Joe Gibbs: The Greatest Coach of the Super Bowl Era?

Dan YokeCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 17:  Head coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins watches a play from the sideline against the New Orleans Saints on December 17, 2006 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Redskins defeated the Saints 16-10.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

I will admit it right from the start.

I love the Washington Redskins

I am probably a little biased. 

Although I am probably looking at Joe Gibbs through burgundy and gold colored glasses, please disregard my bias and seriously consider my arguments.

Now that I have gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let me get down to business.

There have been many great coaches in the Super Bowl era—coaches such as Vince Lombardi, Chuck Knoll, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, and Bill Belichick. All of these men have created dynasties that have produced multiple Super Bowl wins and countless Hall of Famers.

Joe Gibbs has led just as many or more teams to the Super Bowl. The only coach in the Super Bowl era with more titles is Chuck Knoll.

But it is the path that Gibbs took that separates him from the others. 

If at the end of this article you still don’t consider him the best coach, you will at least understand that he was unique among his peers.

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If you take a look at the coaches who have won multiple Super Bowls, they all have one thing in common.  They all have had the good fortune to have a franchise quarterback to guide their team throughout their triumphs. 

Each coach that I have mentioned had a quarterback who is either in the Hall of Fame or soon will be.

Vince Lombardi had Bart Starr as his field general.  Knoll had Terry Bradshaw.  Shula had Griese, Landry had Roger Staubach, Walsh had Montana, and Belichick has a guy named Tom Brady with whom a few of you may be familiar.

History has shown us that no matter how good a coach you are, you need a great quarterback to sustain championship success.

Joe Gibbs is different from these great coaches in that he didn’t have a marquee quarterback.  He won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.  Only Bill Parcells has ever won even two Super Bowls with different quarterbacks.

I love Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien, but I have to be honest when I say that none of them will ever make the Hall of Fame.  Even Theismann, who led the Redskins to back-to-back Super Bowls and is the best of the three, has no reasonable shot at making it.  He only started seven full seasons and only played at a pro bowl level in three or four of them.

This reason alone separates Gibbs from his contemporaries. But there’s more.

You may bring up the valid point that Starr, Bradshaw, and Greise were game managers and it was the running game that mainly propelled their teams to greatness.

You would be correct in that assumption.  The Packers, Dolphins, and Steelers all had Hall of Fame caliber running backs to carry the ball.

Once again, Gibbs succeeded with three different running backs in three different Super Bowls.

John Riggins is without question a Hall of Fame running back and one of the main forces behind two Super Bowl Redskin teams.  But he retired after the ’85 season.

Gibbs continued what he had built with Riggins by clever drafting, great line play, and players considered past their prime by many in the NFL.  Earnest Byner (who was the starter for the 1991/92 championship team) was a very good running back.  But he was labeled as a fumbler and hounded out of Cleveland, where his untimely fumble cost them a Super Bowl berth against (guess who) the Redskins.

The running backs on the Redskin team Byner’s Browns would have faced consisted of journeyman Gerald Riggs, unheralded Kelvin Bryant, and rookie Timmy Smith, who had not started a game all season.

Due to injuries to starter Riggs, Gibbs decided to go with the rookie.  The result was the greatest single rushing performance in Super Bowl history.  Smith ran for 204 yards that day, breaking a record previously held by Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, and John Riggins.  Smith quickly faded into obscurity following his epic Super Bowl performance.

Many of the mighty dynasties of yesteryear also had great receivers to help them win their championships.  The Redskins did have a very good receiving corps, but only Art Monk among them has made it into the hall, and that only happened last year after years of being overlooked.

In fact, of all the coaches and teams I have mentioned, the Redskins have the least amount of Hall of Fame inductees out of all of them.  They only have three players who were significant contributors to their Super Bowls that are currently in the hall.  Two of them (Darryl Green and Art Monk) finally got in last year.  Before that it was one (Riggo).

There is one final piece of evidence that I would like you to consider.  The NFL has experienced two strike-shortened seasons in the Super Bowl era.  Gibbs’ Redskins won both Super Bowls.  You may say that due to the strikes Gibbs had it easier.  I disagree.

The 1982 squad only played nine regular season games, but because of this the NFL extended the number of teams allowed in the playoffs.  This forced the top seeded Redskins to play four postseason games.  Normally a top seed only plays in three, including the Super Bowl.

The 1987 season featured replacement players for four games.  Joe Gibbs managed to coach these players into a cohesive unit that ended up winning three out of four replacement games.

The 1987 Redskins were the only team not to have a single player cross the picket line before the strike was resolved.  This means that in the latter weeks of the replacement season the Redskins faced more and more legitimate NFL players.

This was most evident during the last week of the strike.  The Redskins faced a Dallas team that had 11 starters playing in the game, including Tony Dorsett.  The Redskins defied the odds and won the game in what has to be considered one of the greatest upsets in modern sports history.

To sum it all up Joe Gibbs coached his teams to four Super Bowls during his tenure.  He is the only coach in league history to have a different starting quarterback, a different starting running back, and a different leading receiver in each of his Super Bowl victories.

Gibbs is also the only coach to have won three Super Bowls and have his team not considered a dynasty.  This is with good reason.  The length of time between Super Bowls and the personnel changes in between them are all convincing evidence that the Redskins were no dynasty.

This is the point.

Joe Gibbs built three different championships with three different sets of players.  What do these teams have in common? 

The answer is Joe Gibbs.

No coach in the Super Bowl era has done more with less than Joe Gibbs. 

No coach in the Super Bowl era has responded to adversity as well as Joe Gibbs. 

That is why, to me, he is the best coach the NFL has seen since the AFL-NFL merger.


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