Double G is coming back. And he’s got an ax to grind.
Gregg Williams, the fiery assistant who got a pink slip instead of a promotion from the Washington Redskins nearly two years ago, returns Sunday as the defensive coordinator of the unbeaten New Orleans Saints.
Players on both sides are expecting a flood of previously pent-up fury.
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“He wants to win first,” Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers said, “but he want to prove to this organization that he still should be here.”
For four seasons, Williams and his legendary temper ran the Redskins defense and felt ready to take over the head coaching job when Joe Gibbs retired. Instead, owner Dan Snyder sent Williams packing and eventually opted for Jim Zorn.
“He’ll be fired up to go back,” Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said. “But whether they missed the boat by not hiring him or not, I don’t think about those kinds of things. There are so many bad decisions made in this league from a coaching standpoint, a player standpoint, every team you see a couple of them. Maybe he would have been the best choice (for Redskins head coach) at the time. Maybe not, but I’m glad he’s here with us.”
Williams spurred the Redskins into a top 10 defensive ranking three times, although his aggressive schemes were short on turnovers: Washington ranked 25th, 32nd, 15th and 22nd in takeaways from 2004-07. Notably, his unit is leading the league with 32 in his first season with the Saints, while the Redskins are at the bottom again – tied for last with 13.
But forget the numbers. Players don’t start citing statistics when Williams’ name comes up.
“When you think of Gregg,” Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher said, “you think about obviously his mouth.”
The stories from the Washington locker room are too numerous to tell, and they usually start with a shake of the head and a smile. Let’s start with safety Reed Doughty, who had been drafted by the Redskins minutes earlier when he first spoke to Williams on the phone.
“He said, ‘Are you in shape?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He’s like: ‘We’ll see. I’m going to make you puke.”‘
Then there’s defensive tackle Kedric Golston, talking about the adjustment to Williams’ prolific use of four-letter words.
“As a rookie, I’m like: ‘Is it even legal to say that?’ Then I realized we were grown men.”
And cornerback Carlos Rogers, who needed a few games to crack the starting lineup as a rookie even though he was a high first-round draft pick.
“When I first got here, he cussed me out left and right,” Rogers said. “My second year, he eased up off you. Some guys can take that type of coaching and some guys can’t, and with his system (if you can’t) you’re not going to make it. Once you establish yourself, once you start playing, you’ll know that he means the best, just trying to bring the best out of you. Everyone will say that.”
Indeed, the Redskins defensive players for the most part remembered Williams fondly, having recovered from the initial shock of his abrasive style.
But it’s a style that didn’t appeal to everyone, and it didn’t always look good from the outside. It used to be said around Redskins Park, both complimentarily and derisively, that the second “g” in Williams’ first name stood for “genius” because he never failed to let everyone know how smart he was. That’s hardly an ideal trait for someone angling for a high-profile job like head coach, and it no doubt cost him in his efforts to succeed Gibbs.
Williams’ only previous NFL head coaching stint didn’t go well – 17-31 with Buffalo from 2001-03 – but his success this year with the Saints will surely make him a candidate again when openings come up during the offseason.
“What’s bigger than a genius?” New Orleans safety Darren Sharper said. “A guru? A savant? Whatever you want to call him, he is that.”
Here’s another adjective that applies this Sunday: motivated. Williams has yet to address reporters this week – he’s scheduled to speak Friday – but his feelings are already known.
“He’s going to let it rip,” Washington receiver Santana Moss said. “I know Gregg. I like Gregg. Gregg is going to come out here no holds barred – show the whole kitchen, the sink, you name it. You’ve got to expect it. You’re going to get beat or they’re going to get beat. He’s going to come in here and say ‘Let’s show ’em.’ I accept it. I accept the challenge.”
NOTES: Zorn said he expects DT Albert Haynesworth to play after missing two games with a sprained left ankle. … CB DeAngelo Hall remains unable to practice because of a sprained right knee and is likely to miss his second straight game.