- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

A pesky bee buzzing around Redskins Park yesterday was no match for Gregg Williams. As reporters vainly swatted at the intruder, Williams, who carries the unusual title of assistant head coach-defense, calmly held his position and continued to answer questions without so much as blinking. “Discipline,” he said.

Overall, and especially on offense, the Redskins do not always play with the discipline demanded by the coaches. But like Williams, its chief architect, the defense has stood its ground and then some. The defense kept the Redskins competitive last season despite a 6-10 record. And two late touchdown passes against Dallas notwithstanding, the defense has Washington at 2-0.

Williams, who reportedly earns more than $1 million a year, was a hiring priority of coach Joe Gibbs and already has been mentioned as Gibbs’ possible successor. But Williams says it is all about the team. He won’t discuss starters, he said, because he has 25 starters on defense.

“We say, check your egos at the door,” he said. “Coaches and players.”

Williams, 47, is quick to credit his staff and his players. Yet some believe his own ego might not fit through a door. Or maybe it’s just his supreme self-confidence and brainy persona. As defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, Williams used to keep a list in his laptop of prospective assistants he would hire when he became a head coach. Not if, when. Sure enough, it happened with Buffalo in 2001.

The Bills, plagued by salary-cap problems, went 17-31, and Williams was fired after three seasons. But they also improved from 21st to 15th to second in total defense. And before that, in his last year in Tennessee, the Titans led the league in defense, ahead of even the Baltimore Ravens, who set a record for fewest points allowed.

“He’s a great coach,” Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He’s got a great mind. He’s a very intelligent man. He’s always looking to get better. In this game, either you’re getting better or getting worse.”

LeBeau, a former NFL player and head coach known as the primary creator of the zone blitz, worked with Williams in Buffalo in 2003. The two really didn’t know each other, but Williams was intrigued with LeBeau’s teachings.

“He is incredible in his ability to break down [blocking] protections,” Williams said last season. “No one is better at it than him.”

LeBeau joined an impressive array of influences that helped Williams create what he calls his hybrid defense. It’s a little of Dick LeBeau and a little of George Seifert, Jeff Fisher and Dom Capers and a lot of old Redskins coach George Allen, as imparted by his pupil, Jack Pardee. And a whole lot of Buddy Ryan, inventor of the famous 46 Defense with the Chicago Bears.

“He used to tell me that if he ever got a job [calling defenses], he would run that scheme,” said Ryan, who crossed paths with Williams as the Houston Oilers’ defensive coordinator in 1993.

Williams has added his own wrinkles and built in flexibility depending on the players. But there are some constants, usually along the lines of this basic truth: “It’s hard for a quarterback to throw the ball with tears in his eyes,” Ryan used to say.

“It’s nasty,” safety Sean Taylor said of the current Redskins defense.

“This defense is aggressive all the time,” linebacker Warrick Holdman said. “We don’t care what you’re doing. You’re gonna adjust to us. This is a more adjust-to-us defense, where we’re gonna bring it to you.”

Said Williams: “Our personality is we love pressure. Why should the offense have the last say? Why should [only] the quarterback have the ability to audible? We want to put the game back in the players’ hands. It takes an awful lot of teaching, and you’ve got to have some guts. It’s why you have to have smart, tough players. And we’ve got a bunch.”

Williams, who holds a master’s degree in education, puts a large premium on smarts. At every stop he impressed his bosses with his own.

“I was looking for good coaches that weren’t gonna cost me a lot of money,” said Pardee, a former Redskins linebacker and coach who was coaching at the University of Houston when he hired Williams in 1988 as a graduate assistant.

A high school coach at the time, Williams was “organized, and he knew both sides of the ball,” Pardee said. “He helped out with special teams and was a great detail man when it came to film work. A lot of coaches don’t want to do that. He was an energetic guy who was tireless breaking down film.”

When Pardee went to the Houston Oilers in 1990, Williams came along. Again hired for the lowest staff position, he ascended. He coached special teams, defensive backs and linebackers, working his way up to defensive coordinator under Jeff Fisher in 1997.

“He proved right away he was one of the best coaches on the staff,” Pardee said. “So he moved up again.”

Today, Williams’ goal is to move forward.

“You’ve got to stay ahead of what the offenses are doing,” he said. “We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the curveball.”

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