Everyone remembers Joe Gibbs' offenses emphasizing the running game, with John Riggins' 43-yard run off the counter trey behind "The Hogs" in Super Bowl XVII perhaps the signature moment. Others: Little-known rookie running back Timmy Smith's record-setting 204 rushing yards in Super Bowl XXII, or Gerald Riggs' franchise record 221 yards rushing in September 1989 versus Philadelphia.
With Gibbs returning as Redskins head coach, one of his off-season priorities is expected to be upgrading a running game that finished 22nd in the NFL last year. He may also see a passing offense that--while ranked 21st last year--has some strong components to build on, from quarterback Patrick Ramsey to wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner.
Of course, it may be easy to forget that Gibbs' forte as a coach was initially passing offense. He got his start as an assistant coach under Don Coryell at San Diego State (Gibbs' alma mater) and later became the offensive coordinator for Coryell's high-powered passing offenses for the San Diego Chargers in the late 1970s.
With the Chargers, Gibbs coached the likes of Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John "J.J." Jefferson, who incidentally is the current Redskins' director of player development.
When Gibbs arrived in Washington, he tried to implement a passing offense--to little success. As is well-known in Redskins lore, Gibbs started out with a 0-5 record. He then shifted from a pass-oriented offense to a run-first offense--and the Redskins won 20 of their next 24 games, including Super Bowl XVII.
"When I think of what that 0-5 did for all of us who lived it--we changed our offense and in some instances our personnel," Gibbs said last week during his introductory press conference as the Redskins' new head coach. "I think we were highly motivated, we never wanted to go back to that. I think 0-5 drove us the first 2-3 years."
Looking back at the Redskins' offenses under Gibbs, the passing game was always a vital component. From Joe Theismann, Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien to Art Monk, Charlie Brown, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, the Redskins may have had an underrated passing offense. Four of his quarterbacks threw for 400-plus yards in a game and four of his wide receivers registered 200-plus receiving yards in a game.
The 1983 offense is often regarded as one of the most prolific in NFL history, racking up 6,139 total yards and a team-record 541 points. The offense's lowest output in a game that season was 23 points.
How will Gibbs' balanced offensive approach translate into today's NFL, a mostly passing league? While variations of the West Coast Offense are used throughout the NFL--with the pass used to set up the run--Gibbs' offense is flexible enough to be both a smash-mouth running offense and a wide-open passing offense, Clark said.
"You look at how Coach Gibbs won his championships--there always were interchangeable parts," Clark said. "Basically, he won with different teams and different people in key positions. Free agency won't be a big thing for him now because of his system. You can plug the right person into that system and it'll succeed.
"He has a great system--you just have to be a hard worker and be smart. The receivers are going to love it. Laveranues Coles thought he had a good year last year? He's going to have a special year next season."
Among the constants in Gibbs' offenses from 1981-92 was Monk. The Redskins' all-time receptions leader said last week that he was confident that the current offensive unit will improve on its 22nd overall ranking last year.
"I'm sure Joe is going to spend a lot of time researching and breaking down film, studying individuals and opponents," Monk said. "That's what he's always done. He'll make the adjustments. He's a quick learner and he'll apply what he learned then to what he's learned now."
Wide receivers Coles, Gardner, Darnerien McCants, Taylor Jacobs, Patrick Johnson and Cliff Russell should be prepared for a downfield passing offense with some route adjustments and audible calls, Monk said.
"We never locked ourselves into one thing," he said. "We tried to take whatever the defense gave us."
Clark said a degree of unselfishness will also be required among the receivers. With patience, passes will come their way, he said. Indeed, five times in Gibbs' first tenure with the team, two or more receivers registered 70-plus receptions in a season, including the Redskins' 1991 Super Bowl season.
Said Clark: "Joe always brought it back to what was most important and what we were playing for: We were always playing for that ring. It didn't matter what kind of year I had or the kind of year Art had, getting the ring was the most important thing."