The rumors started, and it didn’t seem real; then it was confirmed, and I still had my doubts. A press conference followed, and it seemed, at best, surreal. Eventually, the unbelievably fabulous truth sunk in: our coach, the coach, was back. Joe Gibbs was back at the helm of the Redskins! Only he wasn’t. I mean, it was Joe Gibbs (and not a clone or long lost twin), but he returned in an altered form.
Cutting through the euphoria of the “welcome back” press conference and pep rally were the first signs that the nearly dozen years since his retirement had significantly change the icon. His mannerisms were different: he seemed more relaxed, even jovial; he let out a frequent, cackling laugh that was unfamiliar. Gibbs 1.0 was far more serious and subdued. He never seemed comfortable, and acted as if one bad loss would cost him his job. This version of Coach Gibbs seemed at ease, almost giddy!
The truth was he had changed; if not as an individual, then certainly as a coach. The second time around, Gibbs ran his program more as the CEO, and delegated tremendous authority to his staff. His attention to detail wasn’t as precise, his magic touch with the offensive nuances of the game had eroded and his infamous ability to make halftime adjustments had practically faded to black. His personnel moves were questionable and often reeked of a “win now” philosophy. Gibbs’ one honest attempt to set the franchise up for many season’s to come — trading up to draft Jason Campbell — was a failure.
There was also an underlying discomfort about the motivation for his return. Gibbs was paid handsomely for his four-season swan song, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his return to coach at FedEx Field coincided with the addition of a third car, sponsored by FedEx, to his NASCAR stable.
Still, Gibbs 2.0 wasn’t devoid of all the magic from his prior version. His ability to inspire and lead men remained. In four years, he doubled the number playoff appearances (two) and equaled the number of playoff wins (one) the team had enjoyed in the 11 years since his retirement.
Perhaps his greatest contribution and the most memorable aspect of his second tenure was the impeccable leadership he displayed while managing through the tragic death of Sean Taylor. The class, grace and leadership he displayed during that horrific situation were impeccable and vintage Joe Gibbs.
On second thought, maybe he didn’t change that much.