Doug Williams worked toward becoming an NFL general manager for two decades. He’d probably be one today if a different franchise issued his paychecks.
But the job matters more than the title. That’s why he proposed becoming Washington’s senior vice president of player personnel. Knowing what he knows about the organization under president Bruce Allen, Williams figured this was the best route to his dream position.
The NFL offers only 32 opportunities to run a front office, either individually or in a power-sharing arrangement. Washington surely ranks near the bottom of desirable destinations but it has all the basics: A roster to fill with draft picks and free agents; scouts to unearth raw talent and hidden gems; and countless hours of game film — college and pro — to devour.
Everyone else can harp on Allen’s ability to overrule whenever and however he sees fit, but not Williams. He says everybody answers to somebody. Otherwise, he’s in charge, assuming a posture he longed to enjoy again.
“From the time I’ve been an athlete, I’ve been in a leadership role, basically,” Williams told reporters Tuesday. “If you’ve got a good group of people you’re working with, it makes leadership a lot easier. I love being in this position and I’m looking forward to working with the guys that we have down the hall.”
Williams embodies a famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
If the praise heaped upon former GM Scot McCloughan bothered Allen, Williams is guaranteed to deflect and redirect any accolades.
In that sense, he’s still the Super Bowl MVP, the Skins’ quarterback encouraging his linemen to block, his receivers to get open and his backs to hit the holes. He’s still the Grambling legend who was an All-American under legendary coach Eddie Robinson in the 1970s. He’s still the coach who led his alma mater to three consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in the early 2000s.
He saw McCloughan’s firing, though unfortunate, as an opportunity to keep the front-office team together. “In Scot We Trust” was catchy. But Williams knows the GM alone didn’t produce Washington’s first back-to-back winning seasons in a quarter-century. The personnel department was in place when McCloughan arrived. It remained intact when he was ousted at the worst possible time — the runup to the combine and NFL draft — and grew more cohesive.
That helped Williams realize he didn’t need to be the GM, just the front-office QB.
“When we did the draft board this year, we met for two-and-a-half weeks, and we had a good discussion and put it together as a team,” Williams told Sports Illustrated. “We did it without a GM. So I thought, ‘Do we really need a GM?’ A GM oversees everything. But I looked at our team — I don’t want to be in charge of the coaches. That’s [coach] Jay Gruden’s job.”
Washington isn’t the only organization without a general manager on its staff directory. The Cincinnati Bengals have produced winning campaigns in 10 of 15 seasons since de facto GM Duke Tobin was named director of pro personnel. Other franchises have general managers who take a backseat on the org chart, like in Miami, where Chris Grier has the title behind executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum.
Williams couldn’t care less about being the face of the front office. Being the head of the personnel department was his goal and he made that clear to Allen.
“I was proud of when Doug presented his plan because his vision was a team,” Allen said Tuesday. “He was a quarterback again leading a team. … The way he talked when we had discussions about his teammates and what they bring to the table and the necessity of having good people really, really shined.”
When it comes to good people, the Skins couldn’t do better than Williams. Now he’s reunited with Gruden in a relationship they established briefly in 2011.
Williams was general manager and Gruden was coach of the Virginia Destroyers, an expansion franchise in the short-lived United Football League. Both men left before the team played a game. Gruden became the Bengals’ offensive coordinator; Williams returned to Grambling for an opportunity to coach his son. (Ironically, Marty Schottenheimer was hired as coach and general manager and won the 2011 championship before the folded in 2012.)
Williams is looking for a much longer union with Gruden this time.
“Together, we’re going to have a good marriage between Jay and myself and the personnel department and that’s what it’s all about,” he said Tuesday. “Our job is not to coach ‘em, our job is to pick ‘em. … We will do the best job to give Jay and his coaching staff the players he needs to take all of us back to the Super Bowl.”
Williams has his dream job.
The title is irrelevant.
⦁ Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.