Even with a résumé that includes having coached three linebackers who have earned Pro Bowl honors on 10 different occasions over the past four seasons, don’t expect Kansas City Chiefs linebackers coach Gary Gibbs to take much credit.
With talent the likes of Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston to work with, Gibbs explained that he’s simply a teacher.
“It's being able to get those guys on the same page and to focus day in, day out and understand the process in what you have to do mentally and physically to make it all happen,” Gibbs said. “Last time I checked, football is a player’s game and it's a team sport."
But there’s no denying the talent and success the Chiefs linebackers group has had over the past several years led by Gibbs.
In 2012, the trio of linebackers each earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, marking the first time in franchise history that the club has sent three linebackers to the NFL All-Star Game in the same season. The group followed up that performance by each earning a spot in the Pro Bowl for the 2013 season.
“You've got to be talented to be successful and win,” Gibbs explained, “but typically those championship-type teams, those championship-type players, they know how to work, they know how to compete and they know how to prepare.
“Just because you’re talented doesn't mean it's going to go your way. You have to put forth that effort and preparation."
Luckily for Gibbs, who will spend his seventh season in Kansas City in 2015, there hasn’t been a shortage of talent to work with or players who aren’t willing to put in the kind of work it takes to be successful during his time with the Chiefs.
“When you get that player that wants to be the best—that wants to win, who's just driven to be the best, it's a pretty good gig," he explained. “We all know that there are some talented players who just collect a paycheck and are OK going 8-8. They might go to the Pro Bowl and feel pretty good about everything, but that’s not what this league’s all about at the end of the day.”
One of the players who has often credited much of his success to Gibbs is Hali, who under Gibbs’ guidance, transformed from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker back in 2009 after three seasons in the NFL with varying success.
In his first three seasons (2006-08) as a defensive end, Hali accumulated 18.5 sacks, but over the next three (2009-11) at outside linebacker, Hali had 35.
While Hali credits a lot of his pass-rushing technique and hand skills to Master Joe Kim, whom he worked with from 2010-12, Hali isn’t shy about acknowledging Gibbs for helping him understand the way to see the game from a linebacker’s point of view.
“He gave me an opportunity to learn and had patience with me,” Hali said of Gibbs. “He helped me in ways where I could see the game from a different perspective—how to read plays, how to recognize different coverages presnap. He’s one of those coaches that’s going to push you. At times, even as a pass rusher, when I didn’t do well, he’d speak the truth and sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth.
“He’s a straight shooter. For a guy like me, that drives me.”
In what is painfully obvious to anyone who has spoken with Gibbs before, about his playing or coaching career successes, there’s zero ego when it comes to taking credit for much of anything.
"Tamba's a great guy,” Gibbs said. “He's obviously performed extraordinarily well on the football field, but he also does great things off the field. He's a unique individual. I'm always a better coach when I have a chance to coach great players and Tamba's a great player, so I just try and point him in the right direction and give him a little advice here and there.
“It's all about the player and Tamba's been awfully kind with his comments towards me."
Gibbs has 35 years of experience coaching football at both the professional and collegiate ranks and has found success everywhere he’s been.