Meet Joe Gibbs, the paranoid, lay-down-the-law, workaholic grandfather who loves what he's doing and does it better than almost anybody else. At least that's the impression you get if you spend a just few minutes with the Washington Redskins players and coaches as the team prepares for the Hall of Fame coach's first training camp in 12 years.
"The one thing about our coaches is I think they have a little bit more fun at doing this than we do--and that's just completely against the rules,'' center Cory Raymer said during this week's three-day passing camp, a sort of prelude to the formal opening of training camp Saturday at Redskins Park.
Gibbs has been on a nonstop emotional high since his announcement eight months ago that he will return to coaching. He has taken on with relish the endless hours of film study needed to get back in sync with the game. He was excited about his first foray into free agency, sounding like a kid going to a candy store for the first time. The infamous late-night work ethic that led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles from 1981-92 hasn't missed a beat.
"I don't see a difference," said director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer, the longtime Redskins trainer who came out of retirement so he could work for Gibbs again. "He's as focused and as serious and as determined as ever. At the same time, he has that great sense of humor and humility that he shows. He's the exact same guy. It's fantastic."
Gibbs' return goes public Saturday, when the pads go on and the fans are let in. What kind of camp should the players expect?
"We're a curfew team," said Gibbs, adding the familiar high-pitched chuckle that often accompanies even a serious remark. "I learned after the second Super Bowl. We're not doing the no-curfew deal because I can't trust them.
"You probably only need rules for 10 percent of the guys. The rest of the 90 percent are paying attention to business and everything. But I think it does help to set parameters and say 'This is what we're going to do and what we are.' This is a team sport. You can't do your own thing."
The players' heads must be spinning. After all, in four years they've gone from the authoritarian, lock-down regime of Marty Schottenheimer to the laissez-faire approach of Steve Spurrier and now back to the more disciplined Gibbs.
Schottenheimer alienated some players with long practices and endless petty fines for violating rules. Gibbs runs his firm ship with a kindler, gentler demeanor, and the players are buying into it.
"He's the granddaddy-figure type," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "He's the one that you want to go out there and lay it on the line for him. You don't want to shortcut him. He's not just a mean, cuss-you-out-in-your-face guy. He's more of a teacher, more of a philosopher, just making sure you understand why you were wrong instead of just cussing you out."
Gibbs welcomes feedback from players, and he'll sometimes reward them with an unexpected perk. He has also installed a players-only lounge at Redskins Park, a comfortable place to relax away from the grind.
"Coach Gibbs throws you a little bit more bones," Raymer said. "It's hard to keep grinding and grinding and grinding and grinding. Every once in a while he'll give you a meeting off or throw you some fun stuff."
Meanwhile, Gibbs' training camp schedule has a much different look from recent Redskins years.
The coach believes that too much work during camp wears players down late in the season, so he's replaced many of the morning practices with weightlifting sessions. That's also the reason he's starting camp as late as possible, only nine days before the opening exhibition game. In addition, some practices will be held at a local high school so the players can get used to working under the lights.
The biggest change, however, stems from Gibbs' desire for secrecy. Only 10 practices will be open to the public. The rest will be closed to everyone, including reporters, except possibly for the few minutes when the players are stretching or working in simple drills. Gibbs wants his game plan to be as much of a surprise as possible when the regular season opens Sept. 12.
"I think in a lot of sports, giving away secrets is a coaches' shame," Gibbs said. "If we have anything going for ourselves, it will be that first game or two, where there might still be some question about what we are going to do."