The other day I received an e-mail from someone inquiring about the next head coach of the Washington Redskins. And I immediately dismissed it because the e-mailer was asking whether Dan Snyder had the name Joe Gibbs at the top of his list of candidates, and whether Gibbs would come back, like Vince Lombardi came back, like Dick Vermeil came back, like Bill Parcells has come back a time or two.
I dismissed it because not only has Gibbs said repeatedly over the last 11 years that he wasn't coming back to coach, he has been demonstrably happy in his life outside of football. Most coaches, when they leave football, can never again satisfy their competitive urges. But Gibbs has been as big a success in auto racing as he was coaching the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories and four Super Bowl appearances in 12 seasons.
Everybody has seemed more interested in Gibbs coaching the Redskins again than Gibbs himself. And by everybody I mean seemingly every man, woman and child who has rooted for the Washington NFL franchise. It had become a cliche to mention Gibbs's name in connection with coaching pro football. So I dismissed the e-mailer because why would this time be any different from all the other times, like when Jack Kent Cooke fired Richie Petitbon, or when Snyder fired Norv Turner or Marty Schottenheimer?
So this news that Gibbs apparently is seriously considering coming back to coach the Redskins is stunning. As the Redskins devolved from champion to contender to challenger to dysfunctional chump, the cry for Gibbs to come back has turned desperate. With every losing season and this descent into football hell, Gibbs went from genius to football god to, well, savior.
The Packers have won since Lombardi, the Giants and Patriots have reached Super Bowls since Parcells, the Eagles have threatened to win since Vermeil. But the Redskins have been to one lousy playoff game since Gibbs left. And when Steve Spurrier resigned last week, the desperate cry went out one more time from the sycophants who wondered who out there reminds anybody of Coach Gibbs. D.C. has never gotten over him leaving. The late Shirley Povich might disagree, but it seems to me the pecking order of sports icons around here is Gibbs first, Walter Johnson second.
Well, one would assume that the only thing better than getting a potential Joe Gibbs is getting the real Joe Gibbs.
Not only did he retire to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he grew in stature because he didn't come back to the sideline, because we saw his full personality on NBC for a couple of years in that odd-couple pairing with Mike Ditka on the NFL pregame show, because he went down to North Carolina and conquered NASCAR, a sport completely unrelated to football. If Gibbs does this, if he comes back to coach the Redskins, he comes back so much larger a figure than he left.
He comes back so large that Snyder, the man who is orchestrating the deal to bring him back, wouldn't dare interfere because Snyder idolizes Gibbs, speaks his name in a hushed tone on every mention.
It's going to take some time to get used to this, if it happens. It's going to take some time to figure out what it means after the final champagne is downed and the hangovers subside.
See, Gibbs left the NFL for all the right reasons, because he could see that free agency was going to prevent teams from staying together as long as he had kept together the core of the Redskins teams that played in those four Super Bowls. He left to see his boys before they became fathers themselves. He grew up because he'd had enough of sleeping in the office a couple of nights a week.
He left before there were cell phones for players to bring to meetings.
Maybe, just maybe, he sees 67-year-old Vermeil winning one Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams and threatening to win another with the Kansas City Chiefs, and thinks he should take one more stab at it. Maybe Gibbs sees 62-year-old Parcells come back to whip the Cowboys into shape and it just kills him.
Gibbs was here in the Washington area in mid-October, at the request of The Post's chairman, Don Graham, to raise money for D.C. public high school kids to attend college. At a barbeque that evening, he talked rather passionately about the Redskins, about giving Spurrier time to implement his program. Maybe a few people read something into how animated Gibbs was when he talked about the Redskins for those few moments. Maybe something in Gibbs was sparked because he was in a room with Darrell Green, Art Monk, Doc Walker and perhaps a few more of his former players. I didn't, but perhaps should have. Maybe even Gibbs felt a fire burning that day.
His sons are grown men now. He has spent more than decade playing and working with them. He's 63 and if he's going to save the Redskins, this is the time to try. Snyder can buy a California King bed to put in Gibbs's office if need be. As long as there is competition to engage, there is something to prove. And if Snyder and Gibbs can come to an agreement on coaching and, presumably, running the football business of the Washington Redskins, then everybody in town can finally stop looking for the next Joe Gibbs.