On the day Joe Gibbs walked away from football, football hailed him as an innovator, a communicator, a fierce competitor and one of the NFL's all-time great coaches.
But when his smashing 12-year run as coach of the Washington Redskins ended yesterday, Gibbs' peers praised him as much for his character as his on-field successes.
"What separates Joe Gibbs from a lot of people is he's a Hall of Fame coach," said Phoenix Cardinals coach Joe Bugel, who spent nine years on Gibbs' Redskins staff.
"Besides being a great football coach, I believe he's a great human being. He has priorities in life. Football wasn't the most important thing in his life. He's a very religious person, and I know he's a family-type of person."
Said New York Giants general manager George Young: "I think we're losing a good man in our business. He's been an outstanding person and an outstanding coach. He's been a role model in both areas."
And from Philadelphia Eagles president Harry Gamble came this commendation: "It's disappointing to hear that Joe Gibbs has decided to retire from coaching because he certainly was a key factor in making the NFC East the best division in the National Football League. While the success he was able to achieve with the Redskins speaks for itself, I think the tremendous integrity and character he brought to the game will be missed more."
If football wasn't the most important thing in Gibbs' life, it seemed at times to be the only thing in his life. He was notorious for his late-night vigils behind a projector, for his sleep-overs at Redskin Park, for his slavish devotion to the task at hand. He took the NFL's work ethic to a new level.
"I've never been around anybody who pushed himself any harder than Joe," said San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, who, as Washington's GM, hired Gibbs as head coach. "He gave it everything he had. It was great to work with him. There are not many who come along like him, either as a coach or a person. I don't know that he has anything else to prove in football."
Reactions around the league varied as news of Gibbs' retirement spread.
"I was totally surprised," Bugel said. "I know how much the game means to him. . . . They told me when I came to the office, and I thought somebody was pulling a joke on me."
Bugel, who has been in Phoenix three years, said he had received no indication Gibbs had health concerns. Young said he was less than surprised that Gibbs was stepping down.
"I know he's had health problems," Young said. "Even watching our games [against the Redskins] and other games, he's been in pain on the sideline. He's gotten to the point he's defending his own legend, too. That gets more difficult. I believe the fact he had health problems and that he's gotten into other areas of interest made it a little easier for him to make the decision."
In a year when Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves were fired from the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos, Gibbs' departure leaves Jim Mora of the New Orleans Saints second in NFL coaching seniority with one team -- behind the Miami Dolphins' Don Shula.
"In a way it surprised me, and in another way it didn't," said Mora, who has coached the Saints for seven seasons. "How long was he head coach? I'm telling you, it takes its toll. He's gotten in the car racing business, and maybe that's taken the place of the competitiveness that football brings him. And it doesn't exhibit the stress on him that coaching did."
Mora said he has long admired Gibbs for his style and substance.
"I think Joe has so many good qualities," Mora said. "He's got the kind of qualities that would make him successful in any profession.
"With Joe, the Redskins have always had a philosophy and a purpose and have stuck with it."
Shula, who has spent the past 23 seasons with the Dolphins, called Gibbs "one of the finest coaches in the league."
"Under his direction, the Redskins were fundamentally sound and they never beat themselves, a reflection of his philosophy, his intensity and his well-known work ethic," Shula said.
"Joe Gibbs was a very special coach, one of the greatest to ever coach the game," Parcells said. "Coaching against Joe was the ultimate in competition for me."
Beathard said he believes Gibbs will adapt to life after football.
"Now he has something to take the place of football," Beathard said. "He was always aware that this took him away from his family. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise. I think he will be able to handle it. I think his family can be with him more in racing than in football."
Still, Bugel said it was a sad day to see Gibbs leave football.
"It's been a kind of empty day for me," Bugel said. "I've been thinking about Joe getting out, and it's different. I've got a different feeling about myself today and about a lot of things."