Doug Williams doesn’t have a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he’s a bona fide NFL legend nonetheless, especially among Washington Redskins fans. The Grambling State University alum became the first black quarterback to reach professional football’s pinnacle in 1988 when he engineered an upset 42-10 victory against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, becoming the game’s most valuable player and an enduring reminder of the Redskins’ glory years.
In the quarter-century since Williams retired from football’s playing field, he has remained firmly entrenched in the game, burnishing his reputation as a winner – first as head coach at the college level and then as a scouting director for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2011, Redskins owner Dan Snyder – perhaps aiming to recapture the winning spark that Williams brought to the franchise all those years ago – offered him a job as a talent evaluator in the team’s front office. Williams did well, helping to assemble a solid core of veterans and younger players who improved the team on both sides of the ball.
When former Redskins General Manager Scot McLoughlin left the team under controversy in the off-season, Snyder and Redskins President Bruce Allen decided to eliminate the GM position and elevate Williams to senior vice president of player personnel, a lofty perch that gives him control over critical elements of the front office. During the Redskins’ training camp in Richmond in August, On Tap talked with Williams about his new role and his approach to one of the most unique jobs in the NFL.
On Tap: Your permanent office is a couple of hours away at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, but today you’re out here under the hot sun watching your team get ready for the 2017 season. How would you describe your new role with the Redskins?
Doug Williams: The good thing about it is we don’t have the title of general manager anymore. A lot of the things [McLoughlin] was in charge of, that’s me now. I don’t deal with the strength coach, I don’t deal with the equipment manager and I don’t deal with the trainer. But everything else, I’m a part of. My job is to look over the personnel department and make sure we have a great department with the guys in there. And I think we do.
OT: What’s the most important element in an effective front office responsible for assembling a winning team on the field?
DW: Continuity. We’ve been together here for a few years now, and some a little longer, and I think we have a good team. Even with our road scouts and bringing [eight-year Redskins front office veteran] Kyle Smith up as the new director of college scouting and [16-year Redskins veteran] Tim Gribble as the assistant, we still maintained continuity. We added a couple of new pieces, but we’re kind of like a football team. You bring in pieces to fit the puzzle. My job is to make sure when we are out on the road, whether it’s the road scout or the free agent market scout, we try to find the best talent that we can for this football team. We’ll always be in the market for the best football player.
OT: As a longtime talent scout, who among the rookies are you most excited about this season?
DW: I’m excited about all of them, but all eyes are going to be on [first-round draft pick and defensive end] Jonathan Allen. You’ve got [linebackers] Ryan Anderson and Hardy Nickerson. I think Anderson, who had a great career at Alabama, is going to come in and give us some depth. But we’re looking to Jonathan Allen [also a college standout at Alabama] to come in and just be who he is.
OT: When you look at the team as a whole from a scouting perspective, what is the most important piece of the puzzle?
DW: When are you are building a football team, to me, it’s very important to start from inside out. And I say that from the trenches – on both sides of the trenches, whether it’s O-line or D-line. If you can build your offensive and defensive lines, you can work around the other pieces of the puzzle. If you’ve got that offensive line, you give your quarterback a chance to stand up.
OT: Aside from raw physical talent, what do you look for in a player?
DW: Mental toughness, character and passion. You want them coming hard at practice! There ain’t nothing like coming to practice, and you have guys who love to practice because the hardest part of the game is coming to practice. Sunday is supposed to be fun. If you bring that passion and attitude to the practice field and have great days, you look at those guys and see it.
OT: How do you assess that?
DW: We go in the back room and we watch tapes. It’s about finishing plays. We watch how a guy finishes plays and moves around, and it’s those types of things that inform you as a personnel coach or whatever.
On Tap: What’s the missing ingredient to help the Redskins get back to the Super Bowl?
DW: No doubt about it – it’s getting to the playoffs. When you get there, strange things can happen. But you’ve got to get there. We were on the verge last year and we made it the year before, but we’ve got to be consistent. If we can get [over] the hump and get to the playoffs, I think we’ve got the talent to compete with any team in this league.
OT: What does it mean to you to be a Redskins legend and the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl?
DW: It’s when I come across a guy in his late 60s or 70s and he says, “Man, that day…” They don’t have to say anymore. I’m fortunate to be that guy. It could have been somebody else, but it was me, and I appreciate that [I] was given the opportunity to do that.
Learn more about the Redskins and the team’s 2017 season at www.redskins.com.
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