December 8th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Winning, by God. Joe Gibbs' third act: Evangelist

By Tom Foreman and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN)—Joe Gibbs moves through pit row at Dover International Speedway with purpose. On this clear day he has three NASCAR teams competing under the banner of Joe Gibbs Racing. The NFL coach and Hall of Fame legend barks encouragement as his teams gather in their fire suits in front of racks of tools.

“We’re due one today! Let’s go!”

Then the team members put their hands together at the center of a circle, Gibbs slaps his on top with the sun catching his Super Bowl ring, and bows his head in a sudden moment of calm before the high-octane storm. “Father thank you for this day,” he begins to pray.

The white hair under his logo covered ball cap is an oddity here. The pits of NASCAR are a young man’s world. Top speed, quick reflexes and raw power are prized.

The drivers are the captains of the cars, but speed and precision of their pit crews – leaping over walls, changing tires and filling gas tanks – is often the difference between winning and loosing.

So what is the 72-year-old Gibbs, well past retirement age, doing amid the chaos and thundering noise?

The same thing Gibbs has always done: He's calling the shots.

“To me, life is so exciting. To me, life is always trying to beat someone in something competitive. It's kinda been my whole life," Gibbs explains while sitting in the sprawling Joe Gibbs Racing Complex in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a recent race.

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He sips on a large green tea, nursing a sore throat he claims is from allergies but is more likely from all the hollering over the racing weekend. Dressed in a polo shirt tucked into khakis, he is fit and trim, likely in better shape than most men half his age. He says he’s as excited now about all he is doing as he was when he was young.

"I really think I am,” he says with a wide, convincing grin.

The rise of Joe Gibbs

Gibbs' rise to sports superstardom began in the 1980s, when he took the struggling Washington Redskins, a team with few stars and even fewer playoff hopes, to not one but three Super Bowl championships, earning the respect of the league and the adoration of fans.

As the cold February rain poured down on fans who came out for the team parade after the 1983 Super Bowl, Gibbs praised their dedication with the enthusiasm that has long made them love him. "There's no other fans in the world who would come out in weather like this except in Washington, D.C.!"

A young mustachioed CNN sports reporter, Keith Olbermann, reported a half-million fans braved the weather for a glimpse of the team, Gibbs and the gleaming Lombardi trophy that day.

“Each one of you has a small piece of this trophy today,” Gibbs yelled into the microphone, pumping the Super Bowl prize for the roaring crowd.

Less than a decade later, he stunned those same fans by turning from football to auto racing, setting up shop in his native North Carolina with admittedly little knowledge of what he was getting into. "I was kind of a novice,” Gibbs said while touring the floor of the JGR workshop. “I was scared to death, you know, 'Can we do this?' "

But Gibbs applied his formula: He worked around the clock, hired great people and relentlessly pushed for perfection. Soon enough the championships started rolling in for his racing teams, too.

Gibbs addresses the media after returning to coach the Redskins

In 2004, Redskins owner Dan Snyder lured Gibbs out of the pits and back to the sidelines. He coached the 'Skins for a four-year stint, helping them get back to the playoffs. But by 2008, Gibbs was ready to go back to racing and he walked away from football for good.

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As an owner, Gibbs' teams have won three NASCAR Cup Series Championships. He talks a lot now about being a small business owner. His racing enterprise employs 450 people and includes the 250,000 square foot facility complete with state of the art garages, offices and gym.

That success in racing makes his latest career turn so unusual, because now he is talking perhaps more than ever before about losing.

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.”

Gibbs on the sidelines during the height of his coaching career, when he says he was facing personal woes.

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.”

Church of NASCAR ministers to drivers in a 'life-or-death sport'

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."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

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soundoff (978 Responses)
  1. zometimer

    "I feel sorry for you"

    Seroiusly they have medication and therapy that can help you. As an athiest I wish you were my nieghbor so I could sit down with you and help you unshackle your mind from the delusional brain washing you have endured. I understand its difficult to get through this, you can do it big guy! Hang in there. Your in the right place.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • DJP

      And I have similar thoughts that you should take your blinders off and just look around at what creation is and you would realize it is done by God and there is a plan in place of His design.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      DJP: the world around us isn't proof there's some sky-fairy. Not even close.

      December 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  2. w.

    I never really much cared for this guy and now I care even less.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  3. s

    GIBBS- First thought to my mind was NCIS- love that show

    December 9, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  4. T-rock

    Mind boggling that people that hate religion go out of their way to read an article about religion and then bash it because it is partially about religion.

    There's well over 7,000,000,000 people in this world. You aren't special.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Sisyphus

      Maybe if we didn't have religion we wouldn't have 7,000,000,000 people in the world.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • shiststone

      You aren't either.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Malevolution

      Actually, it stands to reason that if there are 7 billion people in the world and a majority of them are religious, then the few that aren't religious CAN be considered "special". But there I am using that word that Christians seem to find so offensive: reason.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  5. sooner1

    Why not? With Gibbs recognition evangelism is easy money, like taking candy from babies.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • sam stone

      what a gig, eh?

      December 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  6. Sisyphus

    Religion stunts your personal growth. It is the easy way out. You believe in something that someone else has figured out rather than using your own personal experience to draw your own conclusions. Once you fully embrace your religion you don't have to think anymore because from that point forward you become a follower. Whatever spirituality you may have should be a life long journey that is not arrested by a static belief system. That is what I believe but you are free to believe otherwise.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  7. a dose of reality

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian

    December 9, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Sisyphus

      You really crack me up. While I share some of your views, I don't think I would be as disrespectful.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Who's to say

      I don't see this as disrespectful... It's the truth! Joe be a very wealthy man!

      December 9, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Factually critiquing someone's beliefs is not disrespectful. Nailing them to a cross because of them – that's disrespectful!

      December 9, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Missing the point

      I like your list, it gives me some things to study more closely.

      We can debate interpretation of facts, but your faith in my intellectual ignorance is nearly as strong as my faith in God. It would require much more space than we have here.

      And you seem to miss the point of being a Christian. What matters is what we create in our hearts. Christ gives us is a higher ideal. It's about "love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.". (For those of you with your Bibles out, these are the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.)

      I do like your list though. I'd like it better if it was phrased with less vitriole and fewer gross generalizations.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  8. Befree

    Bottom line for me – I dont trust the media's coverage of people of faith or the subject of faith. The media (CNN) have one objective – eye balls and advertising $. They savor blood, whether it comes from war or throwing a human being to the into the public square full of people who thrive on the opportunity to lash out at, throw stones and and bring down successful people. Sad statement about the mental and spiritual health of our culture.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Mac

      Driving force GREED ! and the NEED for the in GOD We Trust green back (put on the paper in the 50's).

      December 9, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  9. The Courts

    Facts or G-d, according to to DOVER trial facts won. Accourding to a Federal Judge facts won!!!

    December 9, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Mac

      EVOLUTION WON in the court case AGAIN !!!

      December 9, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • DJP

      Yep – It is pretty amazing how wrong the legal system and judges can be about what the truth is. God created us and all there is and they missed the biggest truth of all.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  10. Al

    Pretty logical step to go from America's quasi-official religion (football) to it's official quasi-religion (Evangelism).

    December 9, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • mama k

      Yes – it's all part of "The Rotting Mind" trilogy.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  11. shiststone


    December 9, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  12. Elliot Carlin

    Wow, Mr. Success in Football, Nascar and now evangelizing. Fits well into the "personality-based" Christianity we see so much of these days. Those who are quiet, faithful and in the shadows don't need the world's accolades, much less from other Christians. If Gibbs is preaching Christ, he'll not be popular much longer.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  13. mjbrin

    sorry i don't see god in this story. very sad

    December 9, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      That's because god doesn't exist

      December 9, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  14. Green

    The G factor is with us everyday, how we react to it depends how we live our lives. G factor = GREED!!!

    December 9, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  15. Befree

    What lies in the hearts and souls of the people here that make so many negative, spiteful comments on a Sunday morning? God help you.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Elliot Carlin

      Hope you aren't confusing hateful with discerning.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Logical

      Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see wether they originate with God, becouse many false prophets have gone forth into the world. 1 John 4:1

      December 9, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • zometimer

      "Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see wether they originate with God, becouse many false prophets have gone forth into the world. 1 John 4:1"

      More nonsense...

      December 9, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  16. TG

    Mr Joe Gibbs may preach the "gospel of winning", but does he preach "the good news of the kingdom"(Matt 24:14) that Jesus taught his disciples to preach world wide ? Does he follow Jesus words to "Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.....teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you" ?(Matt 28:19, 20) Has he been assisting individuals to learn the "pure language" of Bible truth, calling upon the "name of Jehovah" ?(Zeph 3:9) Has he been teaching individuals how to be "no part of the world" that Jesus so strongly emphasized at John 15:19 ?

    Jesus said that many would profess to be Christian in our time period but fail in measuring up, saying: "Not everyone saying to me, ' Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ' Lord, Lord,' did we not prophecy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name ?' And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you ! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness."(Matt 7:21-23)

    December 9, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • ld

      The answer to your question is yes. I met him at a NASCAR track using his popularity to advance the kingdom of God by sharing the gospel with fans.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  17. Porkins lives!

    I say we worship a different god every day!
    Let us start tomorrow with:
    XIPE TOTEC, the Aztec god of spring (the beginning of the rainy season) and of new vegetation.
    During the second ritual month of the Aztec year, Tlacaxipehualiztli (Flaying of Men), the priests killed human victims by removing their hearts. They flayed the bodies and put on the skins, which were dyed yellow and called teocuitlaquemitl ("golden clothes"). Other victims were fastened to a frame and put to death by arrows; their blood dripping down was believed to symbolize the fertile spring rains.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • TG

      This is but one example of false religion that has dominated the earth for several millennia. The Bible labels all false religion by the name "Babylon the Great" (Rev 17:5) and says that this "harlot" has "made all the nations drink of the wine of the anger of her fornication."(Rev 14:8)

      Those that do not submit to her dominance, she becomes angry at, even to the point of burning such ones on a stake, as has happened in the past. Her false religious teachings that vary from A to Z, has cause the nations to be like a drunken person, with the "harlot" able to take advantage of them.

      From Catholicism to Protestantism to Hinduism to far east religions, this adulterous "harlot" has committed "fornication" with the "kings of the earth"(Rev 17:1, 2), snuggling up close to the political leaders for gain, making treaties and pacts, whereby she is given prominence and authority.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • zometimer

      I like that. So many gods to choose from! Today: meat on a stick!

      December 9, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  18. ally buster

    Football, NASCAR, and now fairy tales. I guess he works for Disney?

    December 9, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Sean

      Let's say you're right. It's all a fairy tale.

      The end comes, you die, he dies, you live a good life, he lived a good life.

      Let's say you're wrong. It's not a fairy tale.

      The end comes, you die, he dies, you go to hell, he goes to heaven.

      Maybe he's wrong. But maybe he's right.

      In any event, the risk is all yours.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Cane89

      Wow! You must be gay, bitter at some loses in your life, or truly sad.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Sisyphus

      Sean surely if there is a God he would want me to use my brain and not be a blind follower.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ Sean – look up "Pascal"s Wager". You are making an enormous assumption – that there are only two possible alternatives – the Christian myth, or nothingness. What if there IS a god, and this god has been using religion to weed out the thinkers from the sheep? The thinkers and doubters are rewarded with eternal bliss, while the sheep are roasted forever.

      Or, what if there IS a god, but not the Abrahamic god? OOOPS! Guess you backed the wrong team – you should have been praying to Zeus, or Jupiter, or Odin, or Ra, or to a zillion other gods.

      Really, you do have a brain, right? Try using it.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Al

      Sean . . . *Yawn*. Pascal's wager is the faultiest of reductive fallacies. By the same token, we can apply it to just about any problem where the outcome is unforeseen. Living your life based on a fallacious wager is a joke. Christians need to stop using this ridiculous rhetoric. What's odd is that of all the major religious systems, Christianity is the only one where recruitment and conversion is so important. Smacks of insecurity.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • P Ness

      "Let's say you're right. It's all a fairy tale.

      The end comes, you die, he dies, you live a good life, he lived a good life.

      Let's say you're wrong. It's not a fairy tale.

      The end comes, you die, he dies, you go to hell, he goes to heaven.

      Maybe he's wrong. But maybe he's right.

      In any event, the risk is all yours."

      So you are saying we should believe in God "just in case it's true"? Is that what you do? That doesn't sound like something your God would approve of and I doubt would give you those "keys" to his kingdom

      December 9, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  19. Hank Tuesday

    Satan biting at Mr. Gibbs ankles on this article. Shows me he is a mighty man of God when so many godless people make comments.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Porkins lives!

      I think Satan got a bum deal. God is definately a woman, she holds a grudge longer than anyone. I mean come on...they were boys, you would figure they would get over their disagreements by now! I mean Satan probably was just looking for a decent 401K plan, maybe some stock options, and god kicks him out for it?!

      December 9, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • BM

      You believe in something more strongly based on the number of people who object? That's idiotic, and your reasoning skills are probably why you believe in religion. The simple minded religionist first claim their religion must be true because so many believe and now they argue it must be true because so many disbelieve. Heads I win, tails you lose.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • zometimer

      Hank, have you considered therapy?

      December 9, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • sam stone

      Hankie: godless people? aren't you the pompous cvnt?

      December 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  20. sundownr

    I am sure Joe will be good at whatever he does, but why take the easy road. Why not take on something really challenging, like working with our nation's youth. This is where America needs good leadership.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • no easy roads

      I don't think he's taking an "easy road." It all depends on the quality of work he does in his position. For many youth in America, faith-based organizations and spiritual leaders are a major source of support and mentoring.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:31 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.