Steve Watterson wasn't at all surprised to hear that Gregg Williams had aced his interview for the Bills' head coach job last Friday. After all, Williams had been preparing for the interview for more than 10 years.
Watterson, the Tennessee Titans' veteran strength coach, was Williams' roommate for five years in the early 1990s. He remembers Williams putting together lists of what an NFL head coach should be. Over the years, he expanded it. By the time he sat down with Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe, he had computer files ranking most of the top people in the NFL.
"He had every person, every staff member and how he would rank them for efficiency," said Watterson. "I guarantee you, when he walked into Buffalo's offices, he knew everybody and what their background was. He felt it was his duty to know."
Evidently, Donahoe was blown away. He hadn't known much about the Titans' defensive coordinator before their talk. Williams had entered the picture only after Donahoe's old pal, Dom Capers, took the head job with the expansion Houston franchise.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Donahoe had a candidate who seemed to fit the exact profile of what he wanted in his new coach. He wanted someone with an attention to detail, a man who was well-prepared. Most important, he was looking for someone with an intimate knowledge of assistant coaching candidates.
So you can imagine how Donahoe reacted when he found that Williams had been keeping computer profiles of the top assistant coaches in the league.
"Assistant coaches are only one of his lists," said Floyd Reese, the Titans' general manager. "He has the same file on personnel people, trainers, on video people. He had a file on literally everybody. Not only names, but their contracts and length of contract. So if he ever had the opportunity, he would have at hand what he needed."
It wasn't just computer lists that bowled over Donahoe. At some point during their five-hour session last week, he must have looked across the table at Williams and seen a little bit of himself looking back.
Like Donahoe, Williams got his start as a high school coach and worked his way through the NFL ranks to become the Titans' defensive coordinator. Williams was paid $30,000 a year when he started as a quality control coach for the Houston Oilers in 1990. People who know Williams say it wasn't the money that drove him, but the chance to realize his dream of being an NFL head coach.
"We talked about it all the time," Watterson said. "I believe he was destined for it. I remember telling people in 1992 that he was going to be a head coach in this league."
Donahoe said from the start that the job would go to someone who desperately wanted it, and who wanted to be in Buffalo. He wanted a disciplinarian. He wanted someone who shared his blue-collar ethic, his passion for work. Having lost a power struggle with Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, he wanted someone he could trust.
Apparently, Donahoe saw all of those qualities in Williams.
"Tom and I have competed for a number of years," Reese said. "I have tremendous respect for him. I consider myself a football guy. Anybody I consider a football guy, I love him. And those two are way down deep football guys. They will be special there."
A football guy. Here are some of the other words people used to describe him Thursday: Intense. Detail-oriented. Media-savvy. Fan-friendly. Tireless. Tough. Demanding. Straightforward. Fair. Honest. Personable. Charming. Workaholic. Disciplinarian.
No doubt, there will be cynics who suggest Williams had one other compelling characteristic. He's white. It's fair to ask how Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who is black, could have fallen from his perch as the league's hottest candidate, and the perceived front-runner in Buffalo, to no head job at all.
His agent, Ray Anderson, calls it "suspicious", a "sham". But let's not forget that it was Donahoe who brought Lewis into the NFL with Pittsburgh in 1992. He was genuinely interested in him for the Bills' job, well before the Ravens' defense dominated the Super Bowl.
And to be fair, it's not as if the Ravens' defense was significantly better than Tennessee's. The Titans' defense was actually ranked first in total yards this season. Baltimore set the record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season, but Tennessee's defense allowed the third-fewest points in history this season.
When the teams met in the playoffs, the Titans gained twice as many yards as the Ravens in defeat. So in this case, you could argue that Lewis' head coaching profile was higher than Williams' because he was black.
I have to give Donahoe the benefit of the doubt on this one. It wasn't money, or race, or reputation, that made the difference. Williams was simply the most comfortable fit, the man who best fit Donahoe's ideal for a head coach.
If Donahoe was searching for the antithesis of Wade Phillips, he seems to have found him. Surely, it didn't hurt to know when Williams coached the Oilers' special teams for one year in 1993, they led the league. His '93 teams still hold the franchise kickoff coverage record, by a wide margin.
"Changing the identity of a special teams in a short period is very tough," Watterson said. "Let me tell you. He knows the fine detail and attention that needs to go in each area. There will be no stone unturned. He's the most organized assistant coach I've ever been associated with. You people in Buffalo are going to be spoiled, both the fans and the media.
"You've got something special."