January 8, 2008
One of the NFL’s classiest steps down
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, a Christian, retires to spend more time with family.
Despite his inability to find the old coaching magic that led the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl crowns from 1982-91, Joe Gibbs will always be remembered as one of the classiest guys to ever grace an NFL sideline.
Gibbs, a devout Christian, announced his retirement Tuesday as the Redskins head coach and president, just three days after Washington lost its first-round playoff game at Seattle. His decision, with one year left on a five-year contract, stunned the team.
In a press conference at Redskins complex, Gibbs said that family commitments - including a 3-year-old grandson being treated for leukemia - led to his decision.
"My family situation has dramatically changed [in recent years]," Gibbs said. "The only way to do this job [as an NFL coach] is to go after it night and day; it takes every minute. Having weighed that . . . I felt like with my family, the most important thing I'll leave on this earth are my kids, grandkids, and the influence I have on others. I felt like my family needed me."
(Watch Gibbs' Tuesday afternoon announcement at Redskins.com.)
It was a difficult season for Gibbs and the team, who struggled on and off the field - especially with the November murder of defensive star Sean Taylor - before rallying for four straight wins to make the playoffs. Alas, the playoff loss to Seattle ended what many had hoped would be a "Hollywood ending" for the team from the nation's capital.
Gibbs, 67, has a dual reputation as a committed family and as a hard worker who spent long hours at the team complex - away from his family - during the season. But his retirement clearly shows he has decided to put family first.
"It was the toughest (season) for me," Gibbs said Monday, a day before announcing his retirement. "When you go through a season like that, for a while it's hard to regrasp reality."
The reality was that in the last four years - his second stint as the Skins' skipper - Gibbs was unable to lead the team to the dominance it had enjoyed in his first stint from 1981-92, when Washington went 124-60 and won Super Bowls in 1982, '87, and '91. Gibbs retired in 1992 to turn his attention to auto racing, where he co-owns a team featuring NASCAR stars Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. Gibbs vowed to never return to the NFL, and in 1996, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Redskins floundered for years as owner Dan Snyder went through six coaches and hundreds of players in search of a winning formula. Snyder ultimately turned back to Gibbs in 2004, offering $27.5 million and for a five-year deal to coax him out of retirement. Gibbs signed on, and while the team improved in the last four years, they never regained their dominance of the 1980s, going 31-36 and 1-2 in the playoffs.
But as a longtime Redskins fan, I know that the "reality" for Gibbs involved more than just numbers. He will be remembered not just as a great coach, but as a terrific leader and mentor to his many players over the years. Yes, they'll remember how he made them better football players. But they'll also remember how he made them better men.
Mark Moring grew up in Virginia, where it's almost mandatory to be a Washington Redskins fan. He is editor of ChristianityTodayMovies.com.