He resigned as coach and team president of the Redskins on Tuesday, three days after a playoff loss ended an inspirational late-season run that followed the death of safety Sean Taylor.
The 67-year-old Gibbs said Redskins owner Dan Snyder tried to persuade him to stay on during a conversation that lasted until about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Speaking about his family, Gibbs added: "I felt like they needed me."
Gibbs did not go into specifics. But one of his grandsons, Taylor, was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago at age 2. Gibbs frequently talks lovingly about his "grandbabies," and he made an overnight trip to North Carolina on Sunday to be with his family, interrupting the postseason routine of meetings that usually follow the final game of the season.
"I had real good visits with everybody, and at that point when I started back to D.C. and got on the plane that afternoon, I kind of had a real strong feeling in my heart of what I felt like I should do," Gibbs said.
He had one season left on the five-year, $27.5 million deal that lured him out of his first NFL retirement and away from his second career as a NASCAR owner.
Now, instead of coaching, Gibbs will shift into a role as an adviser to Snyder, saying: "I feel like this is my home, also."
"I tried very, very hard to try to convince Joe not to retire," the owner said. "This is something none of us wanted to see happen. But all of us respect it and understand it."
Gibbs went 31-36, including 1-2 in the playoffs, in his second stint with the Redskins, always maintaining he intended to fulfill the contract.
"I hate to leave something unfinished. I made an original commitment of five years. I felt bad about that," Gibbs said, his voice occasionally choking with emotion.
"It's one of the few times in life I felt like I walked away from something. But I also felt like ... 'Hey, I need to be in a different situation.'"
The news startled players, who left Sunday's final team meeting certain Gibbs would return for the final year of his contract.
"That's part of this business -- it's full of surprises," safety Pierson Prioleau said. "Most of us suspected he would be back, and he'll definitely be missed."
Gibbs called this his hardest season, making reference to Taylor's shooting in November, but pointed to his family as the chief reason for his resignation.
Among the candidates to replace him will be two former head coaches who have been members of his staff, Gregg Williams and Al Saunders. Former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher also could be a candidate. The team will have to interview at least one minority to comply with the NFL's "Rooney Rule" as it seeks the sixth coach since Snyder bought the team in 1999.
Snyder said the process to find a replacement hadn't started and that he hasn't spoken to Cowher about the job.
Several players on Tuesday immediately endorsed Williams, the fiery coach Gibbs hired to run the defense in 2004.
"Coach Williams is a great coach," fullback Mike Sellers said. "The players love him. It would be sad to see him not get it."
Williams was 17-31 as head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2001-03, but has put together solid defenses in three of his four seasons in Washington. His in-your-face style would be a marked contrast to Gibbs' more measured approach.
"Coach (Gibbs) has that granddaddy effect on you," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "And Gregg, he gives off a mad scientist-type vibe. You've got to love that if you're a football player."
Tuesday's announcement brings an end to a coaching career in which Gibbs twice raised the Redskins from mediocrity into the playoffs, although he failed in his goal of bringing the team back to the Super Bowl during his second stint. Gibbs led the Redskins to four Super Bowls and won three NFL championships from 1981-92; he took the team to the postseason in two of his four seasons when he returned.
Following Taylor's funeral, Gibbs and his team rallied to win the final four regular-season games, finishing 9-7 to claim the final NFC playoff berth. The emotional run ended Saturday, when the Redskins lost 35-14 at Seattle.
At a news conference Monday, Gibbs spoke about plans for next season -- the team's approach to free agency, offseason workouts and the possibility of an open quarterback competition at training camp -- as if he were going to remain. However, he hedged when asked if he would definitely be back.
Gibbs' last four years were down-and-up, down-and-up. He had his two worst seasons as a coach -- 6-10 in 2004 and 5-11 in 2006 - but he also led the Redskins to the playoffs with late runs in 2005 and 2007.
"There's not enough words to say what he's done for the organization," running back Rock Cartwright said. "Especially this year. We had a tough year, he pulled it all together and brought us closer as a family."
Gibbs' final career totals: 171-101, including 17-7 in the playoffs, a career .629 winning percentage that ranks third all-time behind George Halas and Don Shula among coaches with more than 125 wins.
Snyder spoke Tuesday about Gibbs' recent work to point the franchise back in the right direction.
"I want to see it finished," Gibbs said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press