Gibbs talks about racing and football

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR Staff

     CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No sports figure in America is more knowledgable about winning championships than Joe Gibbs.
     In the National Football League, he coached the Washington Redskins to four Super Bowl appearances and three titles. As a car owner in the Winston Cup Series, Gibbs has won two of the last three NASCAR titles with drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart.
     Asked what is left as a challenge after winning two titles, Gibbs responded: "I think it goes to the personal things like Bobby Labonte. I want to see Bobby bounce back. That's a real personal thing for me. He's champion, then he slips back to sixth or seventh and then he goes down to 16th. To see him bounce back would be a thrill.
     "For Tony, it's also a personal thing. He had all the problems last year. Can he step up this year and have a good year? I want to see him bounce back. I get a big kick out of seeing all the guys in the shop."
     The Gibbs team, which anounced a change from Pontiacs to Chevrolets for this season, has been in existance since 1992. Since that time with their current drivers and former driver Dale Jarrett, the team has won 36 Winston Cup races including the 1993 Daytona 500. He says a common thread is the competitive spirit each of those drivers possess.
     "Bobby Labonte is just as fiery as Tony Stewart," insisted Gibbs. "He just comes off having a different disposition. These guys are both emotional and they care about what they are doing. They don't race for money. It's not about money. They do it because they want to be the best. If they are near each other at the end of the race, it makes me tense."
     Stewart has talked before about racing in the Winston Cup Series not being as fun as running on the short tracks. Despite the pressures involved, Gibbs says he is having a good time on America's top racing circuit.
     "It's easier over here on me than in football," said Gibbs. "The challenge over here is building a business and there's a real thrill in that. There's also a risk in that you have 200 and some employees and you have a real responsibility to those people paying the bills and keeping the sponsors.
     "For me, I'm really enjoying it. I have (my sons) Coy and J.D. in it, so to me, it's family. I enjoy it because it's a completely different lifestyle. Football, I was locked in a room and didn't come out a lot. This is a lot about people and I like people and being around sponsors."
     Stewart's off track problems were certainly a source of concern for the team last season. Gibbs says that he has encouraged Stewart to make sure he doesn't overload his non-Winston Cup schedule to help alleviate some of the pressure.
     "Tony wakes up in the morning and he has to have 15 things to do," commented Gibbs. "The man is on the go and he schedules things until there is nothing left. In one way, he is happy doing that. What I have tried to tell him is to do the fun things.
     "Don't do things for money. If he likes racing, get out the dirt late model. That's the only thing (outside of Winston Cup) I think he should be racing. If he wants to do it, do it and relax. Do the fun things in life and don't be getting yourself on a merry-go-round.
     "That's better than trying to make a few bucks here and a few bucks there. I think what Tony will do is to wind with a calendar for a month and get mad halfway through it, questioning why he has signed up for all this stuff. It's hard for a young guy like that who's been used to controlling his own life and never has had a yearly calendar. "
     Gibbs sees similarities between Stewart and Gary Clark, a receiver he coached with the Redskins.
     "Gary used to come off the sidelines and he was the only guy I had that would yell at everybody coming off the sidelines if the drive didn't go well," recalled Gibbs. "I remember the last playoff game I was in at Minnesota. He came off ranting and raving and throwing his helmet. Most of us went, 'That's just Gary.' Then he pushed his finger at me and I actually grabbed him. It was the only player I ever grabbed. We were nose to nose on the sideline.
     "With his emotions when things were going bad and the way he wore his emotions on his sleeve is like Tony. That's where Tony gets in trouble."
     That is not the only comparsion makes to football and racing.
     "I laugh at the NFL," said Gibbs. "These people come up to me today and say man, the game has really changed. When I was in it, we had the USFL to contend every week, we had two strikes and free agency. That thing was a nightmare. It's always going to be a nightmare when you combine money, competition and all the things involved in the NFL and people.
     "Over here, it's the same thing. The difference is the sponsors. They add so much more to our sport. It's not can you just get by NASCAR rules. "
     While on the subject of football, Gibbs responded to a question about Johnson City's Steve Spurrier, the current coach of the Redskins.
     "Steve is the one of the most talented guys I've seen in coaching," said Gibbs. "I've watched him at two different colleges, in the USFL and I think he's going to do extremely well.
     "What you can't do is get in a rush up there. They are short on some things. But, if they give him time, he's going to do well."
     For the last order of business, Gibbs was asked to give a prediction for today's Super Bowl.
     "I will have to go with my heart on that," said Gibbs. "I've never been able to pull for the Raiders. So, I'm going for Tampa Bay because I can't set there and pull for them. It was probably because they whipped us in that one Super Bowl, but I don't know."