- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

The NFC’s top defense has received little reward for its unexpectedly stellar play this season, only five victories and one Pro Bowl selection. However, one development behind the scenes at Redskin Park should please Washington’s defenders. For the first time in six years, there shouldn’t be a change in the coach running the defense.

Assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams, 46, will be mentioned as a candidate for the NFL coaching jobs that open in coming weeks, but he has no plans to pursue anything except a vacation after next week’s organizational meetings.

Williams hasn’t taken extended time off since before he became Buffalo’s head coach in 2001. So come mid-January, he plans to be tromping through some woods with a rifle and pal Jeff Fisher, his former boss in Tennessee.

“I’m extremely happy here,” said Williams, who earns more as an assistant in Washington than he did in the top job in Buffalo thanks to owner Dan Snyder’s largesse. “You always have to listen [to offers], but it wouldn’t be hard for me to say no. I’m not hung up on being my own boss. I loved being a secondary coach. I loved being a special teams coordinator. I loved being a linebackers coach. Being called ‘Coach’ is a real serious respectful title. This is what I do.”

What Williams has done this year borders on the amazing. He took a defense that was 25th last year and has it second only to that of 14-1 Pittsburgh despite getting just 11 starts combined from his expected left end, weakside and middle linebackers and strong safety.

“Gregg has more gray hairs than I remember from Tennessee, but he’s got the same intensity,” said defensive tackle Joe Salave’a, who began his career under Williams with the Titans from 1998 to 2000. “As long as I can play, he’s the kind of coach I want to play for because of the aggressive mind-set he brings to the table.

“A lot of people weren’t sure how we were going to fare as a defense, but there’s no secret to our success. It’s a warrior-type mentality. We’re not going to let anybody dictate to us — we’re going to dictate to them.”

Six defenders have made their first career starts. Four others have made their NFL debuts. End Ryan Boschetti and linebacker Chris Clemons have been solid contributors since being promoted from the practice squad. Ends Demetric Evans and Ron Warner, cut seven times between them, have made the injured Phillip Daniels an afterthought.

Lemar Marshall has been reliable, if not as spectacular, as injured three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington. Safety Ryan Clark, who wasn’t supposed to survive training camp, has started 10 games. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce has risen from backup to Pro Bowl alternate.

“This defense doesn’t feature an individual,” Salave’a said. “If you buy into it, you’re going to have your chance to make plays. We’ve got a lot of guys who were counted out around the league but are doing well here.”

Even though Williams came oh so close to winning a Super Bowl as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator in 1999 and had the league’s most unyielding defense with the 2000 Titans, this season has been a special one despite the Redskins’ 5-10 record.

“It has been one of the most satisfying coaching jobs I’ve ever had because it’s a special group of guys, players and coaches,” Williams said. “We’ve all kind of thrived on being castoffs and rejects. We’ve all kind of rallied around that and fed off one another. But it’s all about winning, so when we say that we’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, we still haven’t done enough because we still haven’t won games.”

That also was the case in Buffalo, where Williams inherited a team on the way down and couldn’t reverse the slide, posting a 17-31 record before being fired last January. Williams heard from eight teams but quickly decided to run the defense for legendary Joe Gibbs. The decision has paid off for the Redskins.

“It’s been one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen,” said Gibbs, a Hall of Famer with three Super Bowl rings. “And we’ve struggled on offense, which has put a big burden on them.”

The defense’s standout season has Gibbs excited about seeing how good it can be with Arrington and the other injured veterans added to the mix in 2005. However, Williams knows the unit he and assistants Greg Blache and Dale Lindsey (both former coordinators), and DeWayne Walker, Steve Jackson and Kirk Olivadotti so adroitly forged this year may have had a magic that won’t easily be repeated even if free agents-to-be Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot are retained.

“Every year’s a new year,” Williams said. “You can have all the same people, but your opponents are different and things change.”

Fortunately for the Redskins, next year the man running the defense won’t be one of those things.

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