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Coordinator Assumes Old Defensive Crouch

gregg williams - washington redskins
The Redskins defense built by Gregg Williams, above, struggled greatly this season. With the decline came accusations of arrogance, also heard when Williams was head coach in Buffalo. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

"The trend is more offensive production in the league," Williams said.

'They Wanted Me to Be Hard'

Not long after he was named the head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2001, Williams was told what his mandate would be: The team's administration wanted a disciplinarian who would be tough on players. He already had a reputation for being a taskmaster with the Titans, but in the new job he was supposed to be extra brutal. "They wanted me to be hard," he recalled.

Williams took to the challenge with gusto. He barked out orders, swore profusely, laid out a list of rules and had everyone awakened at training camp to the blasts of a bullhorn. He made everyone run laps when somebody made a mistake. He snapped that star linebacker Sam Cowart should move from the outside to the inside without complaint because that's what he -- the coach -- wanted him to do. All of it was designed to make him the tough guy.

"Gregg did everything that was asked of him. He was a team player," said Tom Donahoe, who was the Bills' president at the time and hired Williams.

On the field, Williams managed to take a 3-13 team his first year to within a win of the playoffs the next season when it finished 8-8. But he also gained a reputation as being arrogant and removed. "He was not like that in Tennessee," said a league general manager who requested anonymity because he and Williams have friends in common. "A lot of people said he changed in Buffalo. He thought he was all that."

But things also happened in Buffalo, things that happen to a lot of head coaches but nonetheless seem to rattle Williams to this day. Like the time right after he finally moved his family from Nashville a few months after taking the job. They had been in their home for two days when neighbors invited them to a party. Thinking it was the right thing to do, they went. Almost instantly, he recalled, he was besieged by fans who kept him pinned in a corner, burying the new coach of the Bills with questions. To demonstrate this, he got up from his desk at Redskins Park and thrust himself in the corner of his office between the refrigerator and a bookshelf.

In his hand, he said, he held a can of beer from which he insisted he took no more than about two sips. He stayed for close to three hours, never leaving the corner. Nonetheless, two days later on sports radio, he said, it was reported that he was drunk, embarrassed himself, got into a fight with his wife and fell into a nearby pond.

It is clear the wound has not healed, even after nearly six years. He had been open, tried to show himself to people and felt burned by the experience. In a way, he went into a public shell and remained there until he was fired after the 2003 season.

"I'm not [exaggerating] on this story," he said. "If you talk about an edge to me or an arrogance to me, well, I do get my feelings hurt and I do have a sensitive side to me that I protect with an edge.

"Now that's on the air."

His face clouded and he leaned forward in his chair. "That story and the ESPN story had a lot of similarities," he said. "And yet I don't know, I don't know the truth of what is said [in the ESPN piece]. I know there is a motive. I know there's an agenda."

Then he snapped back in his chair with a stoic jerk of his head.

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