Greatest NFL coaches: No. 9, Joe Gibbs

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
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Our countdown of the top 20 NFL coaches of all time reaches No. 9 today, and that's where we find Washington Redskins coaching legend Joe Gibbs, winner of three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. One of those quarterbacks was Doug Williams, who told Ashley Fox the story of how Gibbs was going to trade him to the Raiders prior to the 1987 season but told him he'd changed his mind:
I said, "Coach, you can't change your mind." That's the first time I'd ever seen Joe get mad. He told me, "I don't work for the Raiders. I work for the Washington Redskins. I can change my mind." And then he calmed down a little bit, and he looked at me and said, "I've got a gut feeling somewhere during the season you're going to come in here, and we're going to win this thing."

Joe Gibbs told me that before the season. In the last game of the regular season, I wasn't the starting quarterback. After the last game of the season, Joe Gibbs makes the decision, "I'm going to start Doug Williams." That's a heck of a decision. If there had been a vote in the locker room, I would've won the election from the start.

As a coach, you have to know the heartbeat of your football team, and he felt that was what everybody else was thinking. If you watch the highlight film after the Super Bowl, at the end of the film, Joe and I hug. And he tells me in my ear, "I told you so." Well, you know, all along I felt pretty good before he told me that, because of what we'd done. But for him to tell me that, it just resonated what kind of coach he was, what kind of man he was and the spiritual belief he had. For him to tell me that before the season in 1987 and then it happened, in a way it's scary, but at the same time I think it had a lot to do with his coaching ability.

The whole win-Super-Bowls-with-three-different-quarterbacks thing looks even more impressive from our present-day vantage point, with the franchise quarterback established as the essential ingredient without which championships can't be won. But it's still something no one has ever done, and it bolsters Gibbs' credentials as the type of coach who could have been great in any era -- one who clearly understood that great coaching means figuring out how to get the very best out of the people you have, not assembling a team out of the kinds of guys you want. He's an all-time Redskins legend, one of the most beloved figures in franchise history and certainly a worthy member of any list of the top 10 coaches in NFL history.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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