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The Life and Career of Chiefs LBs Coach Gary Gibbs

The career path of the man behind the scenes coaching the talent we praise

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By BJ Kissel

Chiefs Reporter

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."

(left to right) Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston

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.

The University of Oklahoma

As a kid growing up in Houston, Texas, Gibbs played both baseball and football.

But he naturally took a liking to football, in which he was a standout linebacker at Spring Branch High School.

Ultimately, Gibbs was recruited by the University of Oklahoma, which became a place he’d call home for the next 23 years as a player and coach.

"It was a great program,” Gibbs explained. “You enjoy the people recruiting you and your visit's awfully important. I was comfortable and then I was fortunate that they wanted me to be part of their program. It was kind of a no-brainer for me."

The 1974 National Champion Oklahoma Sooner football team photo courtesy OU Athletics Communications

During his playing years between 1972-74, Gibbs played linebacker for a Sooners team that had a combined record of 32-1-1. He was part of the 1974 National Championship team and helped contribute to a defense that allowed 6.2 (1972), 12.1 (1973) and 8.4 (1974) points per game.

"It was 10 great players and me,” he laughingly said. “I just tried to get everybody lined up."

Oklahoma Sooner Head Coach, Gary Gibbs photo courtesy OU Athletics Communications

During his three years on the field, the Sooners had 15 All-Americans, including seven on the defensive side of the ball. They were led by defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who would go on to play nine years in the NFL and become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

After his playing career at Oklahoma was over, Gibbs attended training camp with the New England Patriots as a rookie free agent in 1975, but returned to Oklahoma that fall as a graduate assistant coach.

“Coach (Barry) Switzer and all those coaches really gave me great opportunity,” Gibbs explained of how he got into coaching. “They taught me, worked with me and helped me. You have to have the opportunity and they gave it to me my first year out. I knew early on I wanted to be a coach. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity.

“I'm always indebted to those people."

Gibbs would spend the next 20 years coaching at Oklahoma, moving up from graduate assistant (1975-77) to linebackers coach (1978-80) to defensive coordinator (1981-88) and finally head coach (1989-94).

Over his time at Oklahoma, the Sooners appeared in 16 bowl games and won three national championships (1974, 1975 and 1985).

In his six seasons as head coach, Gibbs guided the Sooners to three bowl games: the 1990 Gator Bowl, 1993 John Hancock Bowl and 1994 Copper Bowl.

Gibbs was largely successful in cleaning up a program that was placed on probation by the NCAA in 1988. Gibbs produced 25 NFL draftees during his head coaching stint despite probation stipulations that severely limited the school’s scholarship allotment. His defense averaged 4.09 sacks per game during the 1989 campaign.

Gibbs’ eight-year tenure as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator produced some of the finest performances in school history. Oklahoma won the 1985 national championship and led the nation in total defense for three consecutive years (1985-87).

From the college ranks to the NFL

After a couple of stops at Georgia (2000) and LSU (2001) as defensive coordinator, Gibbs was given an opportunity in the NFL because of a connection back to his days at Oklahoma.

“You have to know somebody to get the opportunity to interview. Those relationships and those opportunities existed and fortunately for me, it's work out pretty good."

Larry Lacewell, who had coached defense at Oklahoma for nine season between 1969 and 1977, had been hired as a scout with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992.

“Through that Lacewell connection, it gave me a chance to interview and subsequently, get hired by the Cowboys,” Gibbs said. “I've been in the NFL ever since.”

Gibbs spent four seasons (2002-05) as the Cowboys linebackers coach before spending the next three seasons as the defensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints (2006-08).

In coaching circles, the world becomes very small and networking and relationships are paramount.

“You have to know somebody to get the opportunity to interview,” Gibbs explained. “Those relationships and those opportunities existed and fortunately for me, it's work out pretty good."

Gibbs’ next stop would be Kansas City.

Through a regime change, Gibbs remained

After spending four seasons working with the Chiefs linebackers between 2009 and 2012, Gibbs was one of the few coaches that stayed through the regime change when Andy Reid was hired before the 2013 season.

“I think he's very honest with his players, but he's also a teacher. He played linebacker and he's coached it a long time, so he's able to teach the guys in a firm way."

- Andy Reid, Chiefs Head Coach

"I had heard he was a great football coach and a great person,” Reid explained of the decision to keep Gibbs. “So I asked when I got the job here, I asked around to people that I interviewed."

Gibbs also liked what Reid and company were bringing to an organization that had won just 10 games in the three previous seasons combined.

“He's won wherever he's been,” Gibbs said of Reid. “As a coach, that's what you want. As a player, that's what you want. He instills confidence in the players.

“But the way he approaches the offseason, the way he approaches camp, the way he approaches things during the season, our players are prepared each Sunday and at the same time, he's doing everything he can from a personnel standpoint, along with (general manager) John (Dorsey), to make sure we have the pieces in place to compete.”

After picking up 20 wins in their first two years together, the combination seems to be working.

Reid appreciates the way Gibbs approaches his craft.

"I think he's very honest with his players, but he's also a teacher,” Reid explained. “He played linebacker and he's coached it a long time, so he's able to teach the guys in a firm way.

“He's very honest with them."

Family, Football and the Kansas City Community

After spending the first 20 years of his coaching career at Oklahoma, Gibbs made four different stops over the next nine years before settling in Kansas City seven years ago.

"My wife and I both love Kansas City—just great people and it's really a neat place to live,” Gibbs said. “The key thing from where I sit is it's all about the Chiefs. It's been a great organization for a long, long time. With Mr. Hunt being one of the founders of the AFL and all things he achieved, and now that Clark (Hunt) and the rest of his family has taken over, they do a great job of heading up the organization.

“With Andy (Reid) and John Dorsey, there's a true feeling that you have a chance to compete year in and year out. The expectation is all about winning. As a coach, that's what you want. You want to be involved with people who expect to win and are able to do everything they can to help you win."

While Gibbs might not have expected the kind of success and longevity in football he’s had more than 40 years ago when he first suited up at linebacker for the Sooners, he’s had a career that’s worthy of admiration.

Over the years, many things in Gibbs’ life have changed, but football has remained constant.

It’s something he now shares with both of his daughters, Whitley and Jordan, who have grown to love the team he has spent the last seven years coaching.

“As my girls have gotten married and had kids, they’ve developed a love for the Chiefs,” Gibbs said. “As soon as I'm driving home from the stadium after games, I get a phone call from both girls. Win or lose, I get a phone call.

“They love football and that’s neat to share with them.”

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