In Joe Gibbs' first season back as Redskins head coach, he struggled through a 6-10 record. Time and again, Gibbs has called that season a learning experience, one in which he had to adapt all over again to competing in the NFL.
He stressed that he needed to find his type of players.
After Saturday's 20-10 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field, Gibbs returned home with a resolve to learn from his team's playoff loss.
One thing is for certain: Gibbs' approach toward working with coaches and selecting players will not change. Hard work and high character remain essential elements of what Gibbs calls a "true Redskin."
"We feel good about our players from the standpoint of what kind of locker room we have and character issues--and I think we've got a very solid group," Gibbs said. "And that's how you win. You win with players and quality guys. This team could have said, after three tough losses at mid-season, that the season was over, but they didn't."
As a result, Gibbs has earned his players' respect.
"I think we're all in this thing together, and everything starts at the top with Coach Gibbs," quarterback Mark Brunell said recently. "He gets up and talks to us about how important character is, not only as a football player, but as a person. He's a great example, a great role model for all of us and we're real fortunate to have him."
As the Redskins embark on the offseason, character will certainly be a key ingredient in any player personnel changes. Gibbs' formula for success will not change.
Said Brunell: "Character is important--it's critical--but it goes beyond just the 'X's and 'O's, beyond what we do for a living," Brunell said. "It's who we are. I'm real fortunate to be around these guys, probably the best group of guys I've ever been around. A lot of different personalities, with Clinton at the top of the list, but the core guys, the guys who have been around, and even the young guys, they are all great guys and it has been a privilege to be on a team with them as well."
Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams has been around all kinds of different coaching styles, including Buddy Ryan, one of Gibbs' rivals from his first stint as Redskins' head coach.
Williams says Gibbs' experience has had a calming effect on the Redskins, especially the younger players, in times of adversity.
"The fact that Coach Gibbs has been in a bunch of playoff games before, the fact that he has the best winning record in December in the history of the game--our guys fed off of that," Williams said. "The credibility aspect that some coaches in the league fight? Joe Gibbs doesn't fight that. He's got credibility and people listen to you.
"It was calming throughout tough times. He kept on telling these guys, 'You know what, maybe this loss is for a reason, maybe we're building stronger character, maybe we're building stronger chemistry.' And you know what? He was right."
H-back Mike Sellers has had some adversity on and off the field in his NFL career, but he has become a believer in Gibbs the last two seasons.
"It's one thing to have a coach that hasn't really proven himself--maybe you'll second-guess him," Sellers said. "But this coach here, everybody knows what he's done and no one is going to question the man, and I don't think anyone is brave enough to question the man. Everybody knows he knows what he's doing and there's no second-guessing."
As for Gibbs's perspective of the 2005 season, it was summed up last week when he commented that the players were the guiding force of the season, not him. That's why players remain so devoted to Gibbs long after their playing career has ended.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Gibbs said last week. "I'm thrilled to be a part of this and I'm glad to be along for the ride. It's been fun."