Gregg Williams inserted outside linebacker Chris Clemons for the first play of his NFL career last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Clemons sprinted from the right side to sack quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a seven-yard loss.
Two plays earlier, defensive lineman Ryan Boschetti, also making his NFL debut, halted former Pro Bowl tailback Jerome Bettis for a two-yard loss. The Redskins had released Boschetti, an undrafted rookie from UCLA, three times this year. Clemons, who went undrafted in 2003 from Georgia, had been signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad. Each player was added to Washington's active roster a few days before the game.
Joe Gibbs, left, shares a laugh with assistant Gregg Williams, who, in his first season with the Redskins, has overseen the second-best defense in the NFL.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
The brief sequence on Pittsburgh's second drive, which resulted in a punt, captured the masterful job being done this season by Williams, Washington's assistant head coach-defense. His unit has been the bright spot during a gloomy season for the Redskins (3-8). Washington has the second-ranked defense in the 32-team league. The unit has reached its lofty status despite injuries that have forced Williams to rely on obscure and inexperienced players.
Although Williams compiled a 17-31 record as Buffalo Bills head coach the previous three seasons, his work this season under Coach Joe Gibbs is expected to make him a head coaching candidate after this year, according to several NFL front-office executives. And with Gibbs this past week being forced to dismiss reports that he is considering stepping down after this season, Williams's future plans moved to the forefront of attention at Redskins Park and around the league.
"I'm sure he will be considered for probably all [head coaching openings] and I'll support him 100 percent because of people's dreams and everything," Gibbs said Wednesday. "He's been extremely loyal to me and done a terrific job here, and everybody knows that. I'll do whatever he wants me to do to support him in his goals. But I hope he's here with us."
Williams is Washington's sixth defensive coordinator in the past six seasons. During his first team meeting, Williams addressed his players about continuity among the staff. Williams's remarks didn't prevent cornerback Fred Smoot from requesting a private meeting early this season. "It was my fourth" defensive coordinator, explained Smoot, who was chosen in the second round of the 2001 draft. "It has become a trend, so I wanted to know if the trend was going to continue."
Williams assured Smoot that he would return next season, citing the attractiveness of Virginia for raising a family. But the coach didn't specify how many years he intends to stay.
During an interview Thursday, Williams, 46, who is married with three children, reiterated his intention to return next season. Despite the Redskins' offense averaging a league-worst 12.5 points per game, Williams expressed pleasure working under Gibbs and insisted that he doesn't want to disrupt his family. Nonetheless, when pressed, Williams conceded the possibility of departing.
"Do I have the will power to say 'no' if someone came and offered me a head coaching job?" he said. "Yes, I can say 'no.' It [an offer] has to be right. If it's not right, this is already a great situation for my family. I don't feel like I have to have that title" of head coach.
Williams's standards for a job have been raised, he said, since he already has been a head coach.
It appears there will be at least five vacancies this offseason. The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns have already fired their coaches and named interim head coaches. Other teams with tenuous situations appear to be the San Francisco 49ers (Dennis Erickson), New Orleans Saints (Jim Haslett) and Seattle Seahawks (Mike Holmgren).
Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian said of Williams: "If a team has a decent offense and needs help on defense, he'd be a logical choice for anyone to [consider]. He's an excellent coach. That's obvious."
While several defensive players said they hope Williams remains in Washington, most said that they wouldn't begrudge Williams for breaking his promise and taking another head coaching job.
"We've had to deal with a slew of injuries, and for him to be able to adjust to that I'm sure [team] presidents and owners are looking at that and saying: 'Hey, we'd like to have this guy on our staff,' " said linebacker LaVar Arrington, who hasn't played since early September because of a bone bruise. "It would surprise me if he stayed. History says you don't stay at Redskins Park for more than a year or two. I hope, but I'm realistic."