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TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

Gibbs Is No Genius, but He Looks Like a Smart Move for NBC

September 17, 1993|LARRY STEWART

In 1980, a young ABC producer named Terry O'Neil had just been put in charge of "Monday Night Football" and was about to do his first game, the Hall of Fame exhibition between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers' publicist, Rick Smith, now with the Rams, suggested that O'Neil talk to the team's offensive coordinator, Joe Gibbs, to get some good insights.

Turned out to be good advice. O'Neil was impressed by Gibbs' knowledge and his ability to express it, and a friendship developed. It continued after O'Neil became the executive producer of sports at CBS and, later, when he held the same position at NBC.

Gibbs left the Chargers after the 1981 season to become head coach of the Washington Redskins. He resigned last March after 12 seasons and three Super Bowl victories, and soon O'Neil began pushing to get him to NBC. CBS wanted Gibbs, too, but in the end NBC and O'Neil won out.

O'Neil left NBC a month ago to pursue other business interests. Possibly his greatest achievement while there, though, was the hiring of Gibbs. He is a superstar in the making.

Gibbs has worked two games for NBC with play-by-play announcer Dan Hicks. The first was Seattle at San Diego, seen on the West Coast, and then last Sunday's Ram-Pittsburgh game, seen mainly in the Pittsburgh area.

Gibbs now gets a few weeks off.

While preparing for last Sunday's assignment, he visited Rams Park on Friday to watch practice and pick up some background information. He talked with some old friends--Coach Chuck Knox, offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, who was with the Chargers when Gibbs was there, and publicist Smith, all the while taking notes.

Regarding his fledgling broadcasting career, Gibbs said, "Right now, I'm just trying to figure out if I can do this, if I like doing it, and if people are going to like me."

Early indications are, the answer is yes to all of the above.

Gibbs at 9 moved with his parents from North Carolina to Santa Fe Springs and became a professional drag racer as a teen-ager before going on to play football at Cerritos College and San Diego State. Once again, he is heavily involved in racing, his stock car team, with driver Dale Jarrett, having won this year's Daytona 500.

So what figures most prominently in his future? Racing? Broadcasting? Or is it back to coaching?

"I'm pretty much playing everything by ear," he said. "We'll just have to see how things work out."

*

One smart thing NBC did with Gibbs was to soft-pedal his arrival. When the network brought in Bill Walsh a few years back, he was hailed as the second coming of John Madden. It didn't turn out that way.

Walsh left the impression that, try as he might, he was never comfortable doing television.

That is not the case with Gibbs.

Gibbs is a natural. He loves telling stories. He entertained a small group at Rams Park last week with one after another, and during his first two broadcasts, he had a different story after almost every play.

During the Seattle-San Diego telecast, he talked about how friends at Florida State had raved about the Chargers' Marion Butts, but Redskin scouts and Bobby Beathard, then the Redskin general manager who is now with the Chargers, had tabbed him as a special teams player at best.

"He would have looked good in a Redskin uniform carrying the ball 35 times a game," Gibbs said. "I've never let those scouts forget that. I bring it up all the time with them, and with Bobby, too. But then, Bobby might have known he was going to San Diego."

Gibbs also said the biggest mistake he ever made was trading Stan Humphries to the Chargers, and that the Redskins tried to get the Chargers' Ronnie Harmon on Plan B, but couldn't get him to sign as a third-down back.

His candor continued last Sunday after the Rams' Tony Zendejas kicked a 54-yard field goal against the Steelers.

"One year we brought in Tony to compete with Mark Moseley," Gibbs said. "Well, I always seemed to be messing up kickers, so this time I decided to just leave him alone and not say a word to him.

"We ended up cutting Tony, who says, 'I knew I didn't have a chance. Joe Gibbs never said a word to me.'

"I've always had trouble handling kickers. They always amaze me."

And of Ram Sean Gilbert, who had an outstanding game, Gibbs said the Redskins tried to trade up so they could draft him, but ended up picking Desmond Howard instead.

Gibbs talked about Steeler Coach Bill Cowher and how his three young daughters help him keep things in perspective.

"He'll come home after a loss and one will ask him if she can go one house down the street to play and another will ask him to play football in the back yard," Gibbs said.

"I remember after I lost my first five games (in 1982) and was driving home. I was down, Pat (his wife) was down, my oldest boy (J.D.) was down, but my youngest (Coy) was only concerned about where we were going to eat."

Coy, by the way, is now a junior at Stanford and a starting linebacker. On Saturday, Gibbs flew to San Jose to watch him play against San Jose State.

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