So Long Coach Joe
By: Scott Hurrey
Category: Washington Redskins News
These are the word Joe Gibbs posted on his personal web site in late December. These are the words that should have given Redskin fans the first clue that their beloved Coach Joe was thinking of retirement.
Joe said during his farewell press conference that he felt like this year could be the year. He was as surprised as anyone that his battle-tested Redskins fell short of the big dance. It was one of the best examples of true leadership through one of the toughest seasons any coach, on any level, has had to face.
"I just think it was a hard year for all of us," Gibbs said. "It was the toughest for me. It may be hard for people to understand, but when you go through a season like that, for a while it's kind of hard to re-grasp reality."
It may have been Joe Gibbs' toughest test as a football coach, but he was more than up for the task. Despite adversity, a plethora of injuries, and the Washington Redskins having their proverbial backs to the wall, Coach Joe led his team on one of the most improbable runs in recent memory to beat out the Saints and Vikings for the sixth and final NFC playoff spot.
Right tackle Todd Wade gives all the credit to Gibbs: "Joe Gibbs is a good man. He helped get us through a tough year. We went through a lot and he composed himself well at the tough times and got us through it."
Leadership is one of the hallmarks that make Gibbs one of the best coaches in NFL history. He is a notorious work-a-holic, often working until the wee hours of the morning, only to take a nap on the pullout sofa in his office before jumping back at it. When he returned in January of 2004, he'd hoped things would be different. Alas, the "life" of an NFL coach is not very accommodating. Before he knew it, he was back to the lifestyle that brought him success -- not to mention poor health and strained familial relations -- in his first stint.
"I think that's the way it is supposed to be," Gibbs acknowledged. "I don't think I can do it any differently. And the coaches work so hard. We wouldn't know what to do if we went to bed at 11 p.m. I just couldn't make it go a different direction."
Last January, however, things took a different turn for the Gibbs family when Joe's 2-year-old grandson Taylor was diagnosed with leukemia. Joe continued to pour himself into making the Redskins franchise successful, but many began to wonder, if however briefly, how much longer the Hall of Famer would be able to stay focused on football.
Perhaps the Redskins brief post-season appearance made it easier for Gibbs to make the final decision. Making the playoffs in two of his four years far surpassed the paltry one playoff appearance since his initial retirement. Perhaps it made it more difficult knowing how close the team is to reaching his stated goal of winning another championship. Regardless, he made the decision he needed to make in order to look after his family. That being said, it took many on the team by surprise.
Monday morning on DC101's Elliot in the Morning, Chris Cooley told the radio personality he was fairly sure Gibbs would be back. When asked if had any inclination that Joe Gibbs would be stepping down, receiver Brandon Lloyd echoed the sentiment: "[I had] no clue! I was surprised to hear he retired."
Wade added, "I was surprised simply due to the way he held himself Sunday at our team meeting. Many of the guys were thinking he must have made up his mind to stay for another year. I don't know if he knew then, but [if he did] he did a good job of not showing it."
Alas, Redskin fans find them in a strange mix of loss and bewilderment. Loss, in the sense of grandparents moving to a retirement home in Florida and bewilderment in how quickly this decision came about. Just the day before, the message boards were abuzz with the thought that Coach Joe would be back to fulfill his commitment; dreams of another year of stability and hopes of better health in the offensive line and draft picks to fill depth. Now, the question on everyone's lips is who will take over: Gregg Williams, the apparent players' choice, Bill Cowher, the sexy name bounced about for every job opening, Russ Grimm, the former Hog and current offensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals, even Ö GASP Ö a college coach like Pete Carroll.
The average length of time for a coaching decision by the Snyder regime is 10 days, so all of these questions should be answered in a week and Redskins Nation can begin to move on. In the meantime, it is best to honor the memory of Joe Gibbs. No one has brought more honor to the Washington Redskins and to the profession of coaching. Yet Gibbs remains as humble as ever.
"I love the Redskins. I am a Redskin," Gibbs told the throngs of reporters at his Tuesday afternoon presser. "It's the greatest sports franchise in the world. It has the greatest fans in the world and it's a place where football is really important. That is the way I treated it."
Well, Joe, most Redskins fans think that this organization had the honor of having the greatest coach in the world ... twice. Dan Snyder certainly agrees. When asked if he could replace Joe Gibbs, Snyder answered succinctly, "You can never replace Joe Gibbs."
The folks in Redskin Country agree.
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