He returned to the Redskins in 1978 as secondary coach under Jack Pardee. From 1981 to 1992, he was the Redskins' defensive coordinator under head coach Joe Gibbs, either alone or sharing the job with Larry Peccatiello. During this time period, Petibone was considered one of the top coordinators in football. When Gibbs initially retired in 1993, Petibone was named his successor. He did not find the same success as a head coach, lasting only one season. Aging and underachieving, the team finished 4-12 and Petibon was dismissed by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke in favor of arch rival Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Following his firing, Petibone never took another job in the NFL.