Jan 22, 2006, 7:47 PM EDT
According to reports on ESPN.com and elsewhere, Joe Gibbs will hand the play calling duties over to new offensive coordinator Al Saunders next season. This is not a particularly shocking development. Everybody knew that Daniel Snyder was not going to cut Saunders checks worth $2 million a year to be one of those quality control assistants. Calling the plays is a duty suitable for Saunders’ pay grade.
The real news here, of course, is not that Saunders is getting the keys to the car, but that Joe Gibbs is handing them over to him voluntarily. He decided on his own that running the offense and calling the plays was something that would be best done by someone else. He got on the plane, went to Kansas City and, in getting the deal with Saunders done, he fired himself as offensive coordinator.
It’s extremely rare for a head coach to relinquish control like that. Most of them have to have the headset that transmits into the quarterback’s earpiece pried from their cold, dead fingers.
Most other coaches, of course, don’t already have busts in the Hall of Fame. While Gibbs doesn’t have the massive ego that many in his profession possess, don’t think that things like his legacy and reputation aren’t important to him. And it seems as though it was apparent to him that his legacy was not going to be enhanced by him continuing to run the offense.
The question is, can Saunders do it any better?
If you believe that resumes are important, you’d have to think that he can. Saunders learned offense under Don Coryell, the Chargers coach that Gibbs was serving under when he became the Redskins’ coach in 1981. Both took that offense and put their personal stamps on it. Gibbs’ shaping of the schemes, however, took an 11-year hiatus while Saunders’ offense has continually evolved. In the four years that he’s been the Chiefs offensive coordinator the team has scored more points than any other team in the NFL, an accomplishment that has come without the benefit of a dominating defense that consistently gave KC tons of turnovers and great field position.
Still, Gibbs himself sounded a cautionary note that should give pause to those ready to order a bigger trophy case for the lobby at Redskins Park, one that can accommodate the fourth Lombardi that is sure to be there one year and a couple of weeks from today. Talking after the Redskins’ Week 16 win over the Giants, a game in which Gibbs’ play calling was good enough to muster up 35 points, he said, “We don’t win with X’s and O’s.”
It is the players, according to Gibbs, that make the difference. For example, if Mark Brunell is indeed over the hill and Jason Campbell is not yet ready to climb the hill, it won’t matter who is talking into the QB’s helmet, the offense will still sputter when the team needs it to hum.
It will be interesting to see exactly what Gibbs’ role with the team evolves in to. Will he stay in The Submarine at Redskins Park until the wee hours virtually every night? I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of awkward for him to be sitting there, looking over the shoulder of Saunders, the guy he hired to replace him? (I’d like to see somebody diagram that organizational chart.) Will he be able to truly let go? He’ll be on the sidelines at games, but doing what? Will he be strolling alongside the field, chatting with sideline reporters like Bobby Bowden?
OK, that last one is going too far, but you see the point. In his role as CEO, Joe Gibbs, the master of details, will be leaving the details to others. How well he evolves into that role will go a long way towards determining the success of the Redskins for the next several years.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book chronicles every game the Redskins played from 1937 through 2001. It is available at www.RedskinsGames.com
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