Skins Blog: Mitchell Retires and Gibbs Fires WTEM

What is Brian Mitchell's legacy and why did Gibbs leave his radio show?

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You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net
Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins.


Mitchell Retires as a Redskins

Despite an acrimonious departure from the team in 1999, Brian Mitchell will retire as a Washington Redskin. From the DC Post:
The Washington Redskins announced yesterday that former running back Brian Mitchell will officially retire as a member of the team on Wednesday, bringing closure to what was a damaged relationship between the popular player and the franchise. Mitchell, a standout return specialist who spent 10 seasons in Washington, will sign with the Redskins on Wednesday and then announce his retirement at a news conference at Redskins Park
Mitchell was cut from the Redskins following the 1999 season in what was the signature move of the early Dan Snyder years. He was axed to create salary cap room for the signing of Deion Sanders .

At the time, Mitchell had some bad words for Snyder and the Redskins, but he's put it all behind him. He told WTEM radio:
I started here. I played 10 years here. My home is here. I never wanted to leave Washington. I wanted to retire as a Redskin way back. Things changed. I left upset and with an attitude, but you get over things, and I made a phone call to Dan Snyder and expressed what I wanted to do, and he agreed with it.
He has compiled some pretty impressive career stats. From the AP
Mitchell holds NFL records for combined kick return yards (19,013), combined kick returns (1,070), combined kick returns for a touchdown (13), kickoff return yards (14,014), kickoff returns (607), punt return yards (4,999), punt returns (463) and fair catches (231). He was also the leader in all-purpose yards (23,330) until Jerry Rice (23,546) passed him in December.
Compiled numbers are one thing, snapshots in the memory are another. Two of them stand out. One was in 1991, his first game as the full-time punt returner. In the season opener, he returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown and he made it look easy, getting a forward burst of speed after fielding the kick, making a cut and that was it. Then, in his last game as a Redskin, getting the second-half kickoff down the right sideline for a touchdown that gave his team a 13-0 lead against the Bucs. They would relinquish that lead and lose 14-13.

The big returns, however, are not his enduring legacy. Mitchell achieved his record numbers not by breaking a bunch of long returns, but by getting a 15-yard punt return when the blocking would have netted the average returner nine, by ploughing into the pile on a kickoff return to get an extra four yards of field position for the Redskins. Multiply that by his 1,070 combined kick returns and you have a lot of extra yards.

Gibbs Fires WTEM

From the same Post article quoted above:
The team also announced that Gibbs will answer questions from fans Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. on WJFK-FM. Gibbs conducted a weekly show on WTEM-AM during the 2004 season, but was unhappy with recent comments made about him by its hosts and is not expected to continue his relationship with the station. Gibbs said during his most recent news conference that he is considering alternative avenues to interact directly with fans.
So it appears that Gibbs has fired The Team's Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin as hosts of his call-in show. It's unclear exactly what one or both of them said to provoke this action by Gibbs, but the best guess is that it was Czaban speculating, or passing along and discussing speculation, that Gibbs may have come back to the Redskins strictly for the money.

I caught Czaban in the middle of discussing Gibbs on his show on Fox Sports Radio this morning. Right when I tuned him in he was saying something about the coming back for the money thing was something he talked about because it was a topic that was on other peoples' minds. He then went into an analogy about how Gibbs was the dad that nobody ever thought would come back, but he did.

I like Czaban and Pollin. I've been on the Sports Reporters a few times and they've been very generous in giving me air time to promote my books. Last fall I was in the studio with them for an hour and a half and they were extremely cordial and, in the course of conversation, they revealed themselves to be real Redskins fans. Still, I do think that they, particularly Czaban, say some things that are out of line sometimes and speculating that Gibbs was in it for the money certainly was outrageous, whether or not others were talking about it.

Was it OK for Gibbs to jettison his radio show with Czaban and Pollin because he didn't like what they said about him, outside of the context of the show? Keep in mind that it's not certain that the move was made in reaction to the "in it for the money" thing. It may have been that one comment, it may have been an accumulation of things that they said.

No matter what it was, while Gibbs certainly is free to be on whatever radio show he wants, it's a bit disturbing that he bailed on WTEM for the stated reason. The incident could have a chilling effect on interviews and reporters who cover the team. Extreme softball could become the game of the day as far as the media is concerned, out of fear of losing access. Imagine coverage like this:

Interviewer: Coach, great call on that second and four in the third quarter. How did you know that play would gain five?

TV Anchor: And, next in sports, the big Redskins news--Joe Gibbs grandson gets a puppy for his birthday.

Stay tuned.

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