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Gibbs’ First

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Jim Gehman

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During his two tours as the head coach of the Redskins, totaling 16 seasons [1981-92, 2004-07], Joe Gibbs compiled a 154-94 regular-season record, was 17-7 in the playoffs, and has his fingerprints on the three Lombardi Trophies that were brought back to Washington following victories in Super Bowls XVII, XXII, and XXVI.

His career, however, certainly didn’t begin with signs that one day his bust would be on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Which, of course, it is.

Named as the 20th head coach of the Redskins in January, 1981, Gibbs opened his career on Washington’s sideline with five straight losses. To amplify the disappointing start, four of those losses were at the hands of division rivals.

However, this Tuesday will mark the 30th anniversary of Gibbs’ first victory. On Oct. 11, 1981, he took his winless team to meet the 1-4 Chicago Bears; and behind John Riggins’ 126 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Neal Olkewicz, the Redskins blew out of the Windy City with a 24-7 victory.

A few who played for the rookie coach that season shared their memories of Gibbs, and are among the 81 players and coaches [73 from one-on-one interviews] whose anecdotes and remembrances are featured in the book “Then Gibbs Said to Riggins…”.


“I don’t think you ever know what you’ve got until it actually gets there. In ’81, he did what many new coaches do. He came in and really cleaned house, [getting rid of] a lot of the remnants of the 1980 team from the Over-the-Hill Gang. You had a lot of guys from the George Allen era, and he really got rid of a lot of them.

“He tried to implement that 'Air Coryell’ offense. He got [running back John] Riggins back from his one-year sabbatical. And after five games, we were 0-5, and I think he realized that he needed to fit the offense to the personnel as opposed to tying the offense to who’s ever out there. Instead of throwing the ball 55 times a game, we started running it 55 times a game.”

Jeff Bostic, center


“A great offensive mind! I’d give him a 98 as far as coaching ability. I’m not going to give anybody a 100. But he definitely deserves a 100, for sure. I would give him a 100 for aligning his assistant coaches around him. I think that was the biggest difference.”

Monte Coleman, linebacker


“Everybody contributed to what we were doing. We were all on the same page, we all communicated with each other, and we knew what we were there to do. Everybody knew what their responsibility was, and we knew what we had to do to get it done.

“And we had a great leader in Joe Gibbs. I think the way he operates the system, he built everything on the foundation of family. He wasn’t afraid to delegate authority to his [assistant] coaches. He was like, 'Do what you do best, and we’ll work it from there.’ He didn’t have a lot of rules and regulations. He basically said, 'Hey, just use common sense. If you don’t have common sense, you probably won’t be here.’

“You respected him. He has a captivating presence. When he stands in front of a room – without screaming and yelling – he can bring you to the point where you’re ready to just go out and do whatever you need to do to get it done.”

Darryl Grant, defensive tackle


“I think Joe Gibb was so successful because he had a direct line to God. This man had a faith that was unshakable. He was a fair man. He was a good man. One thing I liked about Joe Gibbs, you see a lot of coaches, they do a lot of ranting and raving, they embarrass players on the field. Joe Gibbs would never embarrass a player publicly. If you did something or didn’t do your job, he’d call you into the office and sit down and talk with you. He’d treat you like a man. He’d give you a chance to sort of succeed or fail.

“I had a learning disability, and that whole coaching staff had a lot of tolerance with me. They sort of treated me with kids’ gloves. They kept encouraging me, 'Hey, you know the plays.’ And even when I didn’t know the plays, they kept me on that football field. And so that’s what I liked about Joe Gibbs.

“Plus, he had a heart for all kinds of people: the poor and the sick and the suffering addicts, alcoholics who were out there. He’d started taking me when I was a rookie, going to these sorts of halfway houses talking to these kids. Here was this white guy going to this black community and sitting there talking to them about the Lord and the Bible and reading Bible verses with them. So I had a lot of respect for him and I felt like he brought me along to be sort of like a father figure and sort of show me the way. He was just a different kind of guy.”

Dexter Manley, defensive end
 

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