WASHINGTON -- After the toughest season of his Hall of Fame career, one that tested and vindicated his leadership skills like never before, Joe Gibbs is stepping down.
Gibbs resigned Tuesday as coach and team president of the Washington Redskins, three days after a playoff loss ended an inspirational late-season run that followed the death of safety Sean Taylor
Gibbs, who was to discuss his decision at a 3 p.m. news conference at Redskins Park, will remain connected to the team as a special adviser to owner Dan Snyder.
The Redskins will begin a search for a new coach immediately. Among the certain candidates are two former head coaches on Gibbs' staff, Gregg Williams and Al Saunders. The new coach will be the sixth since Snyder bought the team in 1999.
Gibbs went 31-36, including 1-2 in the playoffs, after emerging from NFL retirement and his NASCAR career to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract in 2004. He had always maintained that he intended to fulfill the contract, but the 67-year-old coach wavered from that stance Monday when asked if he would return for the final year of his deal.
Gibbs' resignation brings an apparent end to a coaching career in which he twice raised the Redskins from mediocrity into a playoff team, although he failed in his goal of bringing the team back to the Super Bowl during his second stint in Washington. Gibbs won three NFL titles during his first tenure from 1981-92; the second time around he took the team to the postseason in two of his four seasons.
It also follows perhaps the best coaching performance of his career, one that immediately followed what he called his "low point." After the death of the Taylor on Nov. 27, the Redskins lost a game to Buffalo in which Gibbs was flagged for a vital 15-yard penalty for trying to call back-to-back timeouts in the final moments. Gibbs said he wasn't aware of the rule, giving more fodder to the argument that his game management skills had waned.
But following Taylor's funeral, Gibbs and his team rallied to win won the final four regular season games, going from 5-7 to 9-7 to claim the final playoff berth in the NFC.
The emotional run ended Saturday, when the Redskins lost 35-14 at Seattle in the wild-card playoffs.
"It was the toughest (season) for me," Gibbs said Monday. "When you go through a season like that, for a while it's kind of hard to re-grasp reality."
Gibbs has also endured a personal crisis for a year. One of his grandsons, Taylor, was diagnosed with leukemia last January at the age of 2. Gibbs frequently talks lovingly about his "grandbabies," and he made an overnight trip to North Carolina on Sunday to be with his family, interrupting the postseason routine of meetings that usually follow the final game of the season.
Still, for much of the season, Gibbs seemed intent on returning to coach. Players and coaches said publicly and privately over the last week that they would be shocked if he didn't stay on to finish the job. Last month, he said he would be open to discussing a contract extension so that he would not return next season as a lame-duck coach.
At a news conference Monday, Gibbs spoke about plans for next season - the team's approach to free agency, offseason workouts and the possibility of an open quarterback competition at training camp - as if he were going to remain on the sidelines. However, he hedged when asked if he would definitely be back, saying it would hinge on his meeting Monday night with Snyder.
"Everybody's situation will be taken into context here - including mine, and my future here and all that," Gibbs said Monday.
Gibbs went 124-60 during the regular season and 16-5 during the playoffs during his first tenure with the Redskins. He won Super Bowls following the 1981, 1987 and 1991 seasons with three different quarterbacks.
Having said repeatedly that he did not intend to coach again, Gibbs was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1996. Snyder lured him out of retirement four years ago to rescue a franchise that had floundered for more than a decade, having made only one playoff appearance since Gibbs' first retirement.
Gibbs' last four years were down-and-up, down-and-up. He had his two worst seasons as a coach - 6-10 in 2004 and 5-11 in 2006 - but he also led the Redskins to the playoffs with late runs in 2005 and 2007.
His final career totals: 171-101, including 17-7 in the playoffs, a career .629 winning percentage that ranks third all-time behind George Halas and Don Shula among coaches with more than 125 wins.