Burgundy, Gold and Shades of Gray
Friday, August 4, 2006
Washington Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams's combative reputation is not something the new defensive backs coach, Jerry Gray, will refute. Williams expects loyalty and professionalism from his assistants as well as a certain type of patience that allows his coaches to understand what appears to be his uncompromising, hard-driving style.
But instead of having trepidation concerning working with Williams, it was exactly those characteristics that drew Gray to Washington this offseason. Gray, the Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator the past five seasons, accepted Williams's offer to coach the Redskins' cornerbacks even though it meant taking a position less prestigious than one he might have had with another team. The reason was history.
The ability of the Redskins' coaching staff to use long-standing personal relationships to attract talented assistants applies to Gray, a nine-year NFL cornerback who, as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, played in four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1986 to '89. Gray and Williams have had such rich ties over the past 15 years that, for Gray, a reunion was worth accepting a job for which he is clearly overqualified.
"The other teams were telling me, 'You could have the whole secondary,' but I didn't know them like I knew Gregg," said Gray, 43, who replaced DeWayne Walker as cornerbacks coach. "To come here and take the corners position was really because of the influence of Gregg."
Before retiring after the 1993 season, Gray played for Williams in 1992 in Houston. He later coached under him in Tennessee. Gray's teammate in Houston was Steve Jackson, who also works under Williams as coach of the Redskins' safeties.
When Williams was head coach in Buffalo, Gray was his defensive coordinator. When Williams was defensive coordinator in Tennessee -- the Titans appeared in the 2000 Super Bowl against St. Louis -- Gray was his defensive backs coach. Jackson was a player on that Super Bowl team, playing in the final game of his NFL career.
"It's Gregg Williams's defense, and I'm not going to come in here and butt heads with him. And I think that's the start, because now everything else falls under him," Gray said. "Because when you have guys with different agendas that go against his, then you're in trouble. And I think that's the reason he's been so successful. He gets guys to understand, 'Hey look, I'm not going to be a dictator, but you have to understand this is my defense.' And I like that."
As much as Jackson and Gray feel a connection to Williams, it is also clear that Williams senses his edgy style requires people familiar and comfortable with him. "We're blessed here to have two of the best secondary coaches in the National Football League, Jerry and Steve," Williams said. "They have been through every single argument, every adjustment, and they understand that things are not personal when I get heated on game day."
When Bills coach Mike Mularkey and his staff were fired after last season, Gray was immediately on Williams's radar. Walker was still the Redskins' cornerbacks coach, but there were rumors he was the favorite to become defensive coordinator at UCLA.
"They still had DeWayne. He was still their corners coach and I was looking at a couple of other teams, and at the last minute, the 11th hour, DeWayne started interviewing at UCLA," Gray said. "Gregg called me and said, 'I may have one, I may not. I don't want to hold you up, but if you could give me 24 hours.' Then DeWayne got the UCLA job and that was it."
Gray's desire to work with Williams once more illustrates the subtleties of Williams's style and personality. He can be brutally blunt. But he also knows that the dedication he demands of his players and coaches must also be reciprocal.
"I'll tell you this, loyalty is a two-way street. Jerry, Steve, and all those guys have been loyal to me as players and I'm always going to be loyal to them. They're in my family," Williams said. "I do think it speaks a lot about the relationship because in this business it's tough enough as it is if you're not with the right kind of people. He [Gray] wasn't willing to just jump out there and go do something. When he knew that he could come back here, he knew that he was going to be expected and he knew that his opinion was going to be listened to."
Having worked together for the past few months, the early beneficiaries of Gray's arrival are the Redskins' cornerbacks. No player said that Walker's style was ineffective, but it is clear that Gray has reached the players in a refreshing way.
"It's great, because he knows what he's saying. You can't slide anything by him because he knows what he's talking about, and why he did this," cornerback Ade Jimoh said. "He knows how to correct everything. That's a dream for a corner. He really pushes me hard to get into the right position. He really encompasses all the good things a good coach would want to have."
Two years ago, when he was a free agent, cornerback Shawn Springs considered Buffalo simply because Gray was the Bills' defensive coordinator.
Springs's enthusiasm for Gray had not waned. During a down moment at the team's minicamp in June, Springs talked of how he would thrive under Gray. It was an especially strong statement considering that Springs last year did not have as strong a season statistically as he has in the past.
"I'm telling you, Jerry Gray is going to be great for this team," Springs said. "I'm going to have the best year of my career. Jerry is honest, and he motivates you. He helps you make plays and allows you to make mistakes. He likes for you to make mistakes so you can find out where you went wrong."