At 70, Joe Gibbs looks spry and chipper enough to run a marathon or get back on an NFL sideline and lead a race to the Super Bowl.
He has already taken the Washington Redskins to four Super Bowls, winning three before he turned to auto racing and captured three NASCAR championships.
One of those accomplishments would be monumental by itself, but Gibbs says his success shows anybody can do it, which is why he has labeled himself just an “Average Joe.”
“You’re talking about a guy who went to school, got a bunch of C’s and many people ask, ‘Joe how did you get to be head coach of the Washington Redskins?’ It’s not like you got a Ph.D. in coaching or something. I have to tell them. I don’t know,” he says in his biography.
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Gibbs knew how to be at the right place at the right time. He was a volunteer coach for the original staff at San Diego State that included a couple of fellas named Don Coryell and John Madden.
“The most important job I had was to go to the local Jack in the Box and get the tacos and hamburgers and bring them back, and the only time I really got in trouble was if I left something off John Madden’s taco,” he said.
The coach created a lot of his own luck. He recommended the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft quarterback Doug Williams in 1978 when he was Tampa’s offensive coordinator, but was smart enough to get out and join “Air Coryell” with the San Diego Chargers the next season, though he took a demotion.
Gibbs’ presence still commands an enthusiastic audience.
More than 600 people came to hear him speak at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday for a breakfast at the Sarasota Hyatt that had the hotel’s adjoining parking lot nearly filled before the rooster crowed.
When it was over, about 400 people stood in line, some close to two hours, to get a picture and an autographed copy of his book, “Game Plan For Life.”
These days, Gibbs wants to make others happy and is focusing on men; helping them through his religious beliefs, which he says is the foundation of his success.
In 2004, Gibbs returned to coaching the Washington Redskins. He didn’t win another Super Bowl, though he led the team to the playoffs two of his final three years there.
He retired in 2007, the same year his star defensive back Sean Taylor was murdered. It’s something he has never forgotten and weighed heavily on him for years.
“Sean Taylor was 24 years old when he went downstairs of his house to defend his family and lost his life,” Gibbs says. “Think about it. How long do we have? Do I luck out and get 74 years? Do I get 78?
“One thing for sure is that there is a clock ticking on you and me in the game of life and before that last tick we want to make sure we won the game.”
Taylor’s death made Gibbs realize how fragile life can be and motivated him to impact the lives of others, which spawned the idea for his book and projects that will follow.
He hired a research firm to survey a cross section of American men to find what they wanted to know in their search for success.
He gave his findings to what he calls a team of experts. Gibbs said his life is centered on his Christian beliefs.
“Many men see me as a success because of the Super Bowl rings and the NASCAR championships,” Gibbs writes in his book. “But what guys want to know is how they can succeed too. And they’re not just talking about becoming rich or famous or winning trophies. They want to be happy. They want to be good husbands and fathers. They want to find true success and relevance in their lives.”
Though he appears optimistic about nearly all the things in his life, Gibbs is cautious about the state of the NFL and its labor negotiations which appear to be at an impasse.
“There are some serious issues there. I think there is going to be a lot to overcome, but like most football fans I am hoping and praying this thing gets done,” Gibbs said. “I lived through two of those coaching and they are no fun when you have a work stoppage and all the things that could happen.
“There are a lot of hurdles, so we will see what happens. I would think it’s hard negotiations, and hopefully the saner minds will prevail.”
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.