WITH ONE OF the greatest coaches in the NFL back in the Washington Redskins' picture, maybe team owner Daniel Snyder will paint himself into the background. Just grab a stool, sit in the corner and not say a word.
If this turns out as expected, Snyder will be forgiven and will have endeared himself to Washington fans forever. The owner with the Napoleonic complex will be remembered as the guy who brought back the legend.
Joe Gibbs, 63, one of the few coaches who can be mentioned in the same breath with Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi, agreed to return to the Redskins yesterday for five years at slightly more than $5 million per season. There is little doubt that he can succeed despite having left the league 11 years ago to become a NASCAR owner.
There was so much to Gibbs' success. He had a great system in place and was a workaholic, even to the point that it forced him into early retirement from the game. He is known for allowing his assistants to coach, and for his cooperation with the media. If you're thinking there might be a generation gap between Gibbs and today's players, forget it. The guy is a great communicator.
The only problem could be Snyder. He can't help but interfere. He has multiple roles with the team. There is Snyder the owner, and Snyder the general manager. And then there is Snyder the trainer, and Snyder the team psychiatrist.
Snyder the owner has fired just about everything at Redskins Park. He has canned public relations directors, water boys and ticket sales managers. Most of all, he has fired head coaches, including Norv Turner, interim coach Terry Robiskie and Marty Schottenheimer in the five years he has owned the team.
Former Washington coach Steve Spurrier had enough, and simply turned in his visor and clipboard before quitting last week.
Now the question is will Snyder sit in the background and allow Gibbs to do what he does extremely well? Gibbs, after all, also was named team president yesterday, which might mean something, or nothing at all.
"There can only be one leader," said Ravens director of player development Earnest Byner, who confirmed yesterday that he has had discussions about joining the coaching staff of Gibbs, his old coach. "And once you undermine him [the head coach], you undermine his authority and the integrity of the team."
That's what makes Gibbs and Snyder so intriguing. Snyder is a head coach's nightmare. He wants to be chummy with players while at the same time quizzing them about assistant coaches and other players. That helped drive Marvin Lewis out of Washington to Cincinnati after only one year as the Redskins' defensive coordinator.
There have been stories about late-night phone calls from Snyder to coaches inquiring about anything from roster moves to game strategy to fantasy football.
Snyder thought he could buy a championship bringing in expensive free agents over the years such as linebackers Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter, running back Chad Morton and wide receiver Laveranues Coles.
Instead of wins, the losses kept mounting, and the toxins kept spreading.
There are some who believe that Snyder would change because he adores Gibbs, and became fond of him as a fan during Gibbs' previous tenure with the team from 1981 to 1992.
But Snyder thrives in being in the spotlight. Here's a guy who arrives in training camp via a helicopter to make a splash. But then again, look at Dallas' situation this season. The Cowboys hired Bill Parcells.
Anyone heard from Dallas owner Jerry Jones lately?
"Jerry Jones was very active, but he removed himself," Byner said. "I don't know why it happened, if Parcells asked for it, or Jerry Jones just decided to take a step back. But it worked. You can use that as a model for success."
If Snyder steps back, he can take Pepper Rodgers, vice president of football operations, with him, as well as Vinny Cerrato, director of player personnel. They're great for Snyder's ego, but not great football minds.
Gibbs will have to work hard to turn this team around, but he should be able to do it quickly in the watered-down era of free agency. First of all, he'll need to change the team's attitude. Defensively, the Redskins are known as one of the most selfish teams in the league.
But Gibbs has a way of getting his players to perform. He has empathy for them. He can push buttons. His message of the week is the same for the secretaries and the maintenance crew as it is for the players and coaches.
Gibbs is so self-deprecating, but at the same time excellent in building up that us against the world attitude.
He would prefer virtual no-name teams like the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles compared to the Redskins. Gibbs, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.
"He'll bring in veteran players, sit down and talk with them, and learn about the team," said Byner. "The players respect that, and he has a pleasantness about him. Me, I never was quite sure what he was thinking. It was always a mystery, and maybe that was a good thing. But communication was a critical element of his style."
Gibbs' top priorities will be finding a steady, reliable running back and putting together a strong, run-blocking offensive line. Nothing will change. During his previous tenure, Gibbs would come to work on Monday and not leave to go home until Thursday night.
He doesn't know any other way.
He'll eventually win in Washington, which has been involved in only two playoff games since he left. Maybe Gibbs felt the passion again after watching Parcells on the sidelines and Dick Vermeil running the show in Kansas City. The NFC East has become an attractive division again with coaches Gibbs, Parcells, Philadelphia's Andy Reid and New York's Tom Coughlin.
He also felt that twinge in his pocket. As a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons, he could have replaced Dan Reeves as head coach for next season and had Michael Vick as his starting quarterback.
Instead, Washington's conquering hero is back in town having grown in stature with every losing season since he left. He returns to the city where he produced champions, and to an owner who can't stay out of his way.
Maybe this time, though, it will be different. Maybe this time, Daniel Snyder will just stay in the background like most good owners.