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Hogs History: Coach Joe Gibbs Returns

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The Hogs History series is a retrospective for enjoyment and discussion of the great moments and personalities in Washington Redskins' history. Comments are especially welcomed to spark conversation among those who experienced these moments as fans.

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Few moments resound in the memory of Redskins' fans more than the unexpected return of Joe Jackson Gibbs to Washington as the Head Coach and team President in 2004.  And why not?  During his first tenure in Washington (1981-1993), Gibbs had accomplished one of most impressive coaching stints in NFL history.  In 12 seasons, his Redskins won 124 out of 184 regular season games, had 8 playoff appearances, posted a 16-5 playoff record, and earned 3 Super Bowl victories in 1982, 1987, and 1991.  Gibbs' winning percentage ranked 3rd among all NFL coaches, and his sheer number of wins ranked 14th in NFL history.  More than his pure winning statistics, Joe Gibbs was known throughout the NFL community for his work ethic, care given to players and coaches under his management, and his sheer ability to maintain success despite changes in his core group of players.  Gibbs is still the only coach in NFL history to win 3 Super Bowl championships with 3 different quarterbacks and running backs.  The enduring figure of the Redskins' dynasty of the 1980s and early 1990s is the coach that brought his team to championships time and again.

Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder, since buying the team in 1999, had made several unsuccessful attempts to draw the legendary coach out of retirement.  During 5 years of ownership, Snyder had churned through 3 head coaches and the team had posted a 38-42 record.   And since Gibbs first retired in 1992, the Redskins were a combined 74-101-1, with 1 playoff appearance, under 5 different coaches.

When head coach Steve Spurrier unexpectedly stepped down following the 2003 season, Dan Snyder aggressively pursued Coach Joe, who had settled into life after football with another sports passion: NASCAR.  Joe Gibbs Racing entered the NASCAR circuit in 1991 and had won 2 championships by December of 2003, when Snyder flew to Charlotte, NC to pitch Gibbs on a return to the NFL.

Snyder later commented that they "had an 11-hour meeting, because I wanted him to know every detail of...how the team is run, how operations run, how the stadium is run, how everything is run, so he could feel comfortable and want to do it and feel like he could point out what he'd want to do in certain areas.  At the end I said, ‘Well, Joe?' And he said, ‘I guess I'm the head coach.' He gave me a big hug..."

Joe Gibbs' return was a watershed moment in Washington Redskins' history.  The team publicly announced the move at a press conference on January 7th, 2004.  Gibbs signed a five-year contract worth $28.5 million, which made him the highest paid coach in the NFL and attached to his title the role of team president.  Sentiments of the Redskins' organization and its fans were summed up well by Snyder: "Joe Gibbs helped define what the Washington Redskins stand for - integrity, hard work, determination, winning and championships," Snyder said. "Who better to set our strategy and lead the Redskins back to championship glory?"

Coach Gibbs set out to work immediately, assembling one of the biggest and brightest staffs in the league, which included many players and coaches that had previously worked under Gibbs.  Joe Bugel was hired as offensive line coach and assistant head coach; Dan Breaux became the offensive coordinator; Jack Burns was hired as quarterbacks coach; Rennie Simmons coached the tight ends; and Ernest Byner joined as the running backs coach.  Gibbs was even able to hire another former NFL head coach in Gregg Williams as the Redskins' defensive coordinator.

That March, Gibbs and Snyder worked together to recruit, trade for, and sign a new core of Redskins players, including quarterback Mark Brunell, running back Clinton Portis, defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, cornerback Shawn Springs, and linebacker Marcus Washington. The team had already signed linebacker LaVar Arrington to an eight-year, $68 million contract extension in December. And with the 5th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Redskins selected safety Sean Taylor, a 6'2", 231 lb defensive juggernaut from the University of Miami.  After making the pick, Coach Gibbs said about Taylor, "If you have a great safety in the middle of the field that can cover ground from sideline to sideline, what he allows the two corners to do is to be much more aggressive.  If you can play aggressive corners and have a real good free safety, that allows you to take the eight other guys and put them close to the line of scrimmage. Now it's hard to run."

On September 12, 2004, the Redskins opened their season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  More than 90,000 fans packed into Fedex Field that day and erupted early in celebration when newly acquired running back Clinton Portis took a handoff on the first play from scrimmage and scampered 64 yards down field for a touchdown.  Washington's defense, which would go on to rank 3rd in the NFL that year, held the Bucs in check for the entire day and the Redskins went on to win 16-10.

The return of Coach Joe Gibbs was complete.