Ultimately, Joe Gibbs chose playing Scrabble with his grandchildren in Charlotte over coaching the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach who returned to the Redskins in January 2004, retired from coaching for the second time during a press conference yesterday at Redskin Park. He also stepped down as team president but will remain as a special adviser to team owner Dan Snyder.
Photos:Coach Gibbs, then and now
Gibbs, 67, made the decision at about 2:30 a.m. yesterday after meeting with Snyder for nearly eight hours. He informed the coaching staff during a 15-minute meeting yesterday morning.
“I just did not feel like I could make the kind of commitment that I needed to make going forward this year knowing what my family situation was,” he told the audience in a packed auditorium. “I felt like they needed me.”
A day after the Redskins’ season ended with a 35-14 defeat to Seattle in an NFC wild card, Gibbs flew to his home in Charlotte, N.C., to visit with his wife, Pat, his two sons and two daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren.
Mr. Snyder attempted to persuade Gibbs to return for the final year of his contract but soon realized any attempts would prove futile.
Gibbs’ second tour with the team ends with a 31-36 record (including postseason) and two trips to the playoffs in four years. In all, he coached the Redskins for 16 years and was 171-101 (including 17-7 in the playoffs) and won three Super Bowls. Gibbs’ .629 winning percentage ranks third all-time, behind George Halas and Don Shula.
In the 11 years between Gibbs’ tenures, the Redskins made the playoffs just once. He arrived after the uninspiring two-year tenure of coach Steve Spurrier to steady Mr. Snyder’s sinking ship and, for the most part, was successful.
“There are three words that come to mind: Appreciation, admiration and respect,” Mr. Snyder said. “I know from working so closely with Joe that the coaches, scouts and entire organization have so much respect for Joe, admire him and have an appreciation for him.”
Mr. Snyder said a coaching search will begin immediately for Gibbs’ replacement. Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams was the clear choice of players at the complex yesterday. Former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, who spent his first season away from the sideline working for the CBS NFL studio show, also should expect a phone call.
Gibbs’ family has remained in North Carolina since he returned to coaching, and he spoke often this season about how much valuable time with them he was missing.
All of that weighed on Gibbs’ mind when he flew north Monday afternoon.
“Since I came here four years ago, my family situation has changed dramatically,” he said. “Having gone through that change and realizing the only way I know to do this job is going after it night and day, [my family] was something I thought about all the time. When I got on the plane to come back, I had a really strong feeling in my heart of what I felt like I should do.”
On Monday, Mr. Snyder and Gibbs returned to Redskin Park at 8:50 p.m. after dinner and talked for nearly five more hours.
“I tried very, very hard to convince Joe to not retire,” Mr. Snyder said.
Players received word of Gibbs’ retirement in the form of text messages and phone calls. After hearing his speech to the team on Sunday, players said they expected him to return.
“I judge everything off the exit meetings and I felt pretty confident he would be back,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “He’s the greatest head coach I’ve played for. Sometimes, people forget what he did in the past. He’s a legendary coach. There aren’t a lot of guys who can say they played for a Hall of Fame coach.”
Last year was a roller coaster both on and off the field for Gibbs.
Back home, his grandson Taylor, now 3 years old, was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2007.
His final team was inspiring at its best, starting 5-3 and closing the regular season with four consecutive wins to clinch a playoff berth. But in between those runs came four consecutive losses, myriad injuries to starters (six of the original 22) and the Nov. 27 death from a gunshot wound of safety Sean Taylor, arguably the team’s most talented young player.
Gibbs was criticized throughout the season for his in-game management, his handling of timeouts and meddling in Al Saunders’ play calling.
In the first game after Sean Taylor’s death, when Gibbs cost Washington 15 yards for calling consecutive timeouts against Buffalo, moving the Bills’ game-winning field goal attempt from 51 to 36 yards, the general consensus was the game had passed Gibbs by. But just as quickly, the Redskins won their final four games to reach the playoffs and the general consensus was that Gibbs would return in 2008 — if not for longer.
Gibbs always intended to fulfill his five-year commitment and to ease his own workload during his second tenure. He quickly discovered the hours hadn’t changed, and after four years, a change in lifestyle was required.
“I had an original idea when I came back that I could do it differently, and there would be ways to take the load off,” Gibbs said. “As soon as I got back, it became real obvious that wasn’t going to work, and before all was said and done, I could never do it any differently. And that’s what it’s supposed to be.”
Gibbs will not retain an office at Redskin Park for his role as special adviser but said he will assist Mr. Snyder if asked. His son, J.D., will remain in charge of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Joe Gibbs’ new full-time job will be as a grandfather.
Asked whether it was a good day or bad day, Gibbs said: “I think it’s probably mixed emotions. There is certainly a part of me that wanted to come back here and win it all. But I’m excited about [retiring] because this is what I feel I should be doing and where I should be going.”
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