SBJ/November 7-13, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Out of the Office


ALL PHOTOS BY MARK SLUDER

When J.D. Gibbs walked into his dad’s office three years ago and named him coach of his grandson’s youth football team, Joe hesitated for a second. After all, how fair would it be for a coach who won three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins to square off on the sideline against dads manning clipboards for the first time?

It’s turned out to be a lot more fair than he could have imagined.

The team of fifth- and sixth-graders the Gibbses coached this year finished undefeated, but the three teams they coached in previous years combined for six losses. In one of those games the defense, coached by NFL hall of famer Joe, gave up 34 points.

 

“J.D. comes over to me afterward and says, ‘For crying out loud, why couldn’t you just stop them?’” Joe says with a laugh, recounting that game. “I said, ‘Well, if you’d just scored one more touchdown, we would have won.’”

Coaching has been a great experience for the Gibbses. Joe didn’t coach either of his sons, J.D., who runs the family’s NASCAR business, or Coy, who runs the family’s motocross business, because of the demands of his NFL career. But coaching youth football has now given him a chance to bond with both boys and his grandsons. They started by coaching the eldest, Jackson, who is now in middle school, and are now coaching the second oldest, Miller.

“I’ve got seven [grandsons] coming in a row,” Joe says. “The youngest is 3. It’s really going to be fun for me to coach those little guys.”

 

Joe and J.D. run two practices a week and coach one game every Saturday. They worked with the Junior Eagles Football Association in Huntersville, N.C., to schedule morning games for their team so they can still get to that weekend’s Sprint Cup race. During the week, they often walk into each other’s offices and talk about potential plays for an upcoming game.

The coaching experience has been full of funny moments.

“Our first year, all the dads are standing on the sidelines staring at my dad in awe,” J.D. says, “and all the kids are looking at him like, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Joe is particularly fond of a moment in his first year of youth coaching when the team’s biggest player came trotting off the field toward him. “They’re hitting me where I don’t have pads,” the player said.

Joe didn’t know what to say. Ultimately, he told the boy that he could either sit down on the bench and not get hit or go back in the game. The boy went back in and resigned himself to the fact that hits were just a part of the sport.

“The other day, I’m out there and Harrison, who plays defensive end for us, we’re in practice for a while and he turns and looks at me and says, ‘Coach, how long are we going to do this?’” Joe says. “I look at my watch and say, ‘You’ve got 15 minutes.’ He said, ‘Good gosh.’ They’re funny like that.”

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