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Gibbs cheering on Redskins from afar

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

As the Redskins prepared to square off with the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Monday Night Football," their Hall of Fame former coach spent the day fishing in Texas. For Joe Gibbs, retirement from football may have finally taken.

He's still heavily involved with his NASCAR team, but his days of spending the night at the office are behind him. When we talked before the Steelers-Redskins game (Week 9), Gibbs sounded like any other fan (who happens to own three Super Bowl rings). He'd remained in Dallas for an extra day after a race at Texas Motor Speedway, and he'd made sure that one of his close friends had a leather sofa and plenty of soft drinks on hand.

"I've always been a good fan of football," he said. "In general, I don't drive myself crazy and get too technical with what's happening on TV. I can sort of sit back and enjoy football like anyone else."

Gibbs said he's thoroughly enjoyed seeing his former players have success under Jim Zorn, but he thought it was important to distance himself from the organization for a while.

"I'd been around so long," Gibbs said. "I just felt like it was important that a new coach not have me hanging around all the time. I think coach Zorn has been fantastic. He kept a lot of our guys together, and I think that's been really important. But I didn't want him asking, 'Is Joe looking over my shoulder?'"

Sunday races have prevented him from watching every game, but he's looking forward to attending a couple of games when the NASCAR season ends this weekend. Gibbs said he still leaves occasional voicemails for players and former assistants, but he's careful not to spend a lot of time talking football.

Zorn reached out to Gibbs soon after taking the job, and the two had breakfast together before a preseason game in Charlotte. Some of you might recall that the Redskins lost that night to the Panthers, 47-3, and Zorn's doubters began to emerge. But from the start, Gibbs made it clear that he wouldn't be offering any unsolicited advice.

"We didn't talk about strategy," Gibbs said. "I asked him if there's anything he wanted to know about the organization. There was no reason to get technical with football stuff. He's very much his own man, so we just sat there and talked about a lot of different things."

When Gibbs retired last January, he talked about spending more time with his 3-year-old grandson, Taylor, who was receiving treatments for leukemia. Being away from his family during such an intense time had taken its toll on Gibbs, and the tragic death of safety Sean Taylor on Nov. 27, 2007 was something he never could've prepared for.

The Redskins were 5-7 when they attended Taylor's funeral in Miami. Gibbs somehow kept the team together, though, and it rallied to win four games and qualify for the playoffs.

"The end of the Buffalo game [that dropped the Redskins to 5-7] was a disaster," said Gibbs. "Then we beat Chicago, Minnesota, New York and Dallas to get in the playoffs. Personally, those may have been the most gratifying four games of my entire career."

Gibbs thought he'd finally shut the door on his coaching career, but his son, J.D., volunteered him to serve as offensive coordinator for his grandson Jackson's 10-and-under football team. As you might imagine, Gibbs took his new role seriously. One day in practice, he walked into the White Storm's offensive huddle and showed them some cards on which he'd drawn several plays.

As he was explaining a running play, a 9-year-old interrupted to ask, "Did you draw those or buy them somewhere?"

Even Hall of Fame coaches get stumped every now and then.

"That was a great experience," said Gibbs. "I was used to messing up 30-year-olds, not 10-year-olds."

Gibbs still loves talking about his former players. In one 20-minute interview, he told stories about Gary Clark, Art Monk, Ricky Sanders, Santana Moss, Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis. He's especially proud of the season that Portis is having.

"When we made the deal with Denver, I realized right away that when you got [Portis] to game day and he put the pads on, he knew what football was all about," said Gibbs. "And that's what the team respects so much about him. He's the best running back in the league in terms of protecting the passer.

"Without the ball, he's the most impressive player I've ever been around. When you have a physical player at running back, it carries over to the rest of the team. I always felt better on game day when I looked over and saw him getting ready."

Gibbs spent the rest of our conversation reeling off names of people in the organization whom he misses. But there wasn't a hint of regret in his voice about walking away.

"It's one of those things where you're closing in on the end of your life at some point, it's not going to be, 'I wish I spent more time coaching a football team,'" Gibbs told the Washington Post.

That is, unless you're talking about the White Storm.