The Coldest Shoulder

Redskins Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato, left, denied any ill will between him and Gregg Williams. Meanwhile, owner Daniel Snyder, right, keeps everyone in the dark.
Redskins Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato, left, denied any ill will between him and Gregg Williams. Meanwhile, owner Daniel Snyder, right, keeps everyone in the dark. (2006 Photo By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gregg Williams, the fans' and players' choice to replace Joe Gibbs, morphed from valued employee into dead weight in less than two weeks, not worthy of even a phone call from Daniel Snyder as a parade of potential replacements passed through the owner's mansion.

However it happened, whatever led Snyder to his decision, there is no justifying how the situation was handled so soon after the entire organization had gone through the emotional hell of Sean Taylor's killing.

For everyone other than Snyder, this job search hasn't been about Gibbs at all. It's been about Taylor and how the team and coaches banded together to reach the playoffs without him. The healing was still progressing when Gibbs suddenly left. Williams was seen as the one link that could keep the chain of emotional recovery together.

How else to explain the vilification of Jim Fassel, an otherwise fine fellow with a Super Bowl appearance on his résumé, on local talk radio shows and online chat rooms, even the ones run by the team? Or the mass anointing of Williams, whose previous head coaching experience consisted of what everyone agrees was a disaster in Buffalo?

But Snyder was tone-deaf to all that.

It's one thing to leave every outside candidate in the dark after they interview; it's quite another to not speak to the coach who stood by Taylor after each one of his minor transgressions, proclaiming over and over, "I'm a fan of Sean Taylor," while everyone else was doubting the youngster.

Williams worked for the Redskins for four years, responsible for the unit that carried the team for three of them. Yet for 11 days after his last interview, he heard nothing, the silence ringing from Ashburn, to Mobile, Ala., where Redskins coaches were scouting an all-star game, to the home of every player.

Let's be clear: It's Snyder's team. It's his prerogative to hire anyone he wants to coach the Redskins. He is right to take the time he needs to make what he believes is the right decision. Arthur Blank had more than a month to get his ducks in line in Atlanta after Bobby Petrino left him in a lurch. Whether it's Fassel now or Ron Meeks or another mystery candidate, a vetting-out process is crucial to find anyone replacing Gibbs.

It's no secret I believe Williams should have gotten the job. I buy the notion that any of the crass, intransigent behavior that helped lead to his termination in Buffalo is gone. There is no doubt he became a more diplomatic thinker the past two years, one who could adapt to his talent and didn't have to always play the my-way game with his players.

And I'm not debating the departure of Al Saunders; he'd been walking on thin ice ever since the day a team employee asked how the players were grasping the offense and Saunders replied, "The players aren't the problem." Regardless of whether he believed his hands were tied by Gibbs's grind-it-out ways, Saunders's steadfast thinking that the personnel had to adapt to him -- not Al to them -- was clearly part of his undoing.

In spurning Williams, perhaps Snyder was scared he might be turning the reins over to the second coming of Marty Schottenheimer. Maybe he could not get the vision of Williams's very high opinion of himself those first two years in Washington out of his skull. Maybe Williams talked himself out of the job. Maybe, in explaining how he would lead differently in team meetings, it came across as a knock on the way Gibbs structurally went about keeping the Redskins a cohesive unit. While Williams believed he was making a strong case for his own unique abilities, the people on the receiving end of those words hear blasphemy. Remember, Gibbs can do no wrong in their eyes.

The moment Williams said anything that didn't dovetail with Gibbs's ways, the my-way coach may have been destined for the highway.

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