Opposing coaches prove Super Bowl skill starts at the top
San Diego — Each of the head coaches for Sunday's Super Bowl game is most definitely his own man, yet Washington's Joe Gibbs and Denver's Dan Reeves also have quite a bit in common. Both are good organizers and company men who are well-respected among their peers. Both emphasize defensive preparation. And the 25-hour work day is not foreign to either of them.
Furthermore, their personalities could have been the joint inspiration for the national advertising slogan: ``Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee.''
If for any reason their present employers failed to pick up their options, they would be deluged with offers from other National Football League clubs the next day.
Gibbs, who has a reputation for coaching better than his material, seems like nobody as much as an elementary school principal the first time you meet him. His wire-rimmed glasses and button-down collars give him a Walter Mitty look. He used to teach a Bible-study class on Sundays; he has no pretensions about himself; and he knows pro football for what it is - a tough game mentally and physically.
Gibbs builds his football teams the way a master craftsman puts together an expensive watch, with great attention to its inner workings. Joe has a well coordinated, 23-jewel defense that changes alignments practically every down. He never gives opposing quarterbacks the same setup to look at twice in a row.
``I have a basic philosophy that I still rely on,'' Gibbs says.``If something works well, we keep it in our play book. If it doesn't work well, we get rid of it and try something else. And you have to be current in what you do. You can't let other people and organizations get ahead of you.''
Probably not enough has been made this season of the way Gibbs has handled the Redskins' unsettled quarterback situation, which involves promising third-year man Jay Schroeder and 32-year-old veteran Doug Williams.
In the 1986 season, Williams threw one pass (incomplete) for Washington, while Schroeder played so well that he was named to the NFL's Pro Bowl squad. This year, however, after Schroeder had a series of poor games in which he seemed to have misplaced his confidence and his timing, Gibbs switched to Williams. While Doug was not great in the playoffs, he was good enough to get this team to the Super Bowl.
Most coaches would be very reluctant to make such a change in midseason because of the multiple adjustments involved - adjustments that include so many players whose individual assignments are so linked to the quarterback.
The center, for example, has to get used to the way the quarterback takes the snap; the running backs have to learn his style of handing the ball off; and the pass receivers, who get used to catching a certain kind of throw, literally have to re-time their actions.
Still, heading into Sunday's game, the Redskins remain a settled and solid team, one that reflects Gibbs's work ethic and stability.
Reeves, who looks like a stockbroker nattily turned out in a Brooks Brothers suit, is also very good at what he does.
Although Reeves delegates a lot of authority to others, particularly on defense, he stays so close to what is happening that if Dan doesn't like something, there is always time in which to change it.
When Reeves left his position as offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys to go with the Broncos in 1981, he became, at age 37, the youngest head coach at that time in the NFL. But those who expected a carbon copy of his old boss, Tom Landry, were wrong. They underestimated this young man's independence and ingenuity.
Dan is apt to open things up offensively, play for the big score, and try to hold onto the ball in fourth-down situations rather than punt. That is, if it's short yardage and the field position of his ball club isn't too intimidating.
While Reeves watches game films by the hour, the norm among all NFL head coaches, he is more inclined to go with his instincts when setting up a game plan against a familiar opponent than rely exclusively on what he sees on the screen.
Part of this probably stems from an old Vince Lombardi theory that: (1) while movies may tell a coach the strength of a team, they often don't reveal weaknesses that clearly, and (2) movies only show a small portion of the field, so that a coach can't really tell how a player reacts under pressure in every situation.
``I think even a winning team has to set goals for itself to improve,'' Reeves said. ``I also believe that you've got to have an offense with a lot of flexibility to combat the kind of sophisticated defenses that are in use today. I'm not talking about just a complicated offense, but one where you can do a lot of different things from a lot of different formations.''
Five years ago, to make that happen, the Broncos made a blockbuster trade with the old Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts for John Elway, a rookie quarterback out of Stanford University who was the first player chosen in the 1983 draft. Elway has a throwing arm with the velocity of a cannon and a touch like one of the old Dutch master painters, and he also knows how to run with the ball when that becomes necessary.
So far Reeves, whose team is making its second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, has shown that he knows exactly how to exploit Elway's potential to the fullest!