- - Sunday, May 26, 2019

For a guy who is uncomfortable with awards and accolades, Joe Gibbs had a bad habit — he keeps getting them.

Not just trinkets mind you now — but the stuff of legends.

The legend of Coach Gibbs was perhaps solidified at a level unprecedented by anyone else who ever called himself coach when the news came out last week that Gibbs was elected to NASCAR Hall of Fame last week.

In the Hall of Fame business, that makes him a double-dipper, with a Gibbs bust already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

If he wants, Gibbs, 78, can visit both of them in the same day — a 450-mile drive, nothing for the head of one of the most successful racing teams in NASCAR history.

This is leadership legacy unmatched in American professional sports — immortalized as a leader in two major halls of fame, both of them for creating championship teams. There have been athletes who excelled in two sports so much they were honored in those sports’ respective halls of fame — Jim Brown is in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame — but this is about coaches, leaders, architects of championships.

Gibbs seems to stand alone now arguably as the greatest coach we’ve ever seen in American sports.

The debate about the greatest football coach of all time has always included Bill Belichick, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and others. But Gibbs has to be considered perhaps the greatest football coach of all time because of the unique and unmatched way he won three Super Bowls as the Washington Redskins head coach — with three different quarterbacks, none of whom are or will be with him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That eliminates the question that is often brought up with Belichick, who has won all six Super Bowls with the same quarterback — Tom Brady. The other candidates have the same qualifier as well — Lombardi is married to Bart Starr, Walsh is connected to Joe Montana.

Not Gibbs. He stands alone with his three Super Bowl rings.

The success of his racing team also came with different drivers and different personalities winning races and championships, with Gibbs being the common denominator — Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr., among them. This time, though, Gibbs will have company in this Hall of Fame — Labonte and Stewart were both voted in with Gibbs.

Of course, Gibbs deflected credit for his NASCAR Hall of Fame legacy when the announcement was made last week, crediting the people who have driven and worked for him since he started his racing team in 1991 — the same year he won his third Super Bowl with Washington. Two years later — his first year away from football — the Gibbs team, with Jarrett, won the Daytona 500. His team has won 164 Cup Series races and four NASCAR championships.

“You are looking for gifted people when you are a coach or the owner of a race team and there are very few guys that can fit that bill,” Gibbs told reporters.

So if there are very few guys that fit that bill, why has Gibbs managed to keep finding these gifted people in two different sports with multiple championships?

The gift is Gibbs, who creates an atmosphere filled with class and competition that consumes those who are fortunate enough to be part of it.

In a morning press conference at his 1996 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, Gibbs delivered the same message he did last week when he got the news he would be honored in the NASCAR hall.

“The one thing about pro sports is that you’re not going to win if you’re missing any link,” he told reporters. “What we had there (in Washington) was at the right time at the right place.”

OK, one time, maybe you could make the case that you benefitted by the circumstances around you. But a second time?

No — the link is Gibbs. The right place at the right time is wherever Gibbs is.

In 1976, it was St. Louis.

Gibbs had become a good handball player when he was in San Diego earlier in his career. But in the 1970s, racquetball was the hot sport and Gibbs tried his hand at it while coaching on the Cardinals staff.

He won the racquetball national championship for men 35 and over in 1976.

It is indeed a crowded trophy case in the Gibbs household.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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