ASHBURN, VA. — ASHBURN, Va. -- Fighting back tears, Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls in 12 years as coach of the Washington Redskins, resigned yesterday because of health and family reasons.
"I want to sit in the stands and just be a dad," Gibbs said as he explained how he'll now get a chance to watch his son Coy play linebacker at Stanford.
Gibbs was replaced by Richie Petitbon, the team's assistant head coach/defense, who told the players at the news conference that "nothing is going to change" and later added, "We'll win."
Gibbs, 52, who overcame an 0-5 start in 1981 to established himself as one of the best coaches in NFL history while joining Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh as the only coaches to win more than two NFL titles in the past three decades, said he was examined in the best hospitals around the country after becoming ill late last season.
Gibbs said his illness was diagnosed as "migraine equivalent," a neurological condition that includes everything but the headaches associated with migraines.
"I don't think it's any big deal," Gibbs said. "It's normally caused by being run-down. I've been checked by the best and this body has been torn inside out and the doctors have assured me I'm going to be fine. It's just going to take awhile."
Even though Gibbs was ill late in the season, he never showed any sign of it in public and his decision to retire even shocked most Redskins insiders. Owner Jack Kent Cooke said he didn't have the "foggiest notion" Gibbs was thinking of quitting until Gibbs told him last Friday, and Petitbon said he was "absolutely flabbergasted" when he was offered the job Thursday.
Only general manager Charley Casserly seemed to have an inkling of how worn out Gibbs was at the end of the season.
"It's like an actor who can walk on stage and give an award-winning performance and then walk off stage and be sitting there totally exhausted and fatigued and look like two different people," Casserly said. "It was the most courageous performance I've ever seen with the Redskins."
Gibbs, who slept in his office three nights a week during the season, said he didn't feel he was burned out, but added he started to have trouble sleeping at night late in the year.
"I developed something that made me feel uneasy at night. It was kind of hard to rest. You have other nervous reactions set off," he said.
Of the diagnosis, he said, "That means they don't know what it is."
He said he is on medication and a special diet, and hopes to feel well again in a few months.
Gibbs, who is 10th on the all-time NFL winning list with a 140-65 record, said he decided to take a long look at his life when he became ill.
He sounded like a man suffering from a combination of a mid-life crisis and the empty-nest syndrome now that younger son Coy is a sophomore at Stanford and his older son J. D., a graduate of William & Mary, is working with the Gibbs racing team in Charlotte, N.C.
When Gibbs became the Redskins' coach in 1981, he said, his sons came to camp with him.
"Pat [his wife] would come to visit on weekends. That was family. That was what we knew. That was what we lived," he said.
That has all changed now that his sons have grown. "I really started thinking about that," he said. "I think there's a window of opportunity right now with my family. I want to try a different kind of life for a while. I want to stay closer to them. I need to spend some time kind of catching up with them to spend some time with my mother, my brother. I want to do all that."
Gibbs always has said in the off-season that he talks with his family about whether he wants to continue. In the past, he always decided to continue. This time, he reached a different conclusion.
"I think when we did get away this time, it was just a little different. I sense some things happening with my boys and this )) could be a great time for me to be with them," he said.
From Stanford, Calif., Coy Gibbs said that his father broached the subject of retirement with his family two weekends ago during a Colorado ski trip. He later called the family together to say he was retiring.
"I was happy for him," Coy said. "I'm still happy. I'm a little sad, too, but I don't really know why. What he's done has been so much a part of our lives -- my life -- for so long. Maybe the word's not sad but different. It's going to be different."
Joe Gibbs said he wasn't sure what he's going to do now.
"I've got to get a job. I've never had a real job," he said. "This is an act of faith on my part. It's a little scary."
In walking away from a job that pays him about $1.65 million a year (he and Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins were the two highest-paid coaches in the NFL), Gibbs said he would like to spend time working in the inner city and spend more time with the youngsters at his youth home in suburban Virginia.
Gibbs said he has cleared the bad debts he rang up in some real estate investments a year ago, but he's not independently wealthy and his racing team isn't a moneymaker.
Even though his racing team won the Daytona 500 (NASCAR's Super Bowl) last month, Gibbs said his decision to sponsor a team had nothing to do with quitting football.
Gibbs also didn't rule out returning to the sidelines in a year or two after he has a chance to get healthy and recharge himself.
"I can't picture myself coaching for anybody else but the Redskins, but I think if I get out there and really miss it, I might want to try to get back into it," he said.
Meanwhile, Gibbs' departure couldn't have come at a worse time for the Redskins because the team and the sport are in a time of transition as they face the new free-agency signing period.
The fact that Gibbs was the coach was the team's major selling point in trying to sign free agents such as Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles and in trying to keep its own free agents. Gibbs was not only a respected coach, he also had a good rapport with players. When the Redskins struggled through a 9-7 season last year, he not only didn't lash out at the players, but he asked them if he was doing anything wrong.
Gibbs, though, brushed off the impact of his departure.
"I think that's greatly overdone. I think we've got a great carry-over. It's not like we're tearing things apart here. They want an organization where they've got a chance to win and go to the Super Bowl. This one is going to keep rolling," he said.
At least two Redskins, wide receiver Gary Clark and cornerback Martin Mayhew, were visiting other teams yesterday. Clark was in Phoenix and Mayhew in Atlanta.
Clark said: "It will be funny not to see him there. It's a shame. The team is losing a great coach."
Clark said Gibbs' departure won't be a factor in his decision whether to leave or to stay. "It will basically come down to what's best for me and what's best for my family," he said.
Mayhew said: "He's a very good coach and very loyal to his players. He believed in veteran guys and keeping them around a long time. It's hard to predict what will happen."
Petitbon was confident he can persuade the players to stay.
"I think our No. 1 priority in the next few days is going to be touching base with everybody. I think they realize this is the best place to play in the NFL and I'm sure in the end we'll get to keep everybody," he said.
Meanwhile, the legacy Gibbs left will be hard to match.
"I can look [at] every Redskins fan and everybody in the organization and say: 'Hey, that was the best shot. I gave it everything I had.' I felt good about that. I loved those 12 years. I just want to say this has been one of the greatest things that has ever happened to somebody. I got to live a dream," Gibbs said.
Gibbs in playoffs
With 16 playoff wins, Joe Gibbs ranked second to Don Shula (17 wins) among active NFL coaches in 1993. Where Gibbs stands in playoff wins among coaches with 100 career victories:
Coach Team W-L Pct.
V. Lombardi Packers 9-1 .900
Weeb Ewbank Colts/Jets 4-1 .800
Gibbs Redskins 16-5 .762
Buddy Parker Lions 3-1 .750