Gibbs leaves impact on college football

Published 9:30 am Thursday, October 8, 2020

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In 1984, Dan Reeves, head coach of the Denver Broncos, offered Alex Gibbs a job as offensive line coach, the same position he held at the University of Georgia.   He lit out for the NFL for one reason—a bigger payday—but he did not want to leave Athens.

“We loved living here, my family was very happy, but I had five kids to educate and needed a larger financial package for that one reason,” he said this past weekend over dinner with Vince Dooley, who hired Gibbs to coach the Bulldog offensive line in 1982.

Gibbs had come to town to speak to the Athens Touchdown Club but had one proviso.   

“If I come, I want to have dinner with Vince and Barbara,” he said.  It was easy to arrange. Two of his sons, Steve (Dacula) and Chuck (LaGrange) live in the state, which gave him an opportunity to spend time with grandchildren.

It was an evening for reminiscing as the conversation incorporated vignettes about such Bulldog connections as Herschel Walker, Terrell Davis, MVP of Super Bowl XXXII, and former Georgia assistants who were on the staff during the Herschel era.

Gibbs recalled buying a condominium downtown so his kids would be able to enroll at Georgia, live at home and walk to class.  He was thinking ahead just as he did as a coach when he wanted to set up a big play during a game or a series. 

When the got to Denver, he had an opportunity to put in place a theory he had contemplated over the years:  How to block bigger defensive linemen with smaller players.  What started under Reeves and then perfected with Mike Shanahan, led to Gibbs becoming something of an NFL guru with his innovative zone blocking schemes.  His blocking concepts are still utilized in pro football today. 

His O-line expertise helped Denver win two Super Bowls.

You could apply the long held proverb that “necessity is the mother of invention” to Gibbs ingenious origination.   

If you can’t neutralize the defenses you are facing with sheer strength and power, what do you do? 

You find players with lesser heft but with more speed and quickness.   

You can then utilize zone-blocking schemes, which get the job done. 

Alex came with the concept that you concentrate on blocking fewer people and to do the job effectively, you have to arrive at the point of attack in a hurry. 

And if you want to really dominate, you find yourself a running back like Terrell Lamar Davis, who came to Georgia in 1992, after Long Beach State disbanded its football program, and then to the Broncos, three seasons later.

Behind Alex Gibbs innovative blocking schemes, Davis flourished with his quick-hitting and fluid running style.  “He was perfect for what we wanted,” Gibbs said.   “He was the best running back for a short period of time that I saw in the league.  We were at our peak when he was in the backfield.”

Davis, because of injuries, did not experience a long career. 

He played eight years, but was so highly regarded and productive that he was elected to the National Football League Hall of Fame in 2017.

Davis gained 7,607 yards on 1,655 rushing attempts and scored 60 touchdowns, but there is a consequential statistic when you evaluate his ability to hold on the football. 

He only fumbled 18 times in his career, which is an average of 2.25 per season.

“Don’t forget,” Gibbs smiled, “he was a terrific pass receiver, too.  We didn’t throw to him that much, but when we did, you could count on a big play.”  As a pass receiver, Davis caught 169 balls in his career for 1,280 yards for a 7.6 average and scored five touchdowns.

Early on, Gibbs earned a reputation for getting the most out of his players.

His first big break came when Woody Hayes of Ohio State called him when he was defensive backfield coach at West Virginia.   The intensively competitive Woody told him he was hiring him to coach the offensive line.  When Gibbs explained he had never coached that position, it didn’t deter the Buckeye coach. 

“I’ll tell you what to say to the linemen and you just go coach them.”   Hayes had scouted Gibbs and realized that he was a savvy, fundamental coach.

Then when Woody and the staff were fired at Ohio State following Woody’s incident in the Gator Bowl, when he swung at a Clemson linebacker after an interception, Pat Dye hired Gibbs as his offensive coordinator at Auburn.   

After three years there, Gibbs joined Vince Dooley’s staff after which he moved to the NFL—for the rest of the story.