Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Special Edition: The Return of the King

The news broke sometime late Tuesday and flew around the Internet at warp speed, with most television outlets reporting early Wednesday. It was front and center on at 8:45 AM on my monitor. I almost gasped when I read the headline: Joe Gibbs To Return As Coach of Redskins. I read it again: Joe Gibbs To Return As Coach of Redskins.

The Man With The R Hat is back.

I don’t believe I am making an overstatement when I say the following: this is the best news Redskin fans have heard in TEN YEARS. We’ve endured Petitbon, Shottenheimer, Robiske, Shablotnik, Shagnasty, and some guy named Spurrier since Gibbs retired. We have but one playoff appearance to show for it (and, in the spirit of the poor management which have characterized these years, we foolishly dropped a very competent quarterback after the loss. His name? Brad Johnson). The glory days of Riggins, The Fun Bunch, Art Monk, Darrell Green, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Mike Nelms, Dave Butz, and yes, even The Smurfs have faded into ESPN Classic memories. The Washington faithful have had next to nothing to cheer for since 1992, and have watched, aghast, as this proud franchise slipped from perennial competitor to, well, Steve Spurrier-led doofuses.

Ah, but no more.

The Second Coming of Gibbs means so many positive things for the Washington Redskins, it’s almost insane. This is win/win/win/win. Let’s run ‘em down…

Impact on the Redskins: I will forgive LaVar “Call Me Ray” Arrington’s nonchalant answers on SportsCenter yesterday when asked about Gibbs’ potential impact on the team. LaVar was 14 when Gibbs retired. Those of us who are fortunate (and old) enough to have seen the 1982, 1987, and 1991 World Champion and 1983 NFC Champion teams know that the 2004 Redskins will look nothing like the Redskins of recent years.

You can bet your sweet patootie that there will not be late arrivals to practice, cell phones ringing during meetings, and egoistic fistfights. The sideshow ends now. Snyder will probably start charging $10 for fans to attend practices again…Finally, consistency and stability return to Redskins football. The “leadership” of five coaches in five years under Snyder has spelled discontent and distrust among the younger players. In rides Gibbs, with four Super Bowl appearances, three wins. If that doesn’t garner respect—in the same manner as Tuna Parcells earned in Dallas—then nothing will. The players must respect Gibbs and his system, and they should welcome the organizational schemes he brings. After all these years of fly-by-night nonsense, it’s time to get this team back in order.

Gibbs is a very intelligent disciplinarian and leader. Sure, the game of football has changed since he last strapped on the headset. But the fundamentals of the game (tackling, protecting the quarterback, running the ball) still hold value, and this is what Gibbs emphasized in his time. He’s also wise enough to know that he needs sound advice around him. Hence, he’s adding Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator and Joe “Old School” Bugel as assistant coach and offensive line coach. Bugel, you may remember, orchestrated the run-blocking monsters named The Hogs.

There was a hilarious moment on ESPN News when former Skins quarterback Joe “Talkalot” Theisman encouraged Patrick “Pharaoh” Ramsey on the future of the offense. Theisman, speaking to Ramsey, laughed that he (Ramsey) would learn a new phrase this season: pass protection. Ramsey stared blankly into the camera as if he really had never heard of the concept. Ramsey smiled weakly and rubbed his chin. Young sir, you will see…you will see…

Impact on the NFL: I can sum it up in two words: instant credibility. The NFL now faces a Redskins team led by a proven winner whose teams have won 67% of their games. We had the talent, but now we have a Hall of Fame coach calling the shots. That’s a scary combination. (Ravens fans, since you’ve never seen one, a Hall of Fame coach is someone who knows what to do to win big games. For example, running the ball when you have the leagues’ worst passing attack. Ahem.) No more will Washington be a laughingstock, characterized by a deep-pocket owner and underachieving players. We’re back in the mix of contenders. Instantly.

The NFC East will, as a result, returned to its days of the 1980s when it produced physically tough, dangerous teams. I think we have the potential to be the Division Nobody Wants to Play. NFC Least no more. How cool is it that the East now has Coughlin in New York, Andy Reed in Philadelphia, Tuna Parcells in Dallas, and Gibbs in Washington? Can you imagine the hype when Dallas and Washington play next year? I’m already excited. I know the bean-counters and advertising executives at the National Football League are equally excited.

Impact on the owner: The hiring of Gibbs as coach and president is the one move that Daniel Snyder will forever be remembered for. (Heck, Sonny Jurgensen said this is the most exciting thing ever to happen to Redskins football.) Say what you will—and much has been said—of Snyder’s cash-dropping, fantasy-team building of the last five years. The truth of the matter is that he really does love the Skins and wants to win a championship. He simply has little idea on how to realistically achieve that goal.
I think the Gibbs hiring is proof that maybe, just maybe, Snyder has gotten it right. Either way, if Mr. Snyder has an ounce of sense he will allow Gibbs to construct, control, and complete the Redskins. He can then act like a true owner: smoking cigars, patrolling the sidelines in close games, and holding Super Bowl trophies.

Impact on the future: Despite what the 5-11 record showed this year, the Skins really have few holes to fill. That’s what makes Gibbs such a great find: he’ll be the glue to hold all this talent together. Last week I was leery that no free agent would want to come to the chaotic Washington organization; now no player would dare brush off the Skins. The Skins need a solid running back, and former Cincinnati Bengal Corey Dillon fits the bill nicely. Imagine Ramsey, Coles, and Dillon on offense. Presuming we can pass and run block, that’s a very hot offensive combination. The Skins also need some defensive line help. We lost Bruce Smith to retirement, but Lord knows we had no pass rush when he was there. I betcha Warren Sapp would love to play for Williams and Gibbs. If Trotter, Arrington, and our linebackers play their assignments, and Smoot and Bailey play to potential we could have a top 10 defense once again. This is getting scary.

Some Cowchip fans (you know who you are) have asked whether Gibbs will have the same impact on his team as Parcells had in his return year. “You think you’ll get to the playoffs and 10 wins?” Maybe. I think there will be a time of adjustment (Gibbs went 0-5 to start his first season, but finished 8-8). But I like the talent on this squad. I say we go 9-7, make the playoffs as a wild card, and then, well, who knows what will happen in the playoffs.

And if that doesn’t happen, who cares? The addition of Joe Gibbs to Washington football is a veritable godsend. It’s Fall already in D.C. People are hugging in the streets. Burgundy “R” hats are flying off shelves. Suddenly, all is well with the universe. (All we need for true celestial harmony is the return of The Cosby Show/Family Ties/Cheers sitcom lineups.) I love that Gibbs is both coach and president. Henceforth, he shall be referred to as Chief Joe Gibbs.

Hail to the Chief, and Hail to the Redskins!