Fitting Williams to a 'D'

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By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 26, 2005

There are few boundaries when Gregg Williams and his defensive players banter, as the self-avowed coaching taskmaster revels in the give-and-take with his charges at meetings and practices. So when the opportunity arises to get in a dig at Williams's expense, the chatter often turns to his uncertain future, with the players lobbing a few shots about him being on his way to a job as a head coach somewhere else next season.

The topic is hardly taboo, and while Williams has tried to eliminate any potential distractions as the Redskins head into the regular season finale Sunday at Philadelphia with the playoffs well within reach, there is little doubt in NFL circles that Washington's assistant head coach-defense will be a popular candidate in what could be a coaching overhaul around the league. It's not a subject he actively seeks to engage in, but not something he hides from either, admitting there are several potential openings he would find "intriguing."

Several players said they would be surprised if Williams, 47, is back with the team next season -- although some expressed similar sentiments last December as well -- and after two seasons leading the Redskins' overachieving defense, the opportunity to be a head coach again might become too powerful to resist.

"He is going to be in demand, but we hope that he stays here," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "Of course, the decision is really up to him, but we think he likes it here, and likes the guys he's coaching and likes the city. Hopefully, he'll stay. I hope he does.

"We get on him about it all the time. I haven't said anything to him, but the guys give him a hard time. We kind of have an open mic almost in the defensive meetings. We go off on each other, and it's fun."

Williams, who was 17-31 as Buffalo's head coach from 2001 to 2003, would disagree with none of that. His appreciation and admiration for his players -- largely a cast of previously discarded or overlooked individuals -- is evident. His faith in and respect for the rest of the coaching staff is unmistakable as well -- he ensures they get accolades for their work and he deflects attention to the collective in most every news conference. Williams has said time and again how fortunate he feels to have been Coach Joe Gibbs's first hire upon his return to coaching -- he chose the Redskins from among eight suitors -- and how indebted he is to this organization, which made him one of the highest-paid assistants ever.

All of that would make it difficult to walk away, but Gibbs acknowledged such a progression is natural.

"When you have somebody as good as Gregg is at what he does, with all the responsibility he has here, and what he's done with it, it shows this guy is an exceptional football coach," Gibbs said. "So you've got to realize that in what we do, people have individual goals, too. So on one side you want what's best for him, but on the other you want what's best for the Redskins. I think we're just going to have to see what happens."

'This Isn't Just About Me'

Williams, whose defense led the NFC last year and entered last week ranked eighth in the NFL, is a remarkably driven person, and an admitted competitive junkie. A year ago, the head-coaching market was relatively stable and Williams was correspondingly low-key. With the market expected to open up, Williams is a little less rigid, an implicit acknowledgement that something akin to a dream job might be out there.

"Even if I didn't know him like I do, I would say he wanted a second chance," said Joe Bowden, the Redskins' defensive coaching intern, who previously played linebacker for Williams. "If and when that time comes, he'll address everybody. One thing about him, he's not going to keep a secret too long. Right now, he hasn't said anything. He's just focused on the job at hand, and until all that other stuff takes place and everything plays out, then he'll be here taking care of his business."

Williams has stressed his satisfaction with everyone from owner Daniel Snyder on down and stipulated that there is no need to leave now, and that openings will occur every offseason. He has continually uttered this mantra: "I can say no. I have said no, and I can say no," and speaks of twice turning down job interviews last year without investigating them.

Williams has also made a point of stating that his family is his top priority. "This isn't just about me, there are other people involved," he said. "And they come first." Williams's family is settled in this area, with one daughter starring in high school athletics (his son plays football at Princeton). But Williams also pointed out that under certain circumstances the best thing for him and his family could be a return to head coaching.


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