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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)

"I give it no credence," he said.

'That Underdog Approach'

The irony about Williams's perceived arrogance is that many players actually love his posture. There is something in his bravado that touches the insecurities they have about their own careers. At any moment, an offensive tackle could roll over on a defensive player's leg, ending football forever. Players often view themselves as mercenaries, throwing their bodies carelessly across the field in a blind pursuit of winning until something either breaks or their damaged joints won't allow them to leap anymore.

Williams's hollering inspires them. If he walks into a meeting room, freshly pressed, with neat creases in his shirt and pants and promises them that he has a game plan that is guaranteed to bamboozle Sunday's opponent, they're all for it.

"I like that underdog approach," Springs said. "Gregg is a little 'we're going to get after them' in his approach. I like that."

"Gregg Williams is a very tough, very verbal coach. When I was there, I respected him a lot," said Pierce, now with the Giants. "He may be killing his players in practice, but he was the first guy patting you on the back after you've made a big play."

When asked why some players might seem to be turned off by Williams's approach, Bengals defensive tackle Sam Adams -- who played for Williams in Buffalo -- scoffed.

"Probably because they're soft," he said. "He's an aggressive, hard-charger. He's going to dog you as he sees fit. Some cats can't handle that."

Or as Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy, who also played for Williams with the Bills, said: "Guys don't need him to bring a pacifier to the game. This is a man's league."

Hearing these comments seemed to please Williams. He said that Ryan, his mentor, taught him to always be aggressive, to coach with a sneer. "You know what? They're going to look at your attitude and if you don't have an attitude, they won't have an attitude," he remembered Ryan telling him.

He said his friendship with Pierce is so close he's surprised no one has accused him of tampering because they speak on the phone so often. "Over half the teams around the league have players who have called me about getting back with us and miss the opportunity to be coached the way we coach," Williams said at another point.

He does not like to talk about jobs other than the one he has, and repeatedly professes his desire to keep working for Gibbs. Asked about why things didn't work in Buffalo, where Williams was fired after going 6-10 in his third season, the man who hired and fired him, Donahoe, said there were mitigating circumstances, namely more than $20 million in unusable salary cap space because of dead contracts that were still being paid out.

"He gets a mulligan for Buffalo," Donahoe said.

Last winter, with several head coaching jobs open around the league, Donahoe said he received five calls from teams that had Williams among their top two or three candidates. Donahoe figured a few more might phone again this winter. This season's Redskins defense won't change that, he said. Several other general managers agreed.

"One year can't make a difference," said Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson, who thinks Williams will be a head coach again. "Sometimes it's all image."

In his office, Williams looked at a notepad on which he had neatly jotted down ideas for this interview. He shook his head.

"How about this?" he asked. "What was perceived as discipline, intensity, pettiness, structure, attitude." He spit these words out. "All of a sudden, now that's the reason why our rankings are bad. You can't go from being right to wrong. You can't. You don't go from being a good coach to not knowing anything. So that's just part of the business. I understand that. I totally understand that."

And he sat there with the blinds pulled down, another evening growing late in the season when everything went wrong. The coach accustomed to having everything figured out had no answers.

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.

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