ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
During a 12-season run as Washington's head coach that began in 1981, Joe Gibbs led the Redskins to four Super Bowls, winning three. His teams went to the playoffs eight times, and his worst record in that period was 7-9.
It was a body of work that earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 1996 class. But he wasn't through. After a break from coaching to focus on his successful auto racing team, Gibbs returned to the Redskins as head coach in 2004 for four more seasons and two more playoff berths. During the 11 seasons Gibbs was away, the Redskins reached the playoffs just once.
Gibbs played and coached under Don Coryell at San Diego State. Both men were greatly influenced by then-San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman, who recommended Gibbs for his subsequent job as offensive line coach at Florida State.
Gibbs served as a Coryell assistant two more times, from 1973-77 as running backs coach with the St. Louis Cardinals and 1979-80 as offensive coordinator of the Chargers. He was also offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978 under John McKay, whom he also served at USC for two seasons (1969-70). Gibbs' final stop in the college ranks was at Arkansas, where he worked under Frank Broyles for two seasons (1971-72).
In 1981, Gibbs took the job in Washington, where he won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks -- Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien -- a feat which hasn't been duplicated.
Gibbs ranks as the Redskins' winningest coach, with 154 regular-season victories. He went 17-7 in the postseason for a winning percentage (.708) that ranks among the top 10 all time and is the best out of the 14 coaches with at least 10 postseason appearances.
Future NFL head coaches Joe Bugel, Dan Henning and Richie Petitbon were among the assistants to serve under Gibbs during his tenure in Washington.
-- Shawna Seed
GIBBS THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: DOUG WILLIAMS
We had a moment before the 1987 season. In the preseason, we played the Los Angeles Rams in [Anaheim], and when we flew back Joe told me that a deal had been made to trade me to the Raiders. When we landed in Virginia, he told me to come back by his office, and he and I were going to talk about it. So I went back by his office around 11:30 when he told me to, and Joe wasn't around. Now, I've talked to everybody I know, family and friends, and told them, "I've been traded to the Raiders." I'm looking forward to going to the Raiders. I appreciate the opportunity the Redskins gave me, all of that.
When Joe came in – he always called me Douglas -- and he said, "Douglas, I've changed my mind." And I looked at Coach, and I wasn't smiling because Jay Schroeder was the starter, and going to the Raiders gave me a chance to start. I said, "Coach, you can't change your mind." That's the first time I'd ever seen Joe get mad. He told me, "I don't work for the Raiders. I work for the Washington Redskins. I can change my mind." And then he calmed down a little bit, and he looked at me and said, "I've got a gut feeling somewhere during the season you're going to come in here, and we're going to win this thing."
Joe Gibbs told me that before the season. In the last game of the regular season, I wasn't the starting quarterback. After the last game of the season, Joe Gibbs makes the decision, "I'm going to start Doug Williams." That's a heck of a decision. If there had been a vote in the locker room, I would've won the election from the start.
As a coach, you have to know the heartbeat of your football team, and he felt that was what everybody else was thinking. If you watch the highlight film after the Super Bowl, at the end of the film, Joe and I hug. And he tells me in my ear, "I told you so." Well, you know, all along I felt pretty good before he told me that, because of what we'd done. But for him to tell me that, it just resonated what kind of coach he was, what kind of man he was and the spiritual belief he had. For him to tell me that before the season in 1987 and then it happened, in a way it's scary, but at the same time I think it had a lot to do with his coaching ability.
-- Former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, as told to Ashley Fox
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.