Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs retired yesterday at age 67. Gibbs’ second stint in charge of the Redskins was not nearly as successful as his first. In fact, he lost more games than he won this time around. However, Gibbs improved the club significantly. As I noted here, he took the Skins to the playoff in two of his four years; by contrast, they made it only one time during the eleven years during which he was gone. Gibbs also restored dignity and stability to a franchise in disarray. And this year, he steered the club through as turbulent a season as any team should have to endure — one that included an inordinate number of season-ending injuries and the murder of its best player.
Gibbs doesn’t just leave the Redskins in better shape than he found them, he leaves them in very good shape. The team went 9-7, and will welcome back three quality starters who missed much of the season. And thanks to Gibbs, the new coach will inherent a locker room full of “solid citizens” or “true Redskins,” as Gibbs like to call them. If that coach can’t improve on what ended up being a pretty good season, it won’t be Gibbs’ fault.
JOHN adds: I’ve always thought that if the politics thing doesn’t work out for us, we could have a pretty good sports blog. (Plus music and pageants, of course.) I doubt that a lot of people around the country are paying attention, but here in Minnesota, Tubby Smith is in the midst of one of the great coaching jobs of recent years.
Last year, under Dan Monson, who quit or was fired part-way into the season, and his interim successor, the Gophers went 9-22 on the season and 3-13 in the Big Ten. Ouch. The program was at a nadir, so I was astonished when the Gophers were able to hire Tubby Smith away from the University of Kentucky, where he was on the outs due to not having been in the Final Four for a few years.
After taking the job, Smith was mostly absent from the local press, in sharp contrast with Minnesota’s newly-hired football coach, Tim Brewster, who talked endlessly about the “Gopher Nation” and promised a quick return to the Rose Bowl. The football Gophers went 1-11 this year. Tubby, by contrast, kept his mouth almost completely shut.
But when the basketball team started playing, it turned out that Smith had been hard at work, coaching. The exact same team as last year’s sorry bunch, plus a couple of freshman guards, looked like a completely different squad. They went through their pre-conference schedule with a 10-2 record, a remarkable turnaround. As best I can figure it out, the “secret” was that Tubby had taught them to play defense.
Last week, the Gophers opened their Big Ten season on the road against sixth-rated Michigan State. They hung tight until the very end, finally losing by six. Tonight, they are playing their home Big Ten opener against Northwestern. At the moment, they are leading 69-57. The Gophers’ remarkable turnaround this year can be attributed to nothing other than Tubby Smith’s coaching.
It seems probable that the resurgence will continue next year, as Minnesota’s recruiting class, headlined by Ralph Sampson III, is judged by most to be one of the country’s top ten. Of course, I’m looking forward to seasons where the Gophers have that kind of talent. Still, it will be hard to top a year in which a bunch of sad sacks were transformed into a team that can play the country’s best on close to even terms.
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