According to Patrick McCaskey in Pillars of the NFL (2014), in [Joe] Gibbs’s first 12-season stretch as Redskins’ coach, he led his team to three Super Bowl victories and four NFC Championships. His Redskins made the playoffs an incredible 8 times in 12 years. His .683 winning percentage was third best behind Vince Lombardi and John Madden. Gibbs holds an overall NFL head coaching record of 171–101–0. Gibbs was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996. He was named AP Coach of the Year twice, Sporting News Coach of the Year three times, Pro Football Weekly Coach of the Year twice, and UPI Coach of the Year once. Gibbs took stock of his talent and put together a program to win that was based on existing personnel. His high-energy, tireless approach to creating game plans consumed long hours well into the night, but the effort was visible on the playing ﬁeld. And regardless of his lofty success, Gibbs always respected and appreciated his players, his coaches, his fans, and his owners.
But what might stand out for us in 2020 is Gibbs’s success in the 2 strike shortened seasons of 1982 and 1987. Gibbs had moved around quickly in college coaching circles and was known as a valuable assistant that could help programs. He had worked with some of the greatest college coaches and learned much about the game. When he started his pro-coaching career, it was the same way, Gibbs could improve programs and was in demand. Gibbs worked under Don Coryell in college and professional football. Coryell was known at the time as “Air Coryell” for the great passing game that he developed everywhere he went. Great pro coaches often site Don Coryell’s influence. But while Gibbs knew Coryell’s system and often helped develop parts of it as an assistant, Gibbs was not inclined to recreate his system at all costs, he was more likely to work with the talents his team had and devise his playbook accordingly. So in those shortened seasons, Gibbs was not out to recreate his teams, he was out to use their talents.
The Redskins coaching offices did not have clocks–one coach said they were always on Vegas time with Gibbs. Before Belichick’s tight ship at the Patriots, Gibbs required his coaches’ full attention during the season. And Gibbs was loyal to the coaches with whom he worked that helped him deliver such great results.
So for 2020, we might want to look for coaches who have a strong team identity based on their existing talents to excel. Game plans that are changeable and patient coaches might also be part of the success formula. The “my way of the highway” coaches might not do as well this year.
Image of runner is by Bill Potter, Copyright Sporting Chance Press