Williams's Ties Bind Him to D.C.

Jason Reid reflects on the weekend defeat against Carolina and Jason Taylor's injury. Video by Jason Reid/The Washington PostPhoto: The Washington Post, AP, GettyEditor: Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.com
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No matter where Gregg Williams goes, the memory of Sean Taylor is with him. A coin bearing Taylor's likeness, which Williams began carrying after Taylor was killed in November, remains in his pocket every day, a constant reminder of the ties the longtime coach still has to this area and franchise.

Williams's four-year tenure as Washington's defensive leader ended in January, when owner Daniel Snyder eliminated him from the running to replace Joe Gibbs as head coach and released him from his contract. But a piece of his heart always will be in Ashburn, he said, with recollections flooding back this week as Williams, now the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, travels to FedEx Field to face the Redskins in Thursday night's preseason finale.

Williams, 50, has kept a low profile with the Jaguars -- he was hired almost immediately after leaving the Redskins -- and has addressed the Jacksonville media once. But Williams spoke before the start of training camp about his lingering relationships in Washington, his feelings for Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato (praising both) and his desire to be a head coach again, possibly even with the Redskins. After a traumatic 2007 season, Williams is relishing the relative tranquility of Jacksonville, but not forgetting a player and team that touched him at his core.

"Sean lives with me every single day, and I feel very strongly about that," Williams said. "I took a lot of knocks defending him early on, and I'm so proud and happy for people now to see what I saw for so long, behind the scenes. That was a great young man, and I still have a difficult time dealing with this. Sometimes I choke up and tear up thinking about him.

"I really feel he's with me every day. That's a unique relationship we had, probably one I'll never have again with any other player. Our personalities matched so much. He was all football, every single second. I've never been around someone that intense and that inspired about being the best as he was. He wanted to prove it every single second of the day. I miss him. I miss him a lot, and the experience we went through last year at the Redskins made us closer, all of us there, as a football team, but more importantly as an organization."

While Williams's time in Washington ended when he was let go with a year remaining on his contract, his presence can still be felt at Redskins Park, through the players and coaches linked closely to him and the style of defense still being played. He spoke often of his desire to change the Redskins' culture on defense, getting away from the selfishness and laziness that had characterized previous teams and ushered in a sea change in both effort and execution.

Williams said he takes pride in how his charges rallied to reach the playoffs in the aftermath of Taylor's murder above all else, and his life was changed indelibly by his years here. Williams had the opportunity to work under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, led the defense to three top 10 finishes, forged lifelong relationships with friends and colleagues in this area and still owns a house in Loudoun County, where the family celebrated high school and college graduations and grieved after Taylor's death.

There are daily reminders of that life cut short -- mementos in Williams's office in Jacksonville as well as on the field. He will see another young safety quickly close on the ball downfield -- often Jacksonville's Reggie Nelson -- and think of Taylor. Reminders are everywhere.

"I didn't fully realize until several months after his passing just how close Sean was to my two sons," Williams said. "The youngest is still in high school [Chase Williams is a star linebacker entering his junior year at Loudoun County High School] and wears No. 21. I never thought about why, then I asked him one day, and he said, 'Dad, you always said that Sean was the best player you've ever coached, so I wanted to wear that number, too.'

"My oldest boy [Blake, an entry-level coach in Jacksonville] did two years of internships with the coaches in the secondary in Washington and developed such a close bond with Sean. I never knew it, but they talked two, three times a week during the season. And when he finished his undergraduate work at Princeton, and wrote a 152-page thesis, I took a look in the acknowledgments, and there's a page dedicated to his and Sean's relationship, and I'm reading it with tears running down my face realizing how close they were."

Williams worked to earn Taylor's trust and was one of his biggest boosters in the organization. Even at times when Taylor refused to return Gibbs's calls, he regularly reached out to Williams, team sources said. Williams urged Taylor to make positive changes in his life, putting family first after his arrest in Florida in 2005.

"There have been a lot of people to come out of the woodwork who act like they knew him, but they didn't," Williams said. "They didn't know him, and that's okay. They can say they knew him, but what really matters is I want people to understand and rejoice that he was a tremendous young man who made a lot of changes to better the people around him and better himself, and I'm not sure a lot of other people would have worked as hard at making those changes as he did."

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