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Friday, January 9, 2004
Killer coaches and playoff hunches

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Joe Gibbs. Jesus Christ! Same difference.

That's how people in D.C. see it, anyway. Georgetown priests, holy-roller reverends, Congress and its knee-padded aides were all jumping up and not coming back down at the Punks-Are-Loose In-Boys-Town! news that the best beloved Washington Indigenous Skins had gotten their Gibb-lets, attitude and self-respect back.

They all drank the Kool-Aid on this one.

Joe Gibbs
Washington's hoping Joe Gibbs will give the Redskins a crash course in winning.
And it was goooood, wasn't it D.C.?

Gibbs got the Page 1 photo above the fold in Friday, Jan. 9, The Washington Post, a spot reserved for kings and presidents and the most impactful world news of the day. The Post continued Godding Gibbs up in the sports section, with a half-page photo that looked to have been taken by an Islamic supplicant lying prone on the ground, saying "There is No God But Gibbsala." Radio stations specializing in rap music played newly-minted hip-hop paeans to His Gibbsness. Local potentates like Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser held hands and sang "Kumbaya." PTI is now a remake of "The New Love Boat." I'm telling you, no one was immune.

All was right with the Capital of the Free World. They even stopped boiling tar in that witches' cauldron for one Daniel "Call Me Mud" Snyder. Chickens came out of hiding all over the greater metropolitan area, wary still, but emboldened by the thought that they might get to keep their feathers, and that they would not be plucked to make a Chanticleer coat for Clueless Owner Danny.

So. Before we get to this weekend's playoffs games, let us reflect for a moment on why Joe Gibbs would come back after a 12-year haitus, effectively helping to turn the tide in the NFL from Coach-Killer players like Jeff George and Keyshawn Johnson, to Killer Coaches like Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin, Denny Green, and Joe Gibbs. The league just got tougher and faster. Look at the NFC East. There is no margin for error among Gibbs, Parcells, Andy Reid (who has the best team, the Iggles), and Coughlin. Coughlin's the closet martinet, but that doesn't mean he can't coach 'em up.

And with Denny Green coming back in out of the cold, joining Holmgren in the West, the pressure is now more on Denny Erickson and Mike Martz to raise the level of their games.

Gibbs is a "player's coach." The term's gotten a bad rap. It doesn't stand for "soft on players, and undisciplined." That's bulls---. It means you know what button to push on each player; it means you play the best player regardless of your own personal preferences.

Steve Spurrier
Suffocating yourself won't make the pain go away, Steve.
Steve Spurrier, for example, was not a player's coach. He wasn't much of an NFL coach at all, actually; he kept trying to force-fit his toadies, roadies and college faves into important slots. It never even got down to his play-calling. He was out-personneled. Even Bighouse Gaines knew better than that. Bighouse would've been a better NFL coach, and he was mostly a college basketball guy.

I recall Joe Gibbs and Jumpy Geathers. Jumpy was a big D-lineman that no one seemed to be able to motivate, control or get much out of, so they'd resorted to screaming and hollering at him. That might have worked, if Jumpy was, say, another guy. But Jumpy's early childhood trauma had been a father figure screaming at him. He went into a shell if you did that. Blew you off. And Joe Gibbs instinctively realized this. I can still see and hear him now on the sidelines, when the physically-gifted Jumpy ran out on the field for the playoff games that led to one of those three Super Bowl wins.

"Way to go, Jump-pay!" hollered Joe Gibbs. And Jumpy looks over at him, smiles, and proceeds to eat the offensive line alive, then comes off the field and asks Joe if he has a toothpick on him.

It was also Joe Gibbs who got Doug Williams, thought by most to be shot, off the bench to replace ineffective Jay Schroeder toward the end of the 1987 season, ensuring the Redskins another Super Bowl. Sam Wyche would have stayed with Schroeder. And in the fantasy world where he wouldn't have stayed with Schroeder, a lesser coach would have brought Schroeder in and then kept him in after Williams pulled a groin in the first quarter of the 1988 Super Bowl. Gibbs looked at Williams and sent him back out there. The rest is history. Literally. Off the Counter-Trey (a Gibbsian device) play action, Douggie threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns.

In one quarter.

On one leg.

The rest is history. Literally. Look around.

So why would Gibbs come back and risk tarnishing his legend?

For 28.5 mil over five years, why wouldn't you come back, go forward, go sideways or in any direction on the compass?

That's not a job. That's hitting Powerball lotto.

And, unlike the dollar figures thrown around for NFL players -- a mirage, because a player can be cut after any season -- that's pretty much guaranteed money unless Gibbs pulls a Spurrier.

Bill Parcells
Being intimidating even with Tuna as a nickname says it all.
Don't hold your breath on that one.

Myself, personally, I've always felt Joe Gibbs was one of the three best coaches in the NFL in the last 25 years, if not in the history of the league. The other two are Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells. In that order, too. Gibbs only briefly vies with Walsh for the top spot.

I know this ruffles the pinfeathers of some New York peacocks. In the immortal words of Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive" ... "I don't care." Gibbs, not Parcells, won the three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. In fact, he was doing this against Bill Parcells. Walsh too, head up. So don't be bringing no overblown Bill Parcells up in here just because he intimidates you, or chooses your friend to ghost his memoirs, or makes a great fist, or browbeats your rivals to your secret glee in press conferences.

1. Walsh (and by declension, Seifert, Shanny, Holmgren, Reid, Green)

2. Gibbs (the Gibbs Curiosity -- he left no coaching "sons")

3. Parcells (and by declension, Belichick)

That's by the Super Bowl book.

Speaking of the Super Bowl ...

*****

CAROLINA OVER ST. LOUIS -- Coaching rears its ugly head in this one. Mike Martz has to get over his mistaken belief that he or any coach can outscheme the physical nature of the game.

You can't do it. Bill Walsh didn't do it so I know Martz can't do it, even though he's going for the Walshian look and demeanor.

The Rams' only way is if Marshall Faulk touches the ball 30 times and Torry Holt beats the double. Other than that, see if John Fox can do for Julius Peppers what Joe Gibbs did for Jumpy Geathers.

NEW ENGLAND OVER TENNESSEE -- The McTites were my preseason AFC Super Bowl pick and I hate to get off them now. I wouldn't get off them now, not even if Stevie McNair was on one leg. The problem is, he's on no legs. He has injuries on both pins; and when the shots wear off, he'll have no base under him to throw out of. McNair throws the best ball in the league right now when he has legs under him, but he doesn't. End of story.

Tom Brady
Will frigid temperatures be able to cool down Tom Brady? Nope.
Even if the McTites turn to Eddie George, he has a recently dislocated shoulder. And turning to Eddie George is not exactly the road to the Super Bowl. Still, the McTites are physical, game, tough, rugged defensively, everything else you want to be.

I'm not saying it's going to be easy. But for now, Tom Brady is like the Son of God. He's like ... Joe Gibbs in shoulder pads.

Right now, as Jim Murray once whispered to me about a red-hot second-year QB named Dan Marino, "He doesn't know how hard it is yet, Ralph."

So true. Brady hasn't had so much as a hangnail. He hasn't been concussed, or broken his hand on a helmet in his follow-through, or had his knee unscrewed by a D-lineman rolling with his leg like a Nile croc rolls with a zebra haunch. He's golden.

So you can't not pick New England. But you can take the points and the McTites. And if Tennessee does win, McNair is this generation's John Elway. Oh hell, he is whether they win or not.

INDIANAPOLIS OVER KANSAS CITY -- Why? Two great offenses, two iffy defenses, and KC is at home, as in there's-no-place-like-Arrowhead. So isn't that the difference, Dorothy? Well, there are two superb offenses here, but they are superb in different ways. Indy has a great set of wides; KC doesn't. With KC, it's all about the O-line, the running back, the tight end, and the special-teams-factor back. This is where Dungy comes in.

What I like about Tony Dungy is that he gives the lie to this notion that you must be some kind of glowering R. Lee Ermey-like drill sergeant to be a successful NFL coach. Tony Dungy, for a lack of a better description, is a sweet man who can scheme and defense and understands that you must physically whip the other team. Unless you always secretly thought that Tampa's D was soft.

I expect Dungy to make Trent Green and the most ordinary KC wideouts beat them, to stack seven, eight and nine in the box and really get after Kansas City from the get-go. KC could win it, if it plays ass-out-and-loose from the jump; but any amount of uncertainty and Indy will win this. Because I'm telling you right now, Peyton Manning is like Cyberdyne Systems Model 101. He is a machine. He can't be argued with. He can't be reasoned with. And he will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.

PHILADELPHIA OVER GREEN BAY -- You know what I've noticed over the last week or so? Rush Limbaugh was right. Actually, he was far right. Right, in this way. He took the pulse of a lot of people's secret hearts who must actually think Donnie McNabb is overrated. So many are picking Green Bay with their hearts, while with my eyeballs, I'm wondering what in the hell they're looking at.

Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb is ready to point the Eagles all the way to Houston.
Do you really think Ahman Green, the most beautiful running back in ball right now, is going to rush for 150 yards? Are you insane? With the skill of Philly's corners, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor? They can easily single-cover Green Bay's wide receivers and bring Brian Dawkins down into the box like an extra linebacker -- only Dawkins hits harder than most LBs. It's simply a matter of bringing one more than the Pack O-line can block, much as the McTites did to Baltimore's Jamal Lewis.

As for waiting for McNabb to nut up, well, you may as well pass the Chunky Soup, be-atch. I seriously doubt that Andy Reid will make the same mistake he made last year with that ultra-conservative game plan, put in maybe because McNabb was coming off that broken leg and limping around. I expect the Eagles to play wide-open; and the Green Bay secondary, as Matt Hasselbeck proved until the last play, is available. McNabb knows what Hasselbeck didn't (though it was nice to see what the Sea-Dogs had, finally -- they've got a squad). McNabb knows full well that corner Al Harris likes to sit on routes. He'll get double-moved in this one.

When Harris was asked what he could tell his teammates about McNabb in the flush of last week's dream sequence pick-and-go in overtime to win the GB-Seattle playoff game, Harris recovered his senses long enough to say, "That he will never quit, never, no matter what happens, no matter what people say about him."

No, the Eagles don't have factor-back Brian Westbrook.

But they have McNabb.

So get ready to cry in your soup, Rush. Don't forget to hit me back on e-mail. I still think you and Donnie Football have some Super Bowl marketing opportunities that we can't afford to ignore here.

Love,

RW

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.