ASHBURN — Doug Williams boarded a plane for the Bahamas last week still unsure if his proposed plan to restructure the Redskins front office had found a willing audience.
Team president Bruce Allen spoke with over a dozen candidates from inside and outside the organization to run Washington’s personnel department. Four times Williams met with Allen to discuss his vision of a new front office. He’d yet to hear definitive word.
“I didn’t know whether Bruce liked my plan or not because he was still talking to people,” Williams said.
In the end, Allen enjoyed gleaning insights from prospective employees in other organizations. But he kept coming back to Williams, who was promoted Tuesday to be the senior vice president of player personnel. For the 61-year-old former Super Bowl MVP, it was a day he’d long dreamed about, but wasn’t sure would ever arrive.
“You know, I’ve been around the circuit,” Williams said. “But there’s nothing like coming back here to a place that gave you an opportunity to be on top of the stage in football. Washington did that for me.”
Williams led the Redskins to a Super Bowl title in 1988. His NFL career was over within two years. From there he bounced around as an administrator, scout, coach and NFL executive – everywhere from Pointe Coupee High in his native Louisiana to two stints at his college alma mater, Grambling State. Williams also worked with Allen from 2004 to 2009 in Tampa Bay, where he began his NFL career as a player.
“When I hired [Williams] in Tampa in 2004, we had a different phrase for it that I really can’t say – but he was my ‘people-meter,’” Allen said. “He had an uncanny ability to talk to a player or a coach in one or two minutes and be able to read that person. I was proud when Doug presented his plan because his vision was a team. He was a quarterback again leading a team.”
That’s always came naturally to Williams, a jovial personality with a knack for developing a rapport with everyone in an organization from an owner to a secretary. When the Redskins travel, inevitably as team executives walk down to the field before the game someone will stop Williams and ask for a picture.
Eric Schaffer, who was also promoted Tuesday to be Washington’s senior vice president of football operations/general counsel, joked that he’s often the person stuck taking the photo. Williams’ colleagues don’t even bother stopping to wait for him anymore when they’re all walking down a street together and a fan harangues Williams. He’ll catch up eventually.
“I love Doug and I don’t think there’s many people who know Doug who don’t love Doug,” Schaffer said. “Really he’s a great leader…Whether it’s with a group and we’re with young guys, we’re with old guys, whether we hang out, we come down here for lunch, we go out for dinner, Doug is just one of the guys. He’s found a way being a Super Bowl MVP that he could still be just part of us.“
More than one Redskins employee noted Williams has an innate ability to gain the trust of players, who know his standing in the NFL as the first African-American quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl and everything that he endured as a pioneer at the position in the 1970s and 80s. That credibility allows Williams to have off-the-record conversations with players when they have issues with management or the coaching staff.
“Anybody who’s been around this area, anybody who follows football understands what Doug means to football in general,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “And you multiply that ten times over by what he means to us and this organization. It couldn’t have came at a better time, couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”
The question now is can he fulfill the job duties running his own department? Williams has never held a title higher than director of pro personnel in the NFL and that was just for one year in Tampa Bay in 2009. Otherwise, he’s always been a personnel executive with varied duties.
There is also the implication that the move was made so Allen remains in charge of the front-office structure. In reality, that never changed even after Allen hired Scot McCloughan to be his general manager in 2015 after a miserable 4-12 season. The notion rankles Allen, who insists major decisions require the input of the entire front office and is often intentionally vague when asked directly about who has “final say” over the 53-man roster and the draft.
“I think I said this once before – I know that’s a catchy little phase,” Allen said. “The last few years, Jay and Scot [McCloughan] have reported to me and it’s no different, Doug and Jay are going to report to me.”
Williams insists he didn’t want the title of GM. That implies greater responsibilities like overseeing the training staff and the equipment staff. A GM, Williams joked, “wants to know if the bathroom gets cleaned.” He’s just fine running the personnel department with Alex Santos still the director of pro personnel and Kyle Smith, a newly-promoted area scout, now the director of college scouting.
“[Being named GM] wasn’t important to me,” Williams said. “This is the honest-to-God truth. We had a general manager. It didn’t work out that well. A general manager has his hand in everything.”
Williams’ new gig requires daily communication with the executives below him and their scouts plus the coaching staff. But those leadership skills are nothing new. He honed them on the playing field for years.
Allen is demanding that Williams and head coach Jay Gruden forge common ground on roster decisions. For his part, Williams says that his biggest job is getting Gruden the players he needs. How, exactly, that gets done with input from the coaching staff remains to be seen. But Allen was encouraged with how his front office came together after McCloughan’s abrupt departure in late February just days before the most important part of the draft process.
“It’s great to hire somebody in-house, somebody who has worked very hard for this team and organization,” Gruden said. “Doug’s done some great things, not only as a player, but also working here in the scouting department….He’s never used his name and what he’s accomplished here as a crutch to get him to where he is right now.”
Williams certainly paid his dues to get here. Not many Super Bowl MVPs find themselves as a coach and athletic director at a high school just three years after their moment of glory. Williams was also a running backs coach at the Naval Academy, an offensive coordinator in NFL Europe, a college scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a head coach at HBCUs Morehouse and Grambling State, a general manager in the United Football League. There were years spent on the road recruiting, too. That grind isn’t for everybody, though Williams was okay paying that price to stay in the game.
But Williams still wasn’t sure if Allen, even with their shared history, was on board with his plan to restructure the front office. It was Williams’ decision to promote Smith, an energetic 32-year-old who impressed during organizational draft meetings this spring and had been with the Redskins since 2011. But that meant moving out Campbell, who drew raves for running the draft room after McCloughan’s departure.
Allen would walk the hall many mornings in recent months, Williams said, and just say “Hello, fellas,” and keep moving. He was secretive about his talks with outside applicants and other in-house options, too. Williams has been around Allen long enough to know that’s simply how he operates – but he still wondered when Washington would make a damn decision.
Williams left to host a Redskins event in the Bahamas last Thursday for a weekend of golf, beach parties, local tours and football and clinics. It was a fun four days mingling with former teammates, business executives, media professionals and fans who had paid for the experience.
But as Williams was preparing to head to the airport on Sunday for his flight home he had an email from Allen, who wanted him in the office Monday morning at Redskins Park for a 7:30 a.m. meeting. Less than 12 hours after arriving back on Sunday night, Williams was in Allen’s office getting the news that the job was his.
“To do it here is a great opportunity. No. 1, we’ve got so many alumni here, guys that I played with that I see a lot and I know they’re going to be happy for me being in this role,” Williams said. “And it’s that added adventure of being in this role to bring the Redskins back to that pinnacle moment and try to get to the Super Bowl. That’s what we’re going to do.”
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