Monday, March 29, 2010

We Need to Be More Careful with the Joe Gibbs Parallels

Everyone's going to be the next Joe Gibbs. Stop it.

Last week Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, twice the head coach of the Washington Redskins, three time winner of the Super Bowl, was back in town for an appearance at Redskins Park, nominally it was about some Joe Gibbs charity, the real significance was as plain as the picture you see above; to link the Redskins' past glory with its hopeful future.

Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan, standing side by side, smiling and joking, assuring that even before Shanahan has coached a single game that he is in the pantheon.

That Mike Shanahan had his own Maroon and Black moment at this event, when he incorrectly tallied the number of points the Redskins scored in the second quarter of Super Bowl 22, it was 35 not 28 coach, that is a number burned into the brains of every Redskins fan old enough to remember it and Washington set seven Super Bowl records in that game, coach Shanahan's moment will not be remembered significantly.

What will be remembered is that image, of the two superstar coaches together, one hoping to bring the Redskins and himself back to the upper echelons, one humble and fading but still relevant.

And so that image and the media circle jerk around it leads, intentionally, to the notion of Mike Shanahan inheriting the mantle of Joe Gibbs, that Redskins fans can have their cake and eat it too, the football world can move on from Joe Gibbs and still Redskins fans can have a wizened old man of football, an acknowledged guru at the helm.

And maybe it is a good analogy, perhaps Mike Shanahan will return the Redskins to glory. Perhaps coach Shanahan can produce something akin to eight playoff appearances, four Super Bowls with three championships and a .674 regular season winning percentage with a 16-5 playoff record in twelve seasons.

But we do not know obviously, and therein lies the risk of making the inevitable comparison to Joe Gibbs. This experiment with established football royalty may succeed, it may tantalize while disappointing, it may crash and burn. We will have to wait and see.

But do you know who else was compared to Joe Gibbs on his way in the door at Redskins Park?

Jim Zorn.

Back in February of 2008, the day after the promotion of Jim Zorn from offensive coordinator to head coach, the Washington Post's Mike Wise wrote a column titled Redskins Looked Below the Radar, and in this piece Mike writes that shadow general manager Vinny Cerrato's ultimate selection of Jim Zorn as Redskins head coach had strong echoes of former general manager Bobby Beathard's selection of Joe Gibbs in 1981.

Both were from the offensive side of the ball, both continuing to serve under their mentors, Jim Zorn under Mike Holmgren and Joe Gibbs under Don Coryell. Both were selected out of relative obscurity and did not have many or any other suitors at the time of their hiring, and both succeeded team icons, Jim Zorn following Joe Gibbs himself the second time around, and Joe Gibbs following Jack Pardee, former Bear Bryant Junction Boy and George Allen protege, as a player Jack had helped get the Redskins into Super Bowl 7.

And both are evangelical Christians.

So that 2008 bottle spin of conventional wisdom was that someone [Bobby Beathard : Vinny Cerrato] sensed something about a head coaching candidate [Joe Gibbs : Jim Zorn] that caused him to go out on a limb with the owner [Jack Kent Cooke : Dan Snyder]. From Mike's piece:

...Zorn might be the most out-of-the-box Redskins head coaching hire since an anonymous offensive wizard in San Diego was plucked from obscurity by Bobby Beathard in 1981 -- when coordinators didn't have cult followings and $2 million-a-year deals.

Before he's portrayed as Everybody's Eighth Choice, Jim Zorn could turn out to be Cerrato's Joe Gibbs. In his first genuine decision as the team's executive vice president of football operations, there is real potential for symmetry here.

Like Gibbs, Zorn is principled, passionate and extremely candid. Zorn is said to have no fraud in him and plenty of authenticity. He says what's on his mind, which might endear him to the fan base but (now that Gibbs's spell has worn off of Snyder) might drive his perception-driven employers up the wall. (op. cit.)

We know how it worked out for Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato, cigarettes and blindfolds.

So yeah, Mike Shanahan might be the next Joe Gibbs. Redskins football history is littered with the next Joe Gibbses. Even Joe Gibbs was not the next Joe Gibbs.


As a final note to this piece on the dangerous Joe Gibbs parallel, the day after that February 2008 piece, Mike Wise wrote another (op. cit.), wherein Mike discusses how, after two days Jim Zorn was displaying deference and independence in the right mix, how he was saying all the right things and how

...[T]he Redskins got the man they wanted, no question. Snyder and Cerrato wanted someone who wouldn't rock the boat or reinvent the wheel on offense, someone who could cut his teeth -- someone new, who has yet to believe the myth about his own coaching prowess.

Could that be a distant early foreshadow to Mike Shanahan, now in total control of every aspect of the Redskins football program? It would seem that being the next Joe Gibbs means different things at different times.

Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan: Ricky Carloti / Washington Post photo from here.




Shanny keeps signing has-beens and scrubs, he'll get Norv Turner comparisons soon