Tuesday, October 5, 2004 It's Ok to Yell at Gibbs By Tom Friend ESPN The Magazine Any Redskin fan who hasn't shouted #$%$#@ at Joe Gibbs is lying. I've done it. I've done it every game this year, and even though I feel guilty as hell, I'm here to tell every Redskin fan that it's okay. It's okay to be mad at God. We thought we'd give him a grace period. Maybe 10 weeks. Maybe a year. But then the season starts against Tampa Bay, and it takes us one half to start scratching our heads. He doesn't challenge a bad spot by the referees inside the five-yard line, and it costs us points. He goes on to coach a conservative game that we barely win. We bite our tongues. We say, oh well, he's just rusty. Joe Gibbs and the Redskins are in last place in the NFC East. The next week, in New York, we have to sit there and watch seven turnovers. The running back he loves, Clinton Portis, keeps coughing it up, and the quarterback he buried, Patrick Ramsey, comes off the bench throwing lollipops to the other team. When Ramsey does throw it to the right place, Rod Gardner drops a sure touchdown. We're numb. We see our quarterbacks get sacked five times. We want to say, "Spurrier could've done this." But we say nothing. We look at the bright side and figure lessons will be learned. We figure Gibbs will have Portis carrying the football around in meetings. We figure Joe Bugel will sic Joe Jacoby on the offensive line. And then Dallas comes to town on a Monday night, and the instant replay problem rears its head again. Gibbs challenges a second-half touchdown pass to Terry Glenn that, on the initial TV replay, is not an obvious overturn. The first rule of replay is don't throw the red flag unless it's clear-cut, don't throw darts. But Joe admits later that he was thinking with his heart, and it cost him a timeout he needed later ... like when the clock was ticking 3-2-1, and he couldn't stop it for the game-tying field goal. But we didn't panic, not entirely. The experts kept saying Gibbs got out-coached by Bill Parcells, but we knew all he really did was get out-ref'd. The zebras gave the Cowboys a free touchdown on a bad pass interference call and took away a Redskins touchdown on a bad non-pass interference call. That's a 14 point-swing. And we only lost by three. And, hell, they should've flagged Roy Williams for helmet-to-helmet contact on the last play of the game, which would've enabled the game-tying field goal. So we bit our tongue again. It was all fixable. Yes, quarterback, Mark Brunell had to burn two time outs against Dallas because of mix ups at the line, but we heard Gibbs say he was going to simplify the offense to avoid that. Great. An adjustment. That's what he was famous for in the 1980s. So we're 1-2 heading into Cleveland, and what happens? All of the above. Portis fumbles. Gibbs throws another dart on replay -- and misses. Costs him a timeout. Then he burns another timeout when the team can't line up right. When he needs to challenge Laveranues Coles' game-losing fumble at the end of the game (an obvious incompletion), he can't. Because he's out of time outs. We're screaming in our living rooms. When Gibbs was hired, the one thing we all said was, "Well, at least we won't beat ourselves anymore." And now we've beaten ourselves three out of four. In Cleveland, there were false start penalties. Personal foul penalties. Blown coverages. Long punt returns against us. Complaints about the audio connection to the quarterback. It's blasphemous, but we have no choice but to say it now: Joe Gibbs is actually making Spurrier a sympathetic figure. But, most embarrassing of all, we have to sit here today and hear the Browns call Gibbs' offense predictable. Portis actually left the field thinking the Browns had a copy of the Redskins playbook, but, the truth is, the Browns just felt the Gibbs offense was vanilla. "Their offense is not that complicated," cornerback Daylon McCutcheon told the Washington Times. "They have certain tendencies. Let's say it's third down. They line up in this formation, and they only run two different routes. It makes our job a whole lot easier." There's truth to that. Even in the glory days, the Redskins offense only ran two-to-four basic plays. It's just that they'd shift and move before the snap, and the defense didn't know how to read it. But with the shorter play clock, and perhaps with his inability to get the play in quickly enough, Gibbs can't have his Redskins shifting the way they used to. There isn't time. Teams are simply loading eight men in the box, daring Brunell to throw, and there hasn't been enough ingenuity to make them pay. And so here we are again, circa 1981. He started 0-5 that year, his first year as a head coach, and, with the Ravens coming to town next Sunday night, he could be 1-4 this time around. Obviously, if he can coach his way out of 0-5, he can coach his way out of 1-4, but there have to be changes. In '81, he scrapped his four wide-out offense, used three tight ends instead and plowed John Riggins up the middle. A year later, they won the Super Bowl. Back then, he treated his players like men, and that's what won them over. He never called them out in the press, always did it behind closed doors. He could be just as tough as Parcells; it's just that he kept it in-house. And trust me, the old Redskins feared him. Former Redskin tight end Donnie Warren said in a post-game show Sunday that Gibbs would call players in after they fumbled and say, "This better stop or you'll be flipping burgers next week." He wasn't kidding. Gibbs got rid of Timmy Smith, his 1988 Super Bowl hero, because of fumbles. He got rid of Smith's successor, Jamie Morris, because of fumbles. But he obviously can't get rid of Clinton Portis. Or any other star player. Not with the cap hit. So how will he handle it? Knowing him the way I do (I spent three seasons covering him), he will always treat the players like men. But he also needs to instill fear, and I'm not sure he's gone there yet. It works for Parcells and it works for Bill Belichick, and it will work for Gibbs. Especially for Gibbs, because the players will know it's not some Parcells psychological act. Gibbs will not call anybody "she." He will simply start calling players in one by one, look them in the eye and challenge them. And if they don't improve, he will bench them. Then he will figure out instant replay, and then he will figure out the reduced play clock, and then he will figure out how to fool the defense. Even if it takes all night. We think. @#$^%$$ Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.