When Washington Redskin coach Joe Gibbs unexpectedly announced his retirement last Friday, the NFL lost a good man. Call it burnout, stress meltdown, stop-and-smell-the-roses syndrome or whatever you want, it snatched the 52-year-old Gibbs and made him realize that there is more to life than 100-hour workweeks spent analyzing the proper deployment of the H-back.
Though Gibbs admitted to having concerns about his health—something he described as "migraine equivalent" was depriving him of sleep—at his press conference he said he simply wanted to spend more time with his wife, Pat, and sons, J.D., 24, and Coy, 20. But he was really getting out because his competitive nature wouldn't let him do his work at a sane level. Sleep problems? Who wouldn't have sleep problems if, like Gibbs, he bedded down at least three nights a week in his office? And how would anyone have time for family matters when the dread Dallas Cowboys were coming to town in just...let's see...seven months?
So after 12 years and three Super Bowl championships, Gibbs is kicking away his $1.6 million salary to kick back and relax. Gibbs did say, "I've got to get a job," and while he has cleared up the debts he ran up in some real estate investments, he is not independently wealthy. But family will be his first priority. Coy will be a junior linebacker at Stanford, and Joe says, "I want to sit in the stands and just be a dad."
What's more, by spending more time with his NASCAR team ( Dale Jarrett recently drove a Gibbs stock car to victory at the Daytona 500), he'll be around J.D., who works with the team in Charlotte. He also says he would like to train to run in a marathon and "to be involved in sonic godly work." Other than those things, though, the low-key Gibbs says he doesn't have a clue as to what the future holds for him.
The past is down in stone, however, and it says that Gibbs was a remarkable success in his previous profession. An assistant at the college and pro level before joining the Redskins as head coach in 1981, Gibbs finished with a 124-60 regular-season record (12th best in NFL history) and a 16-5 playoff mark (third best). His creative coaching and attention to the limits and strengths of his players enabled him to win three Super Bowls with three dissimilar quarterbacks—Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. Most important, his quiet dignity seemed to rub off on his players, allowing them to focus on the game at hand rather than on locker room politics. "In a game with a lot of liars and cheaters and crooks, he was different," said defensive tackle Eric Williams.
Still, Gibbs was perceived as bland by some critics, suffering in the charisma department beside louder, wackier coaches and owners like Mike Ditka and the Redskins' own Jack Kent Cooke. He was no George Halas or Vince Lombardi or even Don Shula, critics chided, as though Gibbs aspired to be anything more than a workaholic plugger. Flash was never Gibbs's style; he was as boring as a dog-eared Bible, the only book he may have read more often than the Washington playbook. But his fairness and diligence had a way of affecting even those who were nothing like him. "He has been a friend, a confidant, an aide of incomparable professional talent and wisdom," said Cooke last week. "He has simply been the best head coach in the history of the Redskins."
Asked not long ago what his favorite movie was—rumor had it that it was Pa lion. part of which he showed to his troops to fire them up before they played the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC wild-card game in January—Gibbs shocked at least one reporter by saying his second-favorite Hick of all time was the nutty Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And No. 1?
"Young Frankenstein," replied Gibbs. He laughed just saying it.
May his chuckles go on and on. He has earned them all.