After the worst season of his Hall of Fame career, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that he doesn't expect his underachieving team to be overhauled in the offseason in regard to its playing roster or coaching staff.
In his dual role as coach and team president, Gibbs plans to build the offense around second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, who showed promise after taking over from veteran Mark Brunell the last seven games, and rebuild a defense that finished next to last in the NFL.
Despite his team's 5-11 record, Gibbs doesn't think the Redskins are that far away from being a playoff team, as they were last season.
"I know we were 5-11, so you can't start off saying that we're a 10-win team, but having said that, right now to be very truthful, in this league it's very close," Gibbs said during his end-of-season news conference at Redskins Park. "We lost five three-pointers. The year before we won a lot of those."
Still, given the expectations for a team that some thought was a Super Bowl contender, Gibbs acknowledged that the season was perhaps the most difficult since he was hired by the Redskins in 1981 and certainly the toughest since he returned in 2004 after a 12-year hiatus.
"For me it was pretty much the toughest five months of my professional career, as far as coaching," said Gibbs, 66, who is now 21-26 in regular-season games since returning.
Gibbs wouldn't second-guess himself for not switching quarterbacks earlier or going with the more physical running game that won him three Super Bowls and helped running back Ladell Betts, playing for injured star Clinton Portis, have five straight games with 100 yards or more down the stretch.
"I don't think you have the luxury of going back saying 'I'd like to do this or that,' " Gibbs said. "You can't live in that world."
Gibbs said that he will map out a strategy for the coming months in terms of everything from offseason workouts to signing free agents to re-signing some current Redskins such as offensive left guard Derrick Dockery, rather than watch him and others go elsewhere, as has occurred in recent seasons.
"We're going to wage a war. We're going to go after the guys that we feel have proven they want to be here, and try to do everything we can to keep them here," Gibbs said. "We want to keep the team together. Our strategy has been that we want to get a player from anyplace."
Rebuilding through the draft will be difficult since after a first-round draft pick - the Redskins will pick No. 6 overall - the team will likely not have another selection until the fifth round because of recent trades for wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and running back T.J. Duckett.
It is believed that the Redskins - who set a franchise record for the fewest interceptions (six), as well as a 16-game league record for creating the fewest turnovers (12) - are interested in pursuing free agent Nate Clements. The Buffalo Bills cornerback played for Gregg Williams when Washington's assistant head coach for defense was the head coach of the Bills.
There has been speculation that the Redskins could cut two of this season's high-priced disappointments, safety Adam Archuleta and Lloyd. Gibbs was noncommittal about Archuleta, but gave Lloyd a strong vote of confidence for next season.
"We think Brandon is somebody that certainly fits into our future, and we think can do a lot for us," Gibbs said of a wide-out who caught only 23 passes for 365 yards and no touchdowns, and was benched late in the season because of some blowups with teammates and assistant coaches.
Wide receiver Santana Moss said after Saturday night's season-ending 34-28 loss to the New York Giants at FedEx Field that Gibbs can build off the competitiveness the team demonstrated at the end of the season even after being eliminated from playoff contention.
"He's seen our team come of age when it comes to digging in deep and finishing the season out hard, knowing that we could have tucked our tails and went the other way," said Moss. "He knows what he has. He's got the right men in here."
Some players still seemed shocked by what transpired.
"It's not something that I really thought would happen, but the reality is, we are 5-11," said veteran right offensive guard Randy Thomas. "It's going to be a very motivating offseason to get back on the field and improve."