I will admit it right from the start. I love the Washington Redskins. I am probably a little biased. But try to leave your perceptions that I am looking at Joe Gibbs through burgundy and gold colored glasses at the door and seriously consider my arguments. My beliefs are grounded in fact every bit as much as they are grounded in favoritism.
Now that I have gotten the disclaimer out of the way let me get down to business.
There have been many great coaches in the superbowl era. Coaches such as Vince Lombardi, Chuck Knoll, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, and Bill Belicheck have created dynasties that have produced multiple superbowl wins and countless hall of famers.
Joe Gibbs has led just as many or more teams to the superbowl as all of these great names. The only coach in the superbowl era with more titles is Chuck Knoll. But it is the path that Gibbs took that separates him from the others. If at the end of this article you still don’t consider him the best coach, you will at least understand that he was unique among his peers.
If you take a look at the coaches who have won multiple superbowls, they all have one thing in common. They all have had the good fortune to have a franchise quarterback to guide their team throughout their triumphs. Each coach that I have mentioned had a quarterback who is either in the Hall of Fame or soon will be.
Vince Lombardi had Bart Starr as his field general. Knoll had Terry Bradshaw. Shula had Griese, Landry had Roger Staubach, Walsh had Montana, and Belicheck has a guy named Tom Brady that a few of you may be familiar with.
History has shown us that no matter how good a coach you are you need a great quarterback to sustain championship success.
Joe Gibbs is different from these great coaches in that he didn’t have a marquee quarterback. He won three superbowls with three different quarterbacks. Only Bill Parcells has ever won even two superbowls with different quarterbacks.
I love Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien, but I have to be honest when I say that none of them will ever make the Hall of Fame. Even Theismann, who led the Redskins to back to back superbowls and is the best of the three, has no reasonable shot at making it. He only started seven full seasons and only played at a pro bowl level in three or four of them.
This reason alone separates Gibbs from his contemporaries. But there’s more.
You may bring up the valid point that Starr, Bradshaw, and Greise were game managers and it was the running game that mainly propelled their teams to greatness.
Once again, Gibbs succeeded with three different running backs in three different superbowls.
John Riggins is without question a Hall of Fame running back and one of the main forces behind two superbowl Redskin teams. But he retired after the ’85 season.
Gibbs continued what he had built with Riggins by clever drafting, great line play, and players considered past their prime by many in the NFL. Earnest Byner was a very good running back. But he was labeled as a fumbler and hounded out of Cleveland, where his untimely fumble cost them a superbowl birth against (guess who) the Redskins.
The running backs on the Redskin team Byner’s Browns would have faced consisted of journeyman Gerald Riggs, unheralded Kelvin Bryant, and rookie Timmy Smith, who had not started a game all season.
Due to injuries to starter Riggs Gibbs decided to go with the rookie. The result was the greatest single rushing performance in superbowl history. Smith ran for 204 yards that day, breaking a record previously held by Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, and John Riggins. Smith quickly faded into obscurity following his epic superbowl performance.
Many of the mighty dynasties of yesteryear also had great receivers to help them win their championships. The Redskins did have a very good receiving corps, but only Art Monk among them has made it into the hall, and that only happened last year after years of being overlooked.
In fact, of all the coaches and teams I have mentioned, the Redskins have the least amount of Hall of Fame inductees out of all of them. In fact, they only have three players who were significant contributors to their superbowls that are currently in the hall. Two of them (Darryl Green and Art Monk) finally got in last year. Before that it was one (Riggo).
There is one final piece of evidence that I would like you to consider. The NFL has experienced two strike shortened seasons in the superbowl era. Gibbs’ Redskins won both superbowls. You may say that due to the strikes Gibbs had it easier. I disagree.
The 1982 squad only played nine regular season games, but because of this the NFL extended the number of teams allowed in the playoffs. This forced the top seeded Redskins to play four postseason games. Normally a top seed only plays in three, including the superbowl.
The 1987 season featured replacement players for four games. Joe Gibbs managed to coach these players into a cohesive unit that ended up winning all four replacement games.
The 1987 Redskins were the only team to not have a single player cross the picket line before the strike was resolved. This means that in the latter weeks of the replacement season the Redskins faced more and more legitimate NFL players.
This was most evident during the last week of the strike. The Redskins faced a Dallas team that had eleven starters playing in the game, including Tony Dorsett. The Redskins defied the odds and won the game in what has to be considered one of the greatest upsets in modern sports history.
To sum it all up Joe Gibbs coached his teams to four superbowls during his tenure. He is the only coach in league history to have a different starting quarterback, a different starting running back, and a different leading receiver in each of his superbowl victories.
Gibbs is also the only coach to have won three superbowls and have his team not considered a dynasty. This is with good reason. The length of time between superbowls and the personnel changes in between them are all convincing evidence that the Redskins were no dynasty.
This is the point.
Joe Gibbs built three different championships with three different sets of players. What do these teams have in common? The answer is Joe Gibbs.
No coach in the superbowl era has done more with less than Joe Gibbs. No coach in the superbowl era has responded to adversity as well as Joe Gibbs. That is why to me he is the best coach the NFL has seen since the AFL-NFL merger.