The Candidate Of Substance

Gregg Williams, with Fred Smoot and London Fletcher, has earned the admiration of his players. To hire someone else would dismiss that bond.
Gregg Williams, with Fred Smoot and London Fletcher, has earned the admiration of his players. To hire someone else would dismiss that bond. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Washington Redskins finally began interviewing, in earnest, the most obvious candidate for their coaching vacancy yesterday, the man who is the best choice for the job.

Gregg Williams is the best candidate to coach this team -- not Bill Cowher or Pete Carroll or any other prominent name thrown about by misguided souls who believe Daniel Snyder's only interest is glamour boys in headsets.

After the tumult the organization went through this past season, the Redskins' owner grasps this fact: The moment Joe Gibbs stepped down Tuesday, his players subconsciously became Williams's players.

Beyond Gibbs, no one over the past two months but Williams, the head of the team's defense for four seasons and the coach closest to the late Sean Taylor, drew more admiration and respect from players.

To hire another coach -- especially if it were a glitzy, big-name guy -- would dismiss that connection and the bonds forged in the wake of the tragedy. The Redskins believe, almost to a man, that their shared experience gave them a glimpse of what a genuine team could accomplish.

Snyder also understands that no one outside the team's Ashburn headquarters can intuitively feel what this team needs better than Williams. To deny Williams the head-coaching job, in some ways, would be denying that the end of the season became the transcendent, light-bulb moment Gibbs claims it became.

Gibbs is now a special adviser to the owner and has made it clear he will have direct input on hiring his replacement. He, better than anyone, understands there is no better person to finish the job than Williams, and has surely said that to Snyder.

The owner put all his eggs in one basket with Gibbs, whom he genuinely thought was coming back to coach the team at this time last week. When Snyder told a friend he would offer Gibbs an extension shortly before Taylor died, the friend asked him what Snyder would do if Gibbs turned it down. "I have no Plan B," he said.

(To all the jaded doomsayers, some of whom maintain Snyder and Gibbs somehow spun a nice tapestry of chumminess at last week's news conference against the real story that Snyder did not truly want Gibbs back, you're flat-out wrong. Gibbs completely deflated Snyder when he made it certain he was stepping down. He may have lined up options in other cases; not this time. Gibbs was his first choice for the prom all along. That, too, is why the continuity of selecting Williams makes sense.)

The Redskins have every right and reason to interview more than a half-dozen candidates the next two weeks, including some of the very best coaches in pro football who happen to be of African American ancestry.

Indianapolis's Jim Caldwell or Ron Meeks would be fine choices if the Colts give the Redskins permission to speak with them after Indy's season is done. Arizona assistant Maurice Carthon, who coaches running backs, would be a good choice.

But the right and unanimous pick should be Williams, the passionate (read: a little insane) defensive boss whose hair-trigger, bull-terrier ways have been tamed and has now been tempered with the diplomacy required of a head coach.

The joke around Ashburn -- not always entirely in jest -- used to be that the third "g" in Williams's first name stood for genius, and that Williams made that clear every time he flapped his gums. He would be the first to admit he came here with a chip on his shoulder after infighting with management -- more than even player insurrection -- led to losing his first chance to be a head coach in Buffalo.

He's also the defensive coordinator who glumly lorded over the NFL's second-worst unit in 2006, who altered his thinking and subjugated his ego in 2007 so that his defense could end up in the top 10 for the third time in four seasons.

Williams partly believed he could plug anyone into his system successfully, that if a decent safety could pay attention to his area and specific assignment, he could coach an Adam Archuleta into a Ronnie Lott.

After the 5-11 debacle, he showed his willingness to adapt to his talent, to best utilize the individual skills of players with the same goal of locking down an opponent. Williams used to be known as the controlled-chaos coach who pinned back the ears of his players and told them to blitz at will. This past season, he hardly brought the house. He often played with one deep safety.

Further, he's got a dossier of every referee and assistant coach. Who they are. Their past. Their tendencies. If an NFL assistant is better connected, the Redskins haven't found him yet.

Most encouraging of all, he is not a big name.

The best news all week from Redskins Park was that Jim Schwartz, Tennessee's defensive coordinator, had interviewed with Snyder. An under-the-radar candidate with strong credentials was brought in for consideration to coach the rich and famous Washington Redskins. What a concept. Give Snyder credit.

This thought goes beyond Ashburn, but the feeling here is Washingtonians are just starting to get over their complex about being an inferior sports town. That's the only rationale for the thinking that Michael Jordan all of a sudden made the Wizards a bona fide NBA franchise, that Jaromir Jagr gave the District puckheads hope and that Frank Robinson made the baseball team truly major league.

Their common denominators: 1) they were someone else's stars before they were Washington's and 2) they experienced bad endings here. Gibbs is the only relic from the past to have a nice, authentic sendoff and his team had to rip off four games at the end of this season for that to happen.

The lesson learned by the Capitals, Wizards and Nationals is: don't let someone else validate your talent for you. Have the confidence to do it yourself. Don't get suckered in by the résumé; chances are that big name might be more ready to cash in than do the work that made him a star.

If Snyder really opens his wallet, the argument goes, Bill Cowher will listen. Jim Fassel's name also came up on Miserable Suburban Guy radio the other day -- bless their drive-time hearts -- as another possible "name" candidate. Choosing Cowher, everybody's hot coach, is unimaginative; it's like saying Eva Mendes is attractive. Fassel is almost a fossil. Pete Carroll is Spurrier 2.0.

Gregg Williams has to be the next coach. He's hungry and now understands humility. He is only waiting for someone to believe in him again, the way he already believes in himself, and the belief here is Snyder feels that way.

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