DW: In the words of Joe Gibbs, ‘everybody needs a coach’
When you read the headline of this story, you probably already know who told me that, years ago. You would be right if you said Coach Joe Gibbs. He is such a godly man and I am blessed to call him my friend. We were talking one day just about life in general and he made the comment to me that, "Everybody needs a coach." Now this is a man I admire greatly, so I was intrigued when he said that.
I think the situation that his organization found itself in speaks volumes to his leadership. Think about the fact that one of its marquee drivers, Kyle Busch, didn’t even get to run the Daytona 500 because he was in a hospital with a broken leg and a broken foot on his other leg from a nasty wreck in the XFINITY Series race the day before.
Obviously that was a huge disappointment to Kyle, his brand-new crew chief, Adam Stevens, the organization and all the sponsors that support the No. 18 car. Just like when he was coaching the Washington Redskins, Coach Gibbs had to go to his bench and bring in a backup quarterback.
So for the next 11 weeks the team did the best it could, anticipating Kyle’s return. The team had a couple substitute drivers in the No. 18 and had a few good runs, but obviously it wasn’t the same without Kyle. So that set the tone for a tumultuous 2015 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Also, don’t forget this was the same year that JGR went from three teams to four. Now I know on paper it looks easy enough, but trust me, it’s not. That’s where Coach Gibbs also shined just like he did in the NFL. He has that ability to anticipate and see potential chemistry among people.
Off the track they also had to deal with company president J.D. Gibbs’ health issues. J.D. obviously handled all the day-to-day duties for the organization, but then he had to step away. That forced Coach Gibbs to step back in and take on more responsibility than ever before.
In addition to that, they had on-track issues. Denny Hamlin had his problems during a red-flag situation at Bristol and had to step out of the car. JGR literally had to fly in young Erik Jones, and he jumped behind the wheel of the No. 11 having never been in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in his life. Truth be told, that young man did an amazingly great job that day considering the circumstances.
If that wasn’t enough odds stacked against the organization, you had the issues between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano that ended up with Matt suspended for two races there at the end of the season. It just seemed like every time the company would get just a little bit ahead, it would get knocked back down again.
Thankfully, Kyle was able to get back behind the wheel of the No. 18 car in May, and boy did he come back with a vengeance. NASCAR gave the No. 18 an exemption to still make the Chase if Kyle met the criteria. Not only did he meet it; he exceeded it.
Coach Gibbs also told me that everybody needs someone on the outside looking in. That’s what a head coach can do. NASCAR is similar to the NFL these days in many ways. Just like there are position coaches on every team — from line coaches, to wide receiver coaches, to quarterback coaches — NASCAR has that as well. There’s the crew chief. There’s the car chief. There’s the pit-crew coach.
By Coach Gibbs being forced into more of a day-to-day role than he anticipated, he was able to take a step back and analyze all those areas of his organization. There’s a saying called "blind self," which means we are so focused at times at what we are doing that we don’t see things within ourselves. That’s where a head coach like Coach Gibbs can take a step back and help you recognize what problems you might have and offer suggestions for improvement.
I think that’s what made Joe Gibbs Racing overcome all the adversity this year. At the very top, the organization had someone steering the ship who had vast experience. This is a man who has won Super Bowls, who has had to deal with different personalities. He’s walked those sidelines and had the inner strength to make the tough calls when necessary.
For as bad as the year started, who would have thought that right before the Chase started many folks would be saying the final four championship round could possibly consist of all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars racing each other? Naturally it didn’t end up that way, but there was a point when it was a major topic among everyone in the media.
I just think of the irony that of all the things they have been through this year, it came down to Kyle Busch, who had missed 11 races, coming back from major injuries to win his first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. There’s no question in my mind it’s the comeback story of the year across all sports.
It’s just an amazing storybook ending for an amazing driver and operation that pretty much had it all stacked against them at one point or another this year. You know what the other irony is? Coach Gibbs has now won more NASCAR Sprint Cup championships than Super Bowls, and he did it with a driver who had a broken leg and broken foot in February.
It really is a tribute to everyone who works there, from the high-profile drivers down to the guy who sweeps the floor. It would have been so easy to give up every time they got knocked down, but the leadership, strength and faith that Coach Gibbs projects wouldn’t allow that to happen. Now this Friday evening, he and the No. 18 bunch are sitting at the head table in Las Vegas for the season-ending awards banquet.
So when Coach Gibbs tells you that everyone needs a coach, I’m here to tell you that you might want to listen to him. The other thing he told me was, "If you are going to take advice, take advice from someone who has been successful." Trust me: I love taking advice from Coach Gibbs.