Friday, August 25, 2006

The time that Doug left

Williams to leave Grambling for Tampa?
February 12, 2004

We broke the story nationwide, something that's getting harder and harder to do these days. This multi-story package was eventually recognized with several awards.

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State coach Doug Williams is in Tampa Bay today, where he is expected to accept a front-office position with the Buccaneers - the NFL team that made him a first-round draft pick in 1978.

Assistant head coach Melvin Spears confirms that Williams has been offered a job as a personnel executive. Tampa Bay has scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference today in Florida.

The sudden call from Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen came as Williams and Spears sat watching GSU's newest quarterback signee, two-sport athlete Brandon Landers, play a basketball game at Carroll High School on Tuesday.

"They called him on his cell phone - and that was when he first got wind of it," Spears said. "It wasn't like he knew for long."

Williams, who returned to his alma mater in 1997 as Grambling State's seventh head football coach, was unavailable for comment. GSU athletics director Al Dennis was out of town on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay media relations personnel also refused to release details.

But acting GSU President Neari Warner confirmed that she was aware of the situation on Wednesday. She said Dennis, while traveling from Baton Rouge, had called her and said Williams was talking with Tampa Bay about a position.

"Doug just made the courtesy call. We don't have anything concrete," Warner said.

Asked if Williams had accepted a position, she added: "I don't know. I don't have that verified yet."

Williams' success at Grambling State - including Southwestern Athletic Conference championships in 2000-02 - sparked regular interest from several programs during the past few seasons. Williams entertained the job offers, even while he continued building his local legacy. His 40 wins since 2000 matched the Tigers' wins in the previous seven seasons combined.

"It's no different than a person who has his master's going to get his doctorate," Williams said in December. "Everyone looks for a window, for an opportunity. If it's there and it fits, and there's a challenge, you've got to take advantage of it."

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Doug Williams made his mark - and quickly
February 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State might never again author a master stroke as deft as replacing the towering Eddie Robinson with an outsized protégé like Doug Williams.

"When I came here in 1997, our slogan was 'The Dawn of a New Era,'" Williams said in December. "I think we've accomplished that."

It wasn't easy. This is a school that had witnessed its last coaching transition in 1941, when gas was 19 cents a gallon. World War II was still an idea, not a headline.

Robinson would go on to cast a shadow that not many could escape: His 1942 GSU squad, one of two to go undefeated, was unbeaten, untied - even unscored upon.

Robinson retired in 1997 after 57 years at Grambling State, but not before adding 81 more victories to Paul "Bear" Bryant's once-unassailable 323 college football wins. That mark was finally topped this year by John Gagliardi - coach at St. John University, a Division III school in Minnesota. The former Grambling State University football coach had held the record since 1984.

But Williams - primarily through the force of his towering personality - managed to carve out his own niche. He was able to do so because he had a name coming in, and not just based on those oft-repeated Super Bowl heroics.

No, Williams had credibility in Lincoln Parish because of what he did for the G-Men, not for Joe Gibbs: He took over in the fifth game of his freshman season in 1974, and never looked back - posting a 36-7 record as a starter.Seventeen of Grambling State's 20 Southwestern Athletics Conference championships came on Robinson's watch. Three of those titles - in 1974, '75 and '77 - featured Williams at quarterback.

But even while he assembled his own addendum to that playing career of heroics, Williams never forgot the coach that opened the door. No one who comes next will be able to either.

"My time at Grambling will be secure," Williams said this season. "But I also think that Eddie Robinson's time at Grambling is the reason why I am here. You can't lose sight of that."

He quickly re-established himself as one of the area's true characters - a very nearly bottomless font of quotes and opinions and scuttlebutt. Knowing his number meant knowing the score.

Yet, when Williams occasionally took it too far - drawing the interest, say, of the NCAA into comments he made concerning the possible transfer of troubled Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett - he could honestly say it was all for his old school.

"Publicity," he would say, evenly. Then, that wide, wide smile.

For a country school that's a county mile from anywhere, he figured that made sense. And, you know what? It did. His new recruiting class features three of The Insiders Top 100 prospects from Texas - not to mention The News-Star's offensive player of the year.

Williams now looks to follow another former Grambling State and NFL alum into pro football's boardrooms: James "Shack" Harris is an executive with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Our program has now produced two front-office executives in the National Football League," enthused Michael Watson, a 1977 graduate of Grambling State. "Not only is this a testament to the character and success of Doug and James Harris, it is a positive reflection on the type of leaders produced by our university. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the commonality of both men - having been coached and mentored by the great Eddie Rob."

Williams staked his claim comparatively quickly, remaining just six seasons - but winning 52 games. His place in the trophy case expanded with three more SWAC trophies, this time from the sidelines.

"Coach Robinson's legacy will be here forever," Williams said. "It will overshadow Grambling as long as there is a football program. But, I think right underneath, Doug Williams' name will appear."That will make replacing him almost as hard as it had been with Robinson.

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Spears among GSU possibles
February 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
The search for the next head football coach at Grambling State could start from within.

If Grambling coach Doug Williams today accepts a front-office job with the Tampa Buccaneers as expected, Tigers assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Melvin Spears would be a prime and willing candidate to take the reins.

"That's one of the things that Coach Williams and I have been talking about for a long time," Spears said Wednesday night. "His tutelage has helped prepare me for a day like today. If I'm asked to, I would be honored to be a part of this tradition."

An original member of Williams' staff since 1997, Spears was an instrumental figure in Grambling's winning three straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championships from 2000-02. In addition to directing Grambling's record-breaking offense, Spears also serves as the top recruiter.

Even as the news of Williams' possible departure broke Wednesday, Spears was working with the program's best interest at heart.

"My task right now, as the assistant head coach, is making sure that our signees are solid," Spears said. "They have to understand that they are at Grambling, and great things happen here. We've got to get them prepared and ready to go for next year."

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Williams looks at Homecoming II
February 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
Can you go home again ... and again?

Just six seasons after Doug Williams returned to his alma mater to coach, he is set for another homecoming: This time, he looks to take a job with the NFL franchise that drafted him out of college.

Williams, who replaced mentor Eddie Robinson in 1997 at Grambling State, is expected to accept a front office position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a 1 p.m. news conference today. Tampa Bay made Williams a first-round pick in 1978.

"It's going to be tough to match what we've done," Williams said recently of his time at Grambling State. "Winning is something that you always want to do, but when you sit back, you have to ask yourself: 'What's left?' That's why, if the opportunity came and I decided to leave, I wouldn't feel bad."

It apparently came from the Buccaneers - who went 5-11 in Williams' rookie year. Still, that was a resounding success for a club that had lost 26 in a row during its first two seasons - 11 of them by shutout.

A season later, Williams would lead Tampa Bay to the NFC championship game, where the Bucs fell to Los Angeles. Williams added another division title in 1981 - the last that Tampa Bay would win until 1999.

Williams had a remarkably similar experience getting started at Grambling State.

He went 5-6 in 1998 and then 7-4 in 1999 - but that seven-win mark was one more than GSU had in two combined seasons before he arrived. Williams would then reel off three consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.

That success, as it had in Tampa Bay, made him a prime target for moving on.

"Windows only open every now and then," Williams said in December. "When opportunity comes, you can't sit here and say: 'Next time.' There might not be a next time."

Tampa had traded the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft to Houston for a player and four draft picks - the first of which, No. 17 in the first round, was used to draft Williams.

Yet, after taking the Buccaneers to the playoffs three times in five seasons, Williams had a nasty contract dispute with late owner Hugh Culverhouse - and left for the since-disbanded United States Football League.

Still, Williams' return to the NFL had all the same suggestions of family and connectivity: He was recruited to Washington by Joe Gibbs, who would coach Williams to a 1988 Super Bowl win. Gibbs had been the Bucs' offensive coordinator in 1978.

So a move to Tampa Bay would be reliably symmetric for Williams. Still, it came suddenly.

"Coach Williams and I are very, very close," said assistant head coach Melvin Spears - who recruited all of Grambling State's 26 football signings this year. "Now, all of sudden he's not going to be with me."

Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen called on Tuesday and Williams was in Florida on Wednesday.

Less than 48 hours after Williams' cell phone rang, he's right back where he started. Again.


Doug Williams confirms move to Tampa Bay, GSU fans react

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING – Six seasons after taking over for a coach who had been at Grambling State for nearly 60 years, Doug Williams is leaving.

Williams confirms exclusively to The News-Star that he will accept a job as an executive in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers personnel department at a 1 p.m. press conference in Florida. “Grambling has always been home to me,” he said. “But this was home, too.”

Williams followed his mentor Eddie Robinson – whose coaching tenure at Grambling State stretched back to the early 1940s – and posted a 52-18 mark. An in-depth interview with Williams will appear in the Friday edition of The News-Star – and online.

“I never expected Coach Williams to stay at Grambling as long as Coach Rob did,” said Earling Hunter, a 1998 GSU graduate. “But I always expected his departure to be for a coaching job at a larger school, in a larger conference. I never saw this move coming. When rumors began a few weeks ago, we all dismissed it like many of the previous rumors that developed concerning Coach Williams. I, like many GSU fans, am in shock with this move. But I appreciate what Coach Williams has done for GSU. He put us back to our rightful place as one of college football’s elite.”

Williams took over a program in 1998 that had sent four players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame – but hadn’t had a winning season in four years. In 2001, Williams led GSU to its first outright Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 1989 – then added two more to the 17 titles that Robinson had won.

For some fans, the departure completes a circle begun when Williams was first drafted into the NFL as a first-round pick by Tampa Bay in 1978.

Still, Doug Williams departs for a homecoming of a different sort in Tampa Bay, a club that balked at a long-term contract agreement after he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs three of his five seasons there.

Williams promptly left for the USFL – and Tampa Bay endured 14 consecutive losing seasons. Williams, would return to the NFL under the guidance of former Bucs offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs, and became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Williams threw four touchdowns and was named the game’s most valuable player while leading Washington to a 42-10 win over Denver 42-10 in the 1988 Super Bowl.

Williams’ relationship with Tampa Bay was later repaired after the death of owner Hugh Culverhouse. His son gave $1 million to the Grambling State football program in 2002 – a grant that Williams said was used on facilities, uniforms, traveling gear and non-athletic scholarships.

Williams oversaw the signing of a 20-plus member class of football prospects this month, before getting the sudden job offer from new Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen.

“I know that many of our faithful fans will be outraged, but I won’t be one of those,” Hunter said of Williams’ departure. “If he has to leave us, I want to thank him for leaving us in the position that he has placed us: A talent-loaded football team with a chance to win the SWAC every season.”

Williams retired from the NFL in 1990. Before returning to Grambling State, he had coached at his former high school in Zachary, was a scout for the NFL’s Jacksonville franchise, served as offensive coordinator with the World League’s Scottish Claymores and was head coach at Morehouse College in Georgia.

A 2001 inductee into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame, Williams was named the SWAC coach of the year in 2000-01 and then the 2002 Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s Division I-AA coach of the year while at Grambling State.

“I can’t say that I am surprised by the news,” said Kenn Rashad, a 1990 graduate of Grambling State. “Before the 2003 season started, I always had a feeling that it would be his last as the coach at Grambling. There were just too many rumors flying around about Doug filling coaching vacancies at other programs. It was just a matter of time. But I think the timing of this move is right on point. If you are going to leave on your own terms, you might as well leave while you are on top.”


GSU delays naming interim coach
February 16, 2004

Administrators at Grambling State University today stopped short of naming an interim head football coach to replace Doug Williams.

Instead, GSU acting President Neari Warner read a statement from University of Louisiana System Chairman Mike Woods, which said an interim wouldn’t be named to replace Williams because of "renewed interest on the part of the ULS board" to keep him.

Williams resigned on Thursday to take an executive position in personnel with Tampa Bay.

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Williams still headed to Tampa
February 19, 2004

Doug Williams will stay with Tampa Bay.

"We met with Mr. (Bruce) Allen for about an hour today," Sally Clausen, University of Louisiana System president, said in a telephone interview late Tuesday. "After allowing us to make our case, he informed us that the Buccaneers would not allow Coach Williams to reconsider his decision to leave Grambling."

Williams signed contracts last week with the Bucs for a front office job. He has maintained he is going to Tampa Bay and expects to be in Indianapolis on Thursday for the NFL scouting combine as a Bucs representative.

Clausen called Allen "gracious" for agreeing to Tuesday's meeting in Tampa, Fla.

As first reported at,/ Clausen, Board of Supervisors chairman Mike Woods, Board members Andre Coudrain and Walter Rhodes, and state Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Grambling, flew to Tampa to meet with Allen to request that the Bucs allow Williams an opportunity to reconsider his decision to join the NFL team.

"Professional football is a business," Clausen said. "The Buccaneers saw an opportunity to hire a legend and made him a strong offer. We respect that. We knew going in that the odds were against us. Mr. Allen had offered us no hope of changing his mind, but we made the trip because we thought there might be a small chance that we could influence him."

It's uncertain what will happen next at Grambling. On Monday, administrators at the 102-year-old university were prepared to name an interim head football coach. Assistant head coach Melvin Spears was the leading candidate for the position. And, Williams had endorsed that move.

But that ended at 3 p.m. Monday when GSU acting President Neari Warner read a statement from Woods that said the board wanted to try explore a way to keep Williams.

"What's got to happen now is we'll hear back from the board and go from there," said Albert Dennis, GSU's athletics director. "Unfortunately, I had a feeling from talking to Doug that it might be a done deal. I think that's still ultimately what he wanted to do."

Clausen and ULS Board members didn't act sooner because they didn't know Williams had signed the contract with Tampa Bay until after the Bucs made the announcement, she said.

Clausen was in Washington when she received a call that Williams was talking to Tampa Bay about a position, she said.

When she realized Friday that Williams had signed a contract with the Bucs, "it took me by surprise," she said. "I saw him briefly during the Christmas holidays and asked him if he was going to hang in with us and he indicated he was going to do that."

Williams said he felt good about his decision to go to Tampa.

"Leaving got tougher when Dr. Clausen got involved, though," he said Tuesday afternoon after Clausen returned. "They made me feel like a major part of Grambling; that I was wanted. I didn't feel that before."

Clausen called this particular time "pivotal" for Grambling. The university is seeking a new permanent president.

"As Grambling's management board, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to support the next president and build a successful future for the university," Clausen said. "We saw this trip as part of that effort."

Woods offered the use of his personal airplane at his expense and Coudrain bought lunch for the group, Clausen added.

"Coach Williams is an icon in American sports - a wonderful mentor to students and a legend at Grambling," Woods said.

"It was worth our time and effort to keep him because we think the next Grambling president would benefit from his presence," Woods said. "It would have been irresponsible of us to let him go without a public plea to keep him."

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Grambling players react to Doug's departure
February 19, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING – A team meeting at Grambling State on Tuesday turned into an emotional referendum on the coming season – and on replacing the departed Doug Williams.

After acting GSU president Neari Warner made some brief remarks, she opened up the floor for discussion – and both center Lance Wright and quarterback Bruce Eugene gave heart-felt speeches.

Wright, in particular, seemed intent on sparking the quieting crowd to regroup.

“At Grambling, it’s about tradition, it about excellence – and that is in motion already,” Wright said. “Coach Williams set the bar, now we are ready to raise it.”

Williams, in his sixth season at his alma mater, quit in a 6:30 a.m. Tuesday phone call to Grambling State Athletics Director Al Dennis. He has accepted a front-office position in personnel with Tampa Bay, the NFL franchise that drafted him in the first-round out of GSU in 1978.

Dennis said he and Warner will meet today to complete the needed paperwork for Williams’ resignation. Those forms will then be mailed to Baton Rouge – in advance of an announcement on an interim head coach.

“We want to follow the correct processes,” Dennis said. “This is a high-profile job, and we have to follow both the state and the university regulations.”

Warner said an announcement would be made at 3 p.m. Monday. But neither she nor Dennis would comment on who would get the nod as interim coach.

The players, meanwhile, made a vocal point of their support for assistant head coach Melvin Spears in the Thursday afternoon team meeting.

Warner was visibly moved when Eugene called for a voice vote on naming Spears as head coach – and the entire room erupted.

“He has everything to do with our success,” said Eugene, who will be a senior this season. “He’s had a hand in everything we do. Who else would be better for the job? Why mess up what’s going on around here?”

The meeting was the result of an early morning phone call by Warner to Sally Clausen, president of the University of Louisiana System. Clausen said her advice to Warner was that she should pull the team together as quickly possible, if only to remind them of their importance to the Grambling State family.“

We have to encourage them,” Clausen said, “so they don’t feel abandoned.”

The ULS is searching for a new, permanent president for Grambling State. Warner announced earlier this year that she wouldn’t seek the job – and that she intends to retire as soon as a new president takes the helm sometime in late June or early July.

But that doesn’t mean she’ll avoid this tough decision, according to Clausen.

“This is a time when Dr. Warner can be a very strong, decisive leader – and I think she will,” Clausen said.

Williams had been Grambling State’s first new head coach since 1941, when the legendary Eddie Robinson took over. None of the players on the current roster has played for any other head coach at GSU.

Even a day later, some of the shock had not yet worn off.

“I was surprised,” Wright said. “Last night, it was a heavy blow. But they instill in us a belief in Grambling – and for not settling for less. That will continue.”

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Doug spends last day packing, remembering, waiting
February 18, 2004

Nick Deriso
Doug Williams sat in his half-empty office on Tuesday, signing footballs and talking about the New York Yankees' stunning trade for reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez.

The baseball team trains across the street from Raymond James Stadium - home of Tampa Bay's NFL franchise.

Those are the same Buccaneers who lured Williams away from Grambling State last week to work as an executive in personnel.

But he wasn't talking about that.

He wasn't talking about the footballs, either, for a while. But they kept coming - from players and fans and assistants and fans and more fans. Each was wrapped in a Wal-Mart bag until, presumably, the Ruston store ran out of regulation-size balls.

Finally, he grew weary of signing, after almost an hour.

"They need to let me do the Wal-Mart football commercial," he said, chuckling. He kept signing.

Williams then talked about buying a new car in Tampa Bay, about getting a house, and getting his son D.J. in school in Florida.

What he wasn't talking about was the University of Louisiana System board's 11th-hour push to convince the Bucs to break his contract - one that included a sudden flight to Florida, then presumably a sullen flight home.

He wasn't talking about that in particular. What was there to say?

Williams continued his preparations to leave, even as negotiations to keep him at GSU continued one time zone away. There was something about it that was both sad and ironic: Williams now admits that, had these efforts come last month, he might never have left.

"It's one of those things," Williams said. "If Dr. Clausen would have been in the negotiations from the beginning - who knows what would have happened?"

System president Sally Clausen is to be commended for her interest in Grambling State. She can be largely credited with keeping the school, as it teetered on the brink of accreditation oblivion, from getting pushed over by bad accounting.

But even her ferocious efforts were to no avail this time. Tampa Bay refused to let Williams out of his contract.

So, it was back to signing more footballs - even while Williams talked about getting a haircut, about seeing Grambling Lab play basketball on Tuesday night.

Then he got on a Web site to check the weather at Indianapolis - where he will be traveling, it's now mercifully confirmed, to scout the NFL Combine for Tampa Bay.

The temperature there today is slated to be sah-sah-sah-seven degrees. Williams joked that he will be packing heavy.

Doug Porter, a former assistant under Eddie Robinson at Grambling State, ventured that Maurice Clarett would probably attend.

"I'd get a chance to meet him," Williams enthused about the former college star who once flirted with attending GSU. "The NCAA can't do anything now."

He laughed, and laughed. There was a mounting sense of relief about Williams.

Williams told a story about something that happened after the 1 p.m. news conference to introduce him at Tampa Bay. There was an older couple who had tirelessly waited outside - each holding one end of a sign that read: "Welcome back, Doug."

Williams didn't eventually emerge from watching player films until 5:30 p.m."It kind of blows you away," Williams said. "They had been standing out there all that time!"

Unfortunately, so had the ULS. They simply walked into the situation far too late to save Grambling State from itself.

But my hope is that the group's emotional pleas on Williams' behalf might awaken the pride of ownership that GSU fans and administrators should have had all along in Williams.

See, there's much to be proud of still: Grambling State may have lost Doug Williams, but it was only to give him to the world.

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