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A Conversation With Coach Gibbs

*In just four months, head coach Joe Gibbs has once again made his mark on the Redskins. As detailed on Redskins.com, from the first days following his return to the organization through free agency, the team's first mini-camp and preparation for the NFL Draft, Gibbs has dived into his new job with a steady hand.

In Q&A interviews conducted in recent weeks, Gibbs discussed his approach to Redskins players, the NFL and his opponents as he continues to make the adjustment back into coaching:*

Q: So what were your initial thoughts after seeing the regular season schedule last week?

A: "In the NFL, things change so much. But when you look at the schedule, it does scare you, because we're going to play in some tough places. And we have a Monday Night game against Dallas. I've never done well on Monday--I'll be truthful. So that scares me. The good thing about it is that we have one long trip [to San Francisco] in there and other than that, I think we're pretty good. It's one of those things in the NFL--you have to live with it. We aren't able to change the schedule, so we're going to do the best we can with it."

Q: It looks like the Redskins will face some strong defenses in the early going. Is that your impression as well?

A: "Right. You start with Tampa. I have great respect for Tampa. Monte Kiffin's defense is extremely tough and Jon Gruden has done a terrific job there. The Giants are going to be a little bit tough. They're not going to know quite what to expect from us. That's going to be an interesting game--new coaching staff here, new coaching staff there. I know what to expect from the Cowboys. I've already been looking at the film. They have the No. 1 defense in the league and Bill Parcells--that's going to be real interesting. And you keep going down the list--there are a lot of tough games we're going to play."

Q: You also have three nationally televised games, plus the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio...

A: "The one thing for me that's a little embarrassing is that you get so much attention--there have been people in this league who have been coaching and been doing great, even dominating games. We're starting all over again here. So I think the reality of all of that is going to hit pretty quickly."

Q: Do you think you'll be the same type of coach as you were during your first tenure with the Redskins?

A: "Hopefully, dealing with people--I would hope that hasn't changed. Hopefully the people portion of it will be the same. The technical part of it has changed. I know with the players, you have to have guys who will be focused on wanting to win.

"Yes, there's a financial side to all of this, but once we get that all taken care of, this is a game. People play on emotion. They get a thrill out of trying to beat somebody and trying to win a football game. Hopefully those parts of it will be the same."

Q: You've talked a lot about developing a core group of Redskin players. Why is that such a high priority for you?

A: "Because I think you build around a core group of Redskins. That's hopefully what we're going to have. I think we can do that. I don't think the current salary cap prevents you from doing that. That's one of the things we've talked about at length. I know we're going to be able to keep together the guys we want to keep and build around for a long time--for a long-term future.

"And I think what they do is, once you get that core group together, they bring a lot of the young guys along. When a young guy comes into the organization, he says, 'If I want to play for 12 years, I have to be like a Joe Jacoby or an Art Monk,' or somebody from those old days who were core Redskins.

"We're going to have to get together a core group of guys here who want to play for a real long time for us and be that kind of person. It makes it easier for you as a coach because you say, 'This is what we stand for.' And every team out there is in some way trying to do that.

"I know it's real important for me. If you can prove that you're a valuable Redskin, we're keeping you."

Q: How quickly will it take to identify a core player?

A: "I think it takes a period of time. You have to play the games, go through the heartbreak, and practice. It's a long process."

Q: The players have all heard about your past and the three Super Bowl championships. Does that give you instant respect among players or do you feel you have to earn their respect?

A: "You're going to have the normal skepticism coming back. I feel like I have to prove myself. I've been out of it for a long time. You're going to have the normal skepticism--and for me, I'm excited because of that.

"This is today's team, a modern team--the past doesn't buy you anything other than memories. I have a lot of neat memories and a lot of great relationships. Jumpy Geathers came in recently and I sat down and talked to him for a long time--that was fun. But that doesn't buy us anything in today's football. We have a new group and we need to accomplish something today."

Q: After being away from the game for 12 years, how well do you think you're faring in relating to today's player?

"I think one of the things about pro sports--which I have talked to the guys about--is that there is a business side to this. It's a business side for all of us--we make an agreement with somebody before we go to work. And we agree to the amount we're going to be paid and we go through that whole process.

"But then when you cross the lines, it's football. I've never seen a good football player who's focused on money once you start playing.

"I think football players love the fact that their job is hard to do. It's very physical and you have to beat out people. All of that is competitive. And football players are extremely competitive--I think human nature in general is competitive. When we come into the world, we're ready to go. My grandbabies--the best way to get them to do something is to go, 'Let's see how fast you can do this.'"

"So most people are geared to the competitive spirit--especially these guys. I think they light up on that. It's part of the fun."

Q: As players begin to learn your offense this offseason, will it require more mental preparation or more practice field preparation?

A: "I think there's going to a lot of mental preparation. Mini-camp was a huge mental thing. I think in today's football, you have to have super smart football guys. If you stop and think about what kind of intelligence that is--it's not reading and writing and arithmetic--it's being able to take something visually in a playbook or described on an overhead projector. And then you hear the assignment.

"So you see it, you hear it from your coach, and then you go on the field and try to perform that against moving objects. That's a different kind of intelligence. It's different than a lot of things you do in life.

"In today's football, you have a myriad of blitzes and people coming after you. When you put pressure on top of all that, football really becomes a pressure cooker and you really have to have super smart guys out there. I think the last mini-camp was really important for us from that standpoint. That'll probably be the first thing we pick up on--how quick guys are and how quickly they absorb it."

Q: A lot of fans are curious about how your offense uses tight ends and H-backs...

A: "People used to say I was kind of weird when it came to tight ends. I carried five or six--mainly because it's two positions on your offensive team. A lot of teams have two backs, with a fullback. What we have is the H-back. An H-back can be a fullback, but in general they're tight ends. They have to have good hands and be super smart. They give you a lot of opportunities for changes in formations.

"So we have the H-back, who is more of a pass receiver, and then you have the tight end, who is the really big blocker. So we really have two positions on offense taken by tight ends.

"A lot of teams right now are playing three tight end sets. If you notice real good football teams do it because it's a different complication for the defense."

Q: Do you think your offensive philosophy from the 1980s will translate to today's NFL?

A: "After studying defenses very hard, there'll be some adjustments on some of those plays. You take the counter trey: Do people still run it? Yes. Have they made an adjustment on whether to pull the tackle or the H-back? Yes. So you're looking at that and saying, 'Hey, that's a great idea.' We did a little bit of that before.

"There are some things you watch now and you ask, 'Why is a coach thinking that? I think defenses have changed as much as anything. As an offensive coach, you're looking at that and saying, 'What kinds of problems will that cause?' 'Will it take some things away from what you used to do?' 'Will you have to pass protect differently?'

"Those are the fun things about football--the technical side of things."

Q: What have you noticed that is different about NFL defenses today?

A: "Obviously, they're much more willing to blitz heavily than what they did before. I think the base front that teams are using besides the 3-4 is with our four down linemen, with linebackers stacked up.

"Remember the old 4-3 with the linebackers running around the line of scrimmage? Now they're stacking them up and there's a little bit of a gap charge to it.

"So the base front that most people are using today--it's different than before. It's the same front that Jimmy Johnson was using when we played Dallas [in the early 1990s]. We saw it, but today it's really prevalent. That's what most teams are using. And I'd say teams are much more aggressive now instead of reading and reacting to offensive plays."

Q: From an overall perspective, what is your vision for the Redskins?

A: "To me, it's like a big puzzle. Some of those years when I was around here before, we had three really good wide receivers and we probably threw the ball more because we were trying to get the ball to our best players. Other times, we pounded it because we felt like it fit with our football team.

"In general, you have to be good all the way across the board. There are some basic principles that you want to be able to do. You have to be able to run and stop the run, obviously.

"But different years, your football team takes on different personalities based on your players. And I think coaches adjust to players--the players often dictate what you can do. For example, if you have two good press corners and you can get after somebody, then chances are you're going to be a very aggressive kind of football team on defense.

"The good football teams do it all on this level. Special teams are super important to me. That's a basis--you have to have that. I've never been more miserable in my life when you have to go into a game and worry about the holder or the snapper. You have to solve those kinds of things because they're the basis.

"You can be the best football team in the world and lose games because of those areas. So I've found that the closer you get to the playoffs, if you're missing something, other teams will find it. It shows up."

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