By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
The Washington Redskins signed Gregg Williams, their assistant head coach-defense, to a three-year contract extension yesterday, giving him a salary double that of some NFL head coaches. Williams, a hotly pursued head coaching candidate, took himself out of consideration for any opening this offseason. He has one year remaining on his existing three-year deal and now is signed through the 2009 season, but Coach Joe Gibbs said there is no language in the contract preventing him from departing.
"This contract is strictly a friendly deal between [owner Dan Snyder] and Gregg," Gibbs said, "and basically what it says is it's just an agreement to this contract, and Gregg on his own this year just said he's taking himself out of consideration for any of these jobs, and he's free [to leave] at any time. It doesn't say anything in the contract like that. It's strictly up to him in the future what he wants to do."
Williams, who was making in excess of $1 million a season, could earn upward of $8 million total with this extension, according to reports. Williams, 47, was a top candidate for head coaching jobs in Kansas City, St. Louis, Houston and Minnesota, with at least the Texans contacting Gibbs on Monday to ask permission to interview Williams next week. Williams had said that the openings in St. Louis, Kansas City and Houston "intrigued" him, but also repeatedly stated that he loves coaching here and has said no to opportunities in the past.
Snyder badly wanted to keep the defensive guru from leaving. Gibbs, who is in the second year of a five-year deal, hired Williams shortly after he took over as the team's coach and president in 2004. Williams has led the defense to top nine rankings each of his two seasons. He is considered to be Gibbs's natural successor as head coach should he remain, but Gibbs declined to discuss that matter during a brief session with the media yesterday. "It's not something I'm interested in talking about," Gibbs said.
Williams has been adamant about waiting for something akin to a perfect situation to depart Washington. He has strong personal and professional ties to Missouri, where he was born and raised, and Houston, where he began his college and pro coaching careers. Once the vacancies in Kansas City and Houston are filled this year, they are unlikely to be open again for some time, and next year's coaching market might not be as hot as this year's, with eight openings already.
Williams served as Buffalo's head coach from 2001 to 2003, leading the team to a 17-31 record. He longs to become a head coach again. He and Gibbs enjoy a strong personal and professional affinity, and they will lead the team in its first playoff game since the 1999-2000 season on Saturday, when the Redskins travel to Tampa Bay. Washington was 6-10 last season -- largely because of an ineffective offense -- and finished 10-6 this season, a record the franchise has not surpassed since Gibbs's last Super Bowl after the 1991 season. The Redskins closed the season with five straight wins to clinch a postseason berth.
Since his defense rose to the NFL elite from humble 2004 expectations, Williams has deflected much credit to Gibbs and maintained a low profile, speaking to the media only once a week during the season and rarely during the offseason. He was sensitive about the slower progress of Gibbs's offense and worked behind the scenes to foster unity among the two units and play down the difference in production, team sources said. Williams did not meet with the media yesterday, speaking only on the team's Web site.
"It's awful nice to see the respect both Dan and Joe Gibbs gave me in this new contract," Williams said. "We needed to get this thing out of the way right now so there's no distractions. We've got to be focused on Tampa Bay." Williams reiterated yesterday that he still wants to be a head coach, but that it won't happen next season. "I'm a Redskin, and that's what I agreed to do," he said.
He turned down two interviews for head coaching positions after the 2004 season and campaigned hard to keep his core of highly respected assistants from departing for other opportunities. Thus, after constant coaching overhauls during the first six seasons of Snyder's ownership, the front office is now dedicated to continuity on this staff, with Williams a focal point.
"We're excited, because I think this is the first step in us kind of keeping everybody together," Gibbs said. "That's our goal: keep everybody together, players and coaches."
Other assistants -- such as defensive coordinator Greg Blache and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey -- could be sought for higher positions elsewhere (Lindsey said he is unaware of any interest in him), and Snyder is expected to do whatever possible to keep them. There is no salary cap for coaches, and Snyder has set precedents in that regard several times since taking over the franchise in 1999, sometimes drawing the ire of other owners.
"I'm very happy for" Williams, Lindsey said. "For anyone to get that kind of deal -- I'm sure there's some money involved in it, too. I'm all for it."
The news of a new contract caught many players by surprise yesterday -- an off day for them -- with several saying recently that they would be shocked to have Williams back next season considering that he's so in demand around the league.
"Hopefully, all the other coaches will stay, too, and we can keep this thing going," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "This is a surprise to me, too. I definitely thought he would give consideration to leaving, especially with all the jobs out there right now. So, yeah, I did think he'd probably leave us, and to walk through the door and hear this, it's a relief to me. It's good to hear that."