Gregg Williams has this thing about lists. It appeals to his meticulous nature.
His father, Ira Williams, recalls Gregg's visits back home in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
"He would have everything his family was going to do from the time they got here to the time he left," Ira Williams said Thursday. "He was always that way."
Sam Brown, Gregg Williams' football coach at Excelsior Springs High School, remembers another of Gregg's lists. This one charted his future as a football coach.
"He had it all mapped out," Brown said.
Williams reached his ultimate goal Thursday when he was named head coach of the Buffalo Bills. At 42, Williams comes to Buffalo with glittering credentials. As the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans, it was his unit and not the Baltimore Ravens' that was No. 1 in the NFL the past season in fewest yards allowed. The Ravens got most of the publicity for setting a league record for points allowed in a 16-game season (165). But the Titans were no slouches, yielding the second-lowest point total (191) this season and the third-lowest ever over 16 games.
"Our defense has been among the best in the NFL, and Gregg has been a big part of that," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "Since he became our defensive coordinator, he's taken our defense to another level. His work has made a difference in a lot of games."
"Gregg is a real genius at devising schemes," free safety Marcus Robertson said. "When it comes to coaching, you won't find anyone who is more prepared."
Those closest to Williams talk about how he is organized, almost to the point of obsession. That applies to everything, whether family vacations or keeping updated files on the contract situation of every coach, trainer, video guy and equipment man he'd like to hire once he became a head coach.
He remembered how his friend, former Houston Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, lost out to Bill Cowher for the head coaching job in Pittsburgh because Cowher's ability to put together a staff quickly and communicate his philosophy effectively made the difference.
Williams decided no candidate would ever be more ready when a chance to interview for an NFL head coaching job came along. It is believed that was a key to winning over Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe during their meeting last week.
"When Gregg goes into a game or any situation, he's going to be more prepared than anybody," said Steve Sidwell, Seattle's defensive coordinator, who worked with Williams with the Oilers. "No one will outwork him or be more prepared than Gregg."
Williams' work ethic and attention to detail was instilled at an early age. His father, Ira, missed just one day in 38 years working for General Motors.
"I never forced Gregg into anything, but I told him, 'Once you start anything, you finish it.' " Ira said.
"I always believed that when you go into something, you go into it with the idea that at the end of that day, you know you've done the very best that you can. Then, you come back the next day and start all over again."
Gregg Williams especially took that to heart when he played sports. He was a standout in football and baseball at Excelsior High. As the team's starting quarterback, he developed a penchant for calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.
Brown remembers one game in particular where Williams' audibles resulted in a win against a local powerhouse.
"I would send in a play, and he kept changing it," Brown said. "I kept saying, 'This play is going to work. Just hang with it.' But Gregg would change it and he ended up throwing two or three touchdowns and we ended up beating a team we hadn't beaten in several years. From that point on, I knew he was destined to be a coach."
After graduating from Northeast Missouri State (now known as Truman State) in Kirksville, Mo., Williams got his first taste of coaching in 1980 as a defensive assistant at Excelsior Springs High.
Three years later, he was turned down when the head-coaching job became open. But to this day, he says it's a good thing he never got the head job because he'd probably still be there.
Instead, the 25-year-old Williams became head coach at Belton, another suburban Kansas City high school.
"He had a lot of success there," said Sam Shouse, a defensive assistant coach at Excelsior. "I think he beat us every time we played them."
In 1988, Williams and his wife, Leigh Ann, headed to Texas when he was hired by University of Houston coach Jack Pardee for a one-year stint as a graduate assistant. After just two seasons, Pardee jumped to the NFL as head coach of the Houston Oilers. Williams joined him as the franchise's first quality control coordinator while helping coach defensive backs.
Williams had no experience in quality control, and even lied about his knowledge of computers. But he learned quickly. People in the organization say he revolutionized the job of quality control.
"He was a knowledgeable guy with the motivation to succeed," Pardee said. "All he needed was the opportunity."
Williams was promoted to special teams coach in 1993. His unit had the highest-rated punting game and ranked sixth in kickoff return coverage.
When Pardee was fired and replaced by Jeff Fisher in the middle of the 1994 season, Williams was retained and took over coaching linebackers. The guy he replaced? Former Bills special teams coach Ronnie Jones.
Williams' contract ran out at the end of the 1995 season, and he was pursued by Jimmy Johnson for his new staff with the Miami Dolphins. But Williams decided to re-sign with the Oilers. His loyalty was rewarded with the defensive coordinator job prior to the 1997 season.