When winners are losing
"When people look from the outside, they see you've won Super Bowls, NASCAR championships," he said. "But what people miss when they look from the outside is, they miss the heartaches and the defeats and the mistakes you've made. And my life is full of them."
In a new edition of the New International Version of the Bible, "Game Plan for Life Bible, NIV: Notes by Joe Gibbs," and a book of biblical devotions, "Game Plan for Life: Chalk Talks," Gibbs writes frankly about many of his failures, about how just as his coaching career was soaring he was facing private calamities including a bad real estate deal that had him losing $35,000 a month and spiraling into bankruptcy.
"Bad, bad decisions. Really bad," he explains. "I was broke."
Years of neglecting his health were followed by the startling news that he had developed diabetes, which he's now had for two decades; years of choosing work over family led to strained relations. Asked if he would do it all again and sacrifice his relationships with his family, he frankly and quickly says, "No. I look at that as probably one of the biggest mistakes I made in life."
A few years ago he said he took his sons out to out dinner and told them, "Don't do what I did."
"I could have organized that a different way. I could have found a way to spend more time with them and I think that'll be one of the things I really second guess ... at the end of my life."
Finding his faith again
Gibbs says he found comfort amid the turmoil in a renewal of his faith. A life-long Baptist, Gibbs says he's not fond of denominational distinctions and says he and his wife have always gravitated toward, "Bible-believing churches."
He became a Christian at a young age, "I made that decision when I was 9 but I spent a part of my life drifting, you know, I was on God's team but I wasn't playing for him."
He says spiritual mentors like a Sunday school teacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and some of his Redskins players helped him get back on track with a deeper, more meaningful Christian faith even while the struggles were at their worst.
"Part of playing the game of life is you're going to have some losses," he is fond of saying.
That is why he is sharing his private trials in this public way: so others can understand his belief that even winners lose when they lose their way. He regularly tours the country speaking about his faith at Game Plan for Life Outreach Breakfasts, designed so he can present his faith and help men by "getting off the sidelines and into the game," the organization says.
"I really want to spend the rest of my life getting out this word, you know, 'What is the right way to play the game of life?' You and I are the players, God's our head coach and we're all playing the biggest game of all."
Those struggles have all made him more introspective, more humble and more inclined to leave the office a little earlier for family time. He now has eight grandchildren.
"If I keep God first in my life, if I keep my family and friends as second, and then I keep my occupation third," he said, "that's when I've found success."
But make no mistake: Joe Gibbs still preaches the gospel of winning and he still thinks that's part of God's plan for him, too.
Ask him how long he'll keep coming to the office, stomping through the pits and sharing his testimony, "I think you're asking the wrong guy on that one. I think you need to ask the Lord on that one. I think you know at some point I'll probably run out of gas, but man, right now I feel like I've still got a full tank. I'm still going."