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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

No Average Joe

By Eric Tiansay
Jan. 31, 2010

It has been more than two years since Joe Gibbs last coached the Washington Redskins for a second go-round, but that hasn’t stopped the legendary coach and committed Christian from devising “a game plan.”

Instead of working with “X’s and O’s” for the gridiron, Gibbs — who led the team to three Super Bowl championships in four appearances and has won three series championships as a NASCAR team owner — came up with Game Plan for Life, a book along with a ministry that focuses on “winning souls for Christ and discipling believers toward living more full and relevant God-centered lives.” For the book, Gibbs drafted a team of 11 Christian leaders to address hot-button issues men face, focusing on what the Bible says about these difficult issues. Game Plan for Life also shares Gibbs’ own story, struggles and triumphs.

“Life is a game,” says Gibbs, who, in conjunction with the book, launched a ministry through Joe Gibbs Racing called Game Plan for Life ( “God is the head coach. We are the players. … Everyone needs to have a game plan [to win]. … God has left us a perfect game-plan book [in the Bible]. That’s what this book is about. … Hopefully, Game Plan for Life is a modern-day, relevant game plan for life.”

Gibbs knows about being relevant. Well known for his long hours and work ethic, Gibbs constructed what NFL Films President Steve Sabol has called “the most diverse dynasty in NFL history,” building championship teams with many players who have had mediocre to average careers while playing for other NFL teams. During his first stint in the NFL, Gibbs coached the Redskins for 12 seasons — leading them to eight playoff appearances, four NFC Championship titles and three Super Bowl titles.

After retiring at the end of the 1992 season, Gibbs switched focus to his NASCAR team, Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won three championships under his ownership, one with former driver Bobby Labonte and two with Tony Stewart.

In 1996, Gibbs was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Throughout his retirement, many NFL owners have approached Gibbs, hoping to lure him out of retirement, but to no avail. However, on Jan. 7, 2004, Gibbs came out of retirement to rejoin the Redskins as head coach and team president, signing a five-year contract. Gibbs tells the Evangel that he had no regrets about returning to coach the Redskins for a second stint.

“That was a decision that we made after real prayerful consideration, and I really believe that it was where God wanted me to be,” Gibbs, 69, recalls. “I remember when we made the decision, my wife, Pat, joked and said, ‘You are going to ruin your good name.’ And after that first year back, I told her ‘Well, I think I’m about halfway there.’

“I tell people that pro sports changes roughly 30 percent a year,” he continues. “So just about everything was different when I returned to the NFL. One thing that does not change, however, is human nature. Yes, sports and different aspects of them may change, but not human nature. The same things motivate and discourage us.”

On Jan. 8, 2008, Gibbs resigned as Redskins’ head coach and team president. The Redskins went 31-36, including 1-2 in the playoffs, after he emerged from retirement. Overall, during his 16 years with the team, Gibbs had only three losing seasons and led the team to 10 playoff appearances.

“I fully intended on staying all five years of the contract,” Gibbs says. “I wish we could have gotten back to the Super Bowl for all the Redskins fans and owner Dan Snyder. So much happened over the course of that last season there, and I really felt that I was needed back with my family.

 “Losing [defensive back] Sean Taylor was tough on the whole team,” he adds. “But a number of things happened that final year. One of my grandsons was battling leukemia. I wanted to get more involved in his life and be there for him and my other grandkids. As we prayed about it, we just felt that was where God was leading us.”

Gibbs says Taylor’s death during the 2007 season impacted him. “When I talk about life being a game, I mention in the book that there is a clock ticking in all of us just like in football,” he says. “I think Sean’s life really illustrates that point. He was probably one of the best athletes I ever coached. He was 24 years old and went downstairs in his house to defend his family and was shot and killed. Nothing is promised to us.

“Those who knew Sean would certainly say that they saw changes in his life,” Gibbs continues. “He had a baby girl, and our team pastor there had shared with me that he had been attending chapel and studying the Bible. What his death also did was cause a lot of people to ask, ‘Where am I going to spend eternity?’ ”

Gibbs may be out of football, but he says the book and Game Plan for Life ministry are the fulfillment of a long-time vision. Given his unique rise to the top of two different sports, Gibbs is often asked to speak and share his personal testimony with crowds. Men especially want to know what it takes to be “successful” and “relevant.” The Game Plan helps men to find true success and relevance in their own lives. But it is less about the NFL Hall of Fame member than it is about who men are, why they were created and what they can really do with their lives, Gibbs says.

“I want to spend the rest of my life working to share that message and reach as many people as I can,” Gibbs says. “All the proceeds from the book are going back into the Game Plan for Life Ministry, updating material and the Web site, developing small group studies, things like that. This is a huge passion of mine, and I really want it to continue beyond the book.”

ERIC TIANSAY frequently writes for the Pentecostal Evangel Super Bowl Outreach Edition.

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