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Michael Silver
May 31, 2004
Even Joe Gibbs admits that he and his coaching cronies may be crazy for returning to Washington to try reviving the Redskins
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May 31, 2004

Joe And The Space Cowboys

Even Joe Gibbs admits that he and his coaching cronies may be crazy for returning to Washington to try reviving the Redskins

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Adds Bugel, "We like to wear tearaway jerseys. At least, that's what we said after Joe tore the shirt off Rennie Simmons one night in the '80s."

Chances are Gibbs won't have to be quite as heavy-handed with his players. Though he is another generation removed from the last team he coached, there is no reason to think that Gibbs's candor, self-deprecating humor and demand for fundamentally sound football won't be well-received by these Redskins. "We want to be disciplined," guard Randy Thomas says. "Last year we weren't, and it showed. Stuff would go on that made you say, 'Man, I cannot believe that just happened. Is this the NFL?' "

"Guys on this team are going to walk through fire for him," says safety Matt Bowen. "Before, those three [Super Bowl] trophies in the lobby were just something for us to look at; now we understand they are there because of him. We expect to win because that's all Coach Gibbs knows—he won in football, and he won in racing, too."

In NASCAR, Gibbs learned to manage a team from an owner's perspective, which should make him more tolerant of the marketing-related distractions that provoked his ire during his first NFL stint. Gibbs's approach to building a racing team (hiring two drivers to compete under separate sponsorship umbrellas with technology and money winnings shared throughout the organization) helped provide a level of success (40 race wins in 12 seasons) that exceeded everyone's expectations but his own. "The thing that amazed me the most about NASCAR was how close it was to football," he says. "Even the numbers are roughly the same—a core of about 180—and it mostly comes down to how you handle people."

Some have questioned whether Gibbs can thrive in today's NFL, what with the advent of the salary cap and unfettered free agency. No longer will he be able to stockpile veterans, seamlessly cut ties with high-priced disappointments or stash extra bodies on injured reserve. Certainly, Gibbs has some catching up to do, but football strategy should be the least of his worries. Remember, this was a coach who rivaled Bill Walsh in offensive innovation, bringing the H-back into vogue and popularizing the bunch formation, in which three wideouts line up in a cluster within a yard of one another.

"He was so far ahead of people in terms of putting stress on defenses that you can still see teams like the Rams and the Chiefs having success with variations of his principles," Williams says. "His offense was full of motion and varied formations, and the things he was doing with maximum protection and two-man routes in the passing game confounded people. The way he runs his offense, with the power ground game and avoidance of turnovers, it's a dream scenario being his defensive coordinator."

Predictably, there are stories to support Williams's assertion. "From listening to him talk about the old days," Williams says, "the only thing he's going to suggest on defense is to come walking down the sideline during the game screaming, 'Stop 'em! Stop 'em!' "

Until then, for Gibbs and his fellow Space Cowboys, it's all systems are go.

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