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Family first

Gibbs retiring despite love of football and his team

Posted: Tuesday January 8, 2008 11:15AM; Updated: Tuesday January 8, 2008 12:38PM
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Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with the Redskins in the 1980s and '90s.
Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with the Redskins in the 1980s and '90s.


Joe Gibbs will announce his retirement this afternoon for the second time as coach of the Washington Redskins. It's a family decision as much as a football decision. Gibbs' three-year-old grandson, Taylor, is being treated for leukemia, and Gibbs has been torn about the time requirements of football versus family over the past year.

I spent 30 minutes with Gibbs during an NBC interview last Thursday, focusing mostly on the impact of Sean Taylor's death. And I can tell you that the decision to retire -- made late Monday night after a long meeting with owner Daniel Snyder -- had to have been extremely difficult.

Gibbs really likes the team he assembled. He'd finally imported the right mix of veterans (linebacker London Fletcher, a maturing corner in Fred Smoot, guard Pete Kendall) to go with a smart old quarterback (Todd Collins) and a young quarterback (Jason Campbell) he thought he could win with. "Sometimes you have to coach a team hard,'' he told me, "and sometimes a team just sort of coaches itself. This team is playing for Sean right now, and playing hard every day. I love this team because it has taken on such a mature attitude. The guys just don't want to let each other down.''

The team could have splintered in the wake of the horrible loss to Buffalo in Week 13 -- made worse, obviously, by Gibbs' decision to call a second straight timeout on the decisive field-goal try by the Bills, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. But all Gibbs felt in the aftermath of that was support from his players.

They buried Taylor the next day, and three days later started their highly improbable four-game winning streak and run to a wild-card playoff spot. The season ended with a 35-14 loss in Seattle on Saturday. The fact that the Redskins stayed together was a tribute to two things -- the players' drive to win for Taylor and his family foremost, and the players' respect for Gibbs.

Gibbs admitted he learned a lot from the blown call against Buffalo. A deeply religious man, Gibbs admitted he'd been trying to sound convincing that he was coaching because God had told him to. Now he admitted that maybe he'd been a little selfish in coaching because it was because he wanted to do it, not because God wanted him to do it. And he determined after that game -- his explanation to me -- that he now would truly put his life in God's hands. I tell you this story because I believe Gibbs, in all likelihood, prayed about what to do, and there's a good chance the answer to his prayer was that God was telling him it was time to be with his family.

We don't write things like this very often in this business. But devout people say and feel devout things and are driven by their relationship with their God. I think Gibbs is one of those people. And I think it had something to do with his decision to retire.

I anticipate Gibbs will take time with his family now and return to the family business in North Carolina -- Joe Gibbs Racing, winner of three NASCAR championships. He'll be able to control his fate there more than he could in his second go-round in football.

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