By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Defensive guru Gregg Williams parted ways with the Washington Redskins yesterday following a meeting with owner Daniel Snyder.
Williams, the assistant head coach-defense the past four years, was told the search for a new head coach would go on without him; the Redskins have also granted him permission to interview with other teams, ending his tenure with the franchise.
Williams's candidacy, during which he'd interviewed four times, was endorsed by many Redskins players, former coach and team president Joe Gibbs and a large number of the team's fans, hundreds of whom posted angry messages on various Internet message boards backing him for the job and decrying the decision.
"Playing for Gregg was great," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "When I first came here he welcomed me and I'll definitely miss him. I enjoyed playing for him, and, yeah, we wanted him to get the job, but I wish him the best. He'd hold guys accountable for their actions on the field and off the field. That's not riding guys hard, that's called being a professional."
The Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams have already asked the Redskins for permission to speak to Williams, league sources said. The Rams considered Williams a strong head coaching candidate in 2005 prior to Williams signing a three-year extension with Washington; Williams is close to Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
Williams, who is owed about $2 million for the year remaining on his contract, declined to comment yesterday.
"While Gregg is under contract to the Redskins for the 2008 football season, the Redskins have received and granted requests to other teams to talk to Gregg, and told him he is free to talk to any team he wants about future employment," said Williams's agent, Marvin Demoff. "But at this time he remains under contract to the Redskins."
The Redskins referred to Williams and former associate head coach-offense Al Saunders as being "released," and in a statement owner Daniel Snyder thanked them. Snyder declined to speak publicly yesterday.
"In particular, during our most difficult time last year, they both helped hold the team together as we kept moving forward," Snyder said in a statement. Williams, who was replaced by former assistant Greg Blache, spoke with Saunders yesterday, league sources said, with both men wishing each other well.
Williams's meeting with Snyder yesterday was his first contact with any team official other than Gibbs since last interviewing on Jan. 15, Demoff said. Williams became alarmed Friday when reports on WJLA-7 and WTOP-AM, citing team sources, stated that he was no longer a candidate because he had been disrespectful to Gibbs during the interview process. ESPN had a similar report later Friday night.
"I can't believe anyone would even come close to suggesting that I would ever say anything inflammatory or derogatory about Joe Gibbs," Williams said Friday night. Williams has praised Gibbs privately and in public often during his time here.
"I can assure you that Joe Gibbs is one of the best people I have ever been around in the world, and one of my favorite people to ever be around," Williams said. "I came here because Joe Gibbs asked me and I feel honored to work with Joe Gibbs.
"He's my idol. . . . What I've learned in patience and how to deal with people and those things -- how to build relationships -- have been invaluable and will always be invaluable to me and will directly relate to my experiences with Joe Gibbs. With all that being said and done, all Redskins know we are a very close-knit family and that comes from people like Joe Gibbs and me and I feel tremendously proud that I have had an opportunity to work with Joe Gibbs. I just wish it could have been longer."
Williams spoke to Snyder and Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato about those allegations during the meeting yesterday, "perplexed as to the origin of the smear," Demoff said.
"Both Snyder and Cerrato agreed that [any disrespecting of Gibbs] had never occurred and told Gregg that those reports were totally false," Demoff said. "They wished each other well in the future and the sides parted."
After his fourth interview Jan. 15, Williams's uncertainty grew when he heard nothing from Snyder and Cerrato while other candidates were being brought in for interviews. Williams intended to withdraw from the process Tuesday, Demoff said. But Gibbs urged Williams to remain in the race during conversations on Thursday and Friday, Demoff said. After the reports Friday, Williams strongly considered withdrawing later that night and into yesterday morning, but did not. He spoke to several players and assistants before meeting with Snyder at his office at Redskins Park for a 15-minute conversation in the afternoon.
Shortly after the meeting, the team released a statement announcing his departure.
Williams led the defense to top-10 ratings in three of his four seasons here and the defense was the backbone of the second Gibbs era as the offense struggled for consistency. But Snyder and Cerrato told associates of their displeasure with Williams as the defense sank to 31st in 2006 after the signing of free agent bust Adam Archuleta at safety. Williams simplified and streamlined his system last season, and influenced the signing of linebacker London Fletcher, after which the unit rebounded to finish ranked eighth despite star safety Sean Taylor's slaying in November.
Several players said Williams was a unifying presence, forging relationships with players on both sides of the ball. Eccentric running back Clinton Portis was drawn to him and he was a driving force behind the establishment of the team's leadership council as well. Williams inspired players in the days and weeks following Taylor's death and helped change the culture in Washington, with the defense notorious for lackadaisical and individualistic play in previous years.
"I think Gregg would make a great head coach, and he has the respect of the players and always produces a strong defense," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "He's wasn't just a defensive guy. He talked to all the guys and had good friendships with a lot of guys on offense.
"He's great to talk to and likable and all the guys know he's a good coach. He gets a lot out of his players and pushes them and you're going to work. There's no nonsense when it comes to football. He's a true professional, and I think every guy would tell you the same thing."