ASHBURN, Va. -- Mark Rypien bumped into Joe Gibbs when the Washington Redskins quarterback brought his family to Redskin Park a few weeks ago. Gibbs spent much of the time playing with Rypien's small children.
"I could tell something was going on," Rypien recalled yesterday. "He was talking about how much he missed not being with his sons while he was coaching. But I didn't think about it until today."
The announcement yesterday that Gibbs was retiring after 12 seasons as coach of the Redskins brought similar reactions from other players: They were shocked at how sudden it was, but not totally surprised.
"He's prepared everyone for this for years -- the fans, the players, the media," said offensive tackle Joe Jacoby, whose career with the Redskins coincided with Gibbs' tenure. "He's always made statements that he was going to evaluate his situation [regarding retirement] with his family, and now he has."
Said running back Earnest Byner: "He's been hinting at doing this for a few years. This is the first year that the media hasn't written he was going to retire, and this is the year he did it."
Still, the news of Gibbs' decision rocked the Redskins. After the story broke on yesterday's early morning news show on WTTG-TV in Washington, many of the players received telephone calls from friends, reporters and fellow team members.
Like many of his teammates, Jacoby was awakened by one of those calls.
"It was about 7:30, and it certainly woke me up," Jacoby said.
Said veteran center Jeff Bostic: "It was a shock. It was probably the biggest shock I've gotten in my life."
Many of the players came out to Redskin Park to hear their coach's retirement speech, which originally had been scheduled for today until the story was broken. Most had not yet talked with Gibbs about the decision.
Though disappointed that Gibbs no longer would be their coach, those who attended yesterday's news conference were enthusiastic about the decision to name assistant head coach Richie Petitbon as his successor.
"The transition from Joe to 'Bone' is something that's going to be smooth," said defensive tackle Eric Williams, one of several unsigned free agents the Redskins are trying to retain. "We're not going to miss any steps. "We're not going to miss a beat."
Said backup quarterback Cary Conklin, who is expected to challenge Rypien for the No. 1 quarterback job: "It's very important to keep the continuity. It will help with our team chemistry. Hopefully, this will help us keep some of the players who are free agents."
Rypien echoed the sentiments of his teammates when he said that he respected Gibbs even more for getting out in order to spend more time with his family. And he even joked about whether his poor performance last season played in the decision.
"I'm hoping it wasn't because of me," Rypien said.