CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Washington Redskins coach and Nextel Cup car owner Joe Gibbs has always liked to draw comparisons between pro football and stock car racing. But his analogies have changed.
He used to say quarterbacks were like drivers, the stars of the team. And coaches were like crew chiefs, directing the teams. Now, he smiles crookedly, and demonstrates new knowledge that has come from one season back as coach of the Redskins.
"Quarterbacks are like drivers," he said. "They make a mess either way. Coaches and crew chiefs are each responsible for the mess. And both businesses have a lot of personnel and you know what that is - a nightmare."
Gibbs returned to Washington as a Hall of Fame coach after a 12-year hiatus, but barely halfway through the first year of a five-year contract, his welcome turned cool. Critics began to take shots. His Redskins finished 6-10.
Yesterday, he stood in his multimillion-dollar garage at Joe Gibbs Racing during NASCAR's media tour and considered his first season back in Washington.
"I came home from work one night and my wife, Pat, summed it up with one question: 'What in the world did we do?' " Gibbs said. "I hadn't thought about football for 11 years, and after we lost a few games, I pretty much knew the criticism was coming.
"I told you what would happen before I went back, but no one wrote it. I said this could get real ugly. I said people would say I'd lost touch and that the game had passed me by. I could have written all those stories myself before I even got there.
"I was highly motivated. I didn't want them to write it, but ... we didn't do well."
The game had changed. The change in free agency was a positive, Gibbs said, with an active owner like Dan Snyder. But the salary cap, Gibbs added, was another story: "It trapped us with everyone else."
On the field, linemen had gotten bigger and defenses more aggressive.
"Nobody sets and reads anymore," he said. "Everybody's blitzing. Everybody's forcing everything. When I left, New York, with [Bill] Parcells there, for example, had a four-man rush, drop everybody back, with two men deep. There's none of that now. If you would have told me I'd ever see a Parcells team play defense and leave the middle of the field open, I would have said you're crazy. But now it happens all the time. All that's changed dramatically.
"The only thing that hasn't changed is the people. They're still motivated by money, fear and sugar."
Gibbs said it took time for him to adjust and other first-year coaches did a much better job.
"I'd give myself a D," he said. "That's D, not B. What we like about sports is how unpredictable they are. But it was hard getting beat. I don't know that I predetermined how hard it would be to go back and start all over again."
As the season wore on, Gibbs, who has diabetes, looked more and more worn down, but his son J.D., who was left in charge of the family's racing business, said his father watched his diet and worked out regularly.
"I think physically, he's probably in better shape than he was before going to Washington," said J.D. Gibbs. "He's got 35-plus years or so on my brother Coy, and he can still outwork him. I'm sure the season wore on him. But if he wasn't there, he'd find something here to stress over. That's the way he is."
Gibbs said he never considered quitting at the end of the season, even though the criticism hit home.
"It got very personal," he said. "But that's part of that job, too, and I came to realize I shouldn't get upset about it. If I wanted to stop it, the answer was just win.
"And I think we have things to look forward to."
The Redskins' defense turned into one of the best in the NFL.
"It was my part, the offense, the part I was responsible for, that let us down," he said. "We've already made some changes, added Bill Musgrave [as quarterbacks coach], and I think we know what we have to do. The good news is, if we can improve our offense, we can take a big step up."
On his performance
"I'd give myself a D. ... It was hard getting beat. I don't know that I predetermined how hard it would be to go back and start all over again."
On feeling the heat
"I hadn't thought about football for 11 years, and after we lost a few games, I pretty much knew the criticism was coming."