Rocky's Football Corner, 1.9.2008

by Rick Rockwell

That part of the National Football League season is here to honor coaches. Two great ones grabbed headlines this week: Joe Gibbs and Bill Belichick.

While Belichick was basking in the glow of Coach of the Year honors, Gibbs was slipping back into semi-retirement.

First, a defense of Gibbs. Some said the game had passed him. Some called him mediocre.

In his four year comeback after being made a member of the Hall of Fame, Gibbs’ record was below .500. He did not return to the Super Bowl, although he has three rings from his first go-round guiding the pride of Washington, D.C. However, Gibbs managed to get his club to the playoffs twice. That’s twice as good as any other coach running D.C.’s team since Gibbs retired the first time. Many mediocre coaches never get their teams to the playoffs in the National Football League (NFL).

Gibbs retired because he wants more time with his family. One of his grandsons has leukemia. His wife moved back to North Carolina to be with that grandson and the rest of the Gibbs clan. Gibbs no longer has one of his sons on his coaching staff. And frankly, it was obvious Gibbs missed the life as the CEO of a NASCAR racing team, something he took up after his first stint in the NFL.

It’s too bad Gibbs is leaving, because he pulled off a miraculous finish to the regular season, after the death of Sean Taylor. He pulled his shattered team together and they went on a four-game winning streak. Of course, all that ended this week in the rain in Seattle. But it was the type of run that can give a team momentum into the next season. Gibbs may have been just one year away from that coveted return to the Super Bowl, but we will never know now. Even promoting one of Gibbs’ lieutenants likely will stall the momentum. And there’s a coming controversy over how the team’s injured quarterback Jason Campbell can’t run the team's complex offense the way Todd Collins did during the playoff run. But all that will have to wait until the summer and fall to sort out.

Dan (“The Danny”) Snyder who owns Washington’s team needs to take some lessons while thinking about what to do now that Gibbs is leaving again. He should look for an example in Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots.

First, Kraft owns the team, but he lets the football experts run the operation. That means Coach Belichick doesn’t have to deal with much, if any, meddling. Next, Scott Pioli, the team’s Vice President in charge of personnel works closely with Belichick (both are former disciples of Bill “The Tuna” Parcells) and they are not always stunned into recruiting superstars. Although, this year Belichick and Pioli broke form and put together a new superstar receiving corps which went a long way into making the Patriots perfect so far.

The Patriots are known for finding role players. On defense, they depend on a great corps of linebackers with key personnel on the offensive line and at safety. They want personnel who are flexible and who can learn new game plans weekly. So players need to be smart first. Watch Belichick on the sidelines and you’ll see he coaches throughout the game. He’s not a CEO as head coach, something that Gibbs tried to do in his second go-round in Washington.

So the suggestion to Snyder: hire a strong coach, go play with your other entertainment toys while leaving the football team alone, and stay away from over-paying high-priced free agents who will wreck the team Gibbs rebuilt.

(And now some loose ends from previous weeks.)

Loose End #1: The Ravens did the right thing in canning Coach Brian Billick. If this column could see the need for that weeks ago, so could an astute General Manager like Ozzie Newsome and team owner Steve Bisciotti.

Loose End #2: Unfortunately, Owner Wayne Huizenga has decided to stick around and not sell the Miami Dolphins. However, he hired Coach Parcells to head up the organization, and the Tuna promptly started cleaning house. If anyone can turn around a franchise, it’s Parcells who has done that at least four times in his career.

Semi-Final Playoff Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Chargers at Colts (Colts)
Upset Special: Giants at Cowboys (Giants)
Seahawks at Packers (Packers)
Jaguars at Patriots (Patriots)

Last Week: 1.000
This Season: .685

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