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Joe Gibbs
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Navigate the ins and outs of a lifetime of career, financial, relationship, moral, and health decisions with Joe Gibbs-a man who has taken home sport's most prestigious prizes, the Super Bowl Trophy and NASCAR''s Winston Cup. Gibbs candidly admits his own mistakes and shares the life lessons he's learned and will show you how to make life choices by building relationship teams that will do well.

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Three: Do What You Love

      Racing and football. Football and racing. My dual loves have colored my life as far back as I can remember. Of course, in my youth I could never ha imagined a career in which I led superstar football players to three NFL championships in front of millions of people on television. Nor could I possibly imagine that my occupation would one day involve racing $150,000 cars at speeds of 200 miles per hour in front of more than 100,000 fans. As I was growing up, I was excited just to play sandlot football and race in our local soap box derby.
But I could dream!


Humble Beginnings

I grew up in the small town of Enka, North Carolina, near Asheville. My brother Jim and I loved to play all sorts of sports, and our mom was glad to get us out of the house. Our dad, Jackson Cephus Gibbs, was a big man-a highway patrolman and a rough, tough, rumbling type of guy with a generous heart and friendly personality. But Dad drank too much, too often. He had grown up in a home with an absentee father and had never finished high school. He met Winnie Blalock, and they married young. Dad was a hard worker, and he provided well for our family-and he always took care of my mother. I learned from him early on that a man could do pretty much whatever he put his mind to, as long as he didn’t give up.
Because both Mom and Dad worked outside the home, I spent a lot of time at the home of my Aunt Louise and Uncle Walter, my mother’s brother. It was Uncle Walter who first helped make soapbox derby racing carts for Jim and me. I loved cars and grew up fascinated with hot rods and racing. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel! The town had a few streets built on steep hills, and my first sensation of speed came from racing down the streets, thinking, This is as fast as anyone has ever gone! My soap box was probably pegging all of twenty miles an hour.
Whether on wheels or on runners, I was fascinated with speed. We can build it better, Uncle Walter. We can make it go faster!

Spiritual Foundations

If you’re going to build a great career, you had better have a strong foundation. My career has been built on rock-solid values that I first learned as a child at home and in church. As a nine-year-old boy, I committed my life to Jesus Christ. Looking back now, I can see how that one decision has impacted every aspect of my life. Of course, when I walked to the front of that little church to acknowledge my faith in God and my need of a Savior, I had no idea just how far-reaching that choice would prove to be. All I knew was that I was being taught in school that my life was an accident, that a couple of amoeba had met in a puddle a few million years ago and eventually evolved into a man and woman. My science teachers were teaching me that I was nothing more than a bunch of grown-up goo.
But my mother, my grandmother, and my Aunt Louise made sure that I attended church. In church, my pastor and Sunday school teachers confronted the evolutionary theory head-on. They taught that God loved me and had made me special, and He put me on this earth with special abilities. They said He had an important plan for my life and that if I’d trust Him, He would lead me in the right direction and show me what He wanted me to do.
As I weighed these two contrasting concepts, I concluded that evolution didn’t make a lot of sense. Surrounded by the world, its beauty, and the order I saw in nature, I felt sure there must be a Creator. When I look at my wristwatch I think, This is a complicated piece of machinery, and I know that where this is a watch, there is a watchmaker. Looking at this world and they way it’s put together, I said, “Hey, listen, I am not real sharp, but I know this: Where there is a world, there is a World Maker!”
That’s what prompted me to go forward at that church service and commit myself to the One who had created me. I prayed, God, I know You’re there. I know You made me and that I am not an accident. I want to live for You. More than a half-century later, I’ve never regretted praying that prayer.

California Dreamin’

When Aunt Louise and Uncle Walter moved to California, my mom and dad decided to follow. We settled near Whittier, and in no time I was a starter on my high school baseball, basketball, and football teams. As the starting quarterback at a small school, I led an active social life.
I was a “rounder,” out cruising in my car with the guys, carousing, and generally goofing off. I wasn’t the romantic type, and I rarely dated the same girl for more than a few weeks-until I met Pat, a beautiful, dark-haired cheerleader. We continued dating after high school, but it took me eight years to convince her to marry me! We finally married on January 29, 1966, and our first anniversary fell in the same month as the first AFL-NFL Championship game, which is today known as the Super Bowl. To this day, when anyone asks Pat how long we’ve been married, she quips, “What number of Super Bowl is it?”
I wasn’t a great athlete in high school-I really wasn’t-but through a lot of hard work I was named the school’s Athlete of the Year when I graduated in 1959. Football was my favorite sport, and I hoped to receive a scholarship to a major university, with dreams of one day playing for a pro football team. When no scholarship offers came from the schools I wanted to attend, I elected to go to nearby Cerritos Junior College. But my quarterbacking days were over. The coach decided I was better suited as an end, so I worked hard and won a starting job on the team.
I wasn’t a particularly great student, either. Throughout college, I’d sit in the front row of class, point to my letterman’s jacket, and beg my teachers, “Please, Prof! I need a C to be eligible to play.” I was focused on my goal of playing pro sports. I played hard and eventually got noticed by Don Coryell, head coach at San Diego State University, the “Harvard of the West.” He offered me a half scholarship to play football, and he didn’t have to offer it twice. I went for it!
I played guard, tight end, and linebacker for Coryell, and I quickly discovered that the man was “football brilliant.” He was an incredible strategist, constantly devising new plays, trying new alignments-anything that might help us win a game. In the back of my mind, I thought, If I can’t play pro football, I want to be a coach like Don Coryell. Coryell would one day become the successful head coach of the San Diego Chargers, and Sports Illustrated would name him one of the top three professional football coaches of all time.
When it came time for me to pick a major in college, I glanced down the list of possible careers. I skipped over neurosurgeon, nuclear physicist, and astronaut. What am I qualified to do? Finally, I thought, I’ve got it! Physical education! I can do that. Handball, recreational dancing-this is perfect! So I embarked on a physical education major, which I regarded at the time simply as a stepping-stone to a career in professional sports.
I was a junior in college when, one day I looked at my body in the mirror and realized that I wasn’t’ big enough, fast enough, or talented enough to make it in football at the pro level. This was a shock to my system, and at first I panicked.
What am I going to do to make a living? I had a degree in physical education, but I didn’t really want to teach. Suddenly, it dawned on me. I know! I’ll coach! What does a coach do? He stands on the sidelines and tells people, “Run faster! Jump higher! Hit ‘em! Kill ‘em!” I can do that!
I went to see Coach Coryell and volunteered to work for no pay as part of his coaching staff. By now, Pat and I were planning to be married and I was a graduate school, so working for no money was not exactly a glamorous prospect. But I believed in what I wanted to do, and Pat believed in me. Together we were willing to sacrifice and work hard to see our dreams come true. As it turned out, the experience and football knowledge I soaked up under Coryell’s leadership was worth it.
On Coach Coryell’s staff was a big gregarious guy named John Madden. My main job as junior member of the coaching staff was to go to the local fast-food joint at night and pick up hamburgers and tacos for the other coaches. The only time I got into trouble was when I inadvertently left something off John’s taco order. Madden, of course, went on to an outstanding career as head coach of the Oakland Raiders and is now one of the most highly respected football analysts in broadcasting.
He’s also well-known for his television commercials. The man has no shame! He’s done all those Ace Hardware commercials, but he can’t fool me. I’ve been to Madden’s home, and he doesn’t know a bolt from a belt sander!
I was visiting the Maddens’ home one Christmas when John gave his wife, Virginia, a set of crescent wrenches as a gift! She does all the mechanical work around the house. And it’s a good thing, because John doesn’t have a clue! One day, John was leaving for work when he got a flat tire. He went to his neighbor’s house and called his wife to come fix the flat!
But John does know football, and together with Coryell, they provided me with an education in coaching. I was privileged to learn from the best.
My job at San Diego State soon turned into a paid position. I was coaching the offensive linemen, earning a grand total of $6200 that first year. It wasn’t much of an income, but Pat and I were ecstatic, and we decided to go ahead and get married. In 1966, my first year as a paid coach, San Diego State went 11-0 and won the small college national championship. We were off to a great start!

Cross-Country Coaching

Following that season, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from a guy who spoke in such a thick Louisiana accent that I could barely understand him. Don Breaux was an assistant coach at Florida State University. They had somehow heard about me and wondered if I’d be interested in joining their staff. Besides making more money for coaching at a bigger school, the move would give Pat and me the opportunity to buy our first real home. We decided it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Pat stayed behind in San Diego while I traveled to Florida to begin a new chapter in my career. I saw the move to Florida as a step up the ladder of success in my field.
It was certainly a step up in salary-I was making twice as much money at FSU as I had been in San Diego. Better yet, a booster of the athletic program gave me an incredible deal on a brand new, 1,800 square-foot home on a corner lot in a new subdivision. “Give me four hundred dollars down and we’ll do the deal,” he said.
“Four hundred dollars!” I exclaimed. “Sold!” I bought the house without ever stepping inside it! Pat excitedly sent me a checklist, wanting to know what sort of features were in our new home. Wondering whether the kitchen had a double stainless-steel sink or some other style, Pat had written “Sink?” Beside her query I wrote “Yes” and sent it back to her.
Nevertheless, when pat finally saw our first home, she was so elated she wept. The little house was so pretty, far beyond our wildest expectations-and it was ours. Few feelings in life can compare to the joy of stepping across the threshold of your own home.
At Florida State, I coached under Bill Peterson, one of the hardest working coaches I have ever met. Coach Pete was football’s version of Yogi Berra, butchering the English language with humorous malapropisms-describing a close game as a “real cliff dweller” or boasting to the other coaches that he had such great repertoire with his players. Coach Pete once described two people missing each other as “two ships crashing in the night.” When he got steamed, he sometimes warned, “Don’t forget who’s the head football around here!”
Bill Peterson may not have made it on the professional speaker’s circuit, but the man developed a tremendous program at Florida State. And he knew how to win football games.
We went 15-4-1 during y two-year stint with the Seminoles. I was becoming addicted to winning. I thrived on it! So far in my fledgling coaching career, I had been a part of forty-two victories, with only eight losses and a tie. Coaching with Bill Peterson whetted my appetite for being a head coach, and that became my goal.
The standard career track was to move up from assistant coach to coordinator to head coach, the guy in charge of it all. That’s who I wanted to be. Looking back, I can see clearly that God placed that desire in my heart and then maneuvered me into the positions where He could bring it to pass. Unfortunately, it would take a number of years and a lot of frustration before I realized that He could promote me much more effectively than I could promote myself. I became obsessed with wanting to be a head coach. I was willing to pay any price to get there…and I almost did.