In a dozen seasons coaching the Washington Redskins, Coach Joe Gibbs led them to eight playoff appearances, four championship titles and three Super Bowl trophies. Then, he retired only to get into NASCAR racing – again piling up the wins.
As a result, Gibbs has spent a lot of his life giving pep talks – sketching out game plans on a chalkboard, inspiring his team to get out there and do whatever it takes to win.
He’s put 40 of those locker room chats down on paper in a sequel to his bestselling Game Plan for Life. The new book is Game Plan for Life Chalk Talks. Each chapter is based on a key moment in his life. And he admits some of it has not been pretty.
Gibbs is living proof of the athlete who compensates with heart and hustle whatever he lacks in athletic ability. After a successful college career as quarterback for San Diego State University, Gibbs says he had to accept the truth that he wasn’t good enough to play pro football.
So, he focused his love for the game on coaching. Perhaps it was that personal disappointment – accepting that he’d never be an NFL quarterback – that drove his coaching style. Sports filmmaker Steve Sabol says Gibbs built “championship teams with many players who have had mediocre to average careers while playing for other NFL teams.”
He saw something in them that they couldn’t see. And he inspired them to greatness.
“When I came out of school, I wanted to play pro sports,” he recalls. “But I wasn’t good enough. So, I said ‘Hey I’ll volunteer and start coaching.’ I felt like I’d probably end up coaching junior high.”
Instead, his longtime coach and mentor Don Coryell assigned him to help a then-unknown assistant coach – John Madden, who went on to coach the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl and provide several decades of TV sports commentary before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Under Coryell and Madden, Gibbs became an effective offensive line coach at San Diego State, then was recruited to work at Florida State. Then, he served under John McKay at the University of Southern California and Frank Boyles at Arkansas. After that, Coryell recruited him to help out with the St. Louis Cardinals. Then McKay called him to come be an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, Gibbs rejoined Coryell with the San Diego Chargers, but in 1981, Redskins’ owner Jack Kent Cooke asked him to become head coach in Washington.
Gibbs in command
“Only through a miraculous set of circumstances did I get to coach in the National Football League,” marvels Gibbs. “I’ve been blessed beyond belief. Most people never get to live one dream. I’ve gotten to live two” — NFL football and NASCAR.
Given his ability to pull the best out of mediocre players, does he ever wish he’d had a coach who could have done the same for him?
Almost indignantly, Gibbs disputes that any of his players were ever mediocre. Then, he applauds Coryell for inspiring him to coach.
“I had probably one of the best coaches who’s ever been in any kind of sports. He belongs in the Football Hall of Fame. But physically I was just an average athlete. I wanted it and went after it hard. I was coachable, but I was limited, so Don inspired me to put my love of football into coaching.
“I think that’s where the Lord wanted me to be – and that started my journey.”
As a college player, was Gibbs a Christian?
“I gave my life to Christ at 9 years old,” he remembers. “The first big decision I had in life came when I was in the third grade at a small elementary school in Sand Hill, North Carolina. I can remember in school being told that two amoeba happen to hit in a muddy puddle of water two billions years ago and I was the result.
“They were saying I was an accident. I was looking at that and now my grandmother had told me something completely different. In church, the pastor had told me something totally different, too – that there is a loving God Who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving who knit me together in my mother’s womb – who made me special and different.
Joe, his wife, Pat, and their grandkids