defense. He talks to the whole team before games. He’s our motivator. Joe prays with us, but Gregg gives the pregame talk. I would be upset if they picked someone from the outside. He wouldn’t know the players. We’ve got a good thing going here.”

Receiver Antwaan Randle El, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers under Bill Cowher, the leading outside candidate, wants to stay in-house.

“He’d be a good fit, but I don’t want to break up what we’ve got going here,” Randle El said.

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