Humble Williams super glad to join Navy FROM STAR TO STRIPES

September 01, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

On Saturday, the Naval Academy opens its 1994 football season against San Diego State at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego.

On the same field, on Jan. 31, 1988, Doug Williams, the Midshipmen's new running backs coach, enjoyed one of pro football's most memorable performances in leading Washington to a 42-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXII.

Williams threw five touchdown passes, four in the second quarter, shattering Super Bowl records and also erasing generations of stereotypes about a black quarterback's ability to lead an NFL team to a title.

After his triumph, Williams' face graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, the front of Wheaties boxes and Disney World promotions. Fans held parades in his honor in Washington and his hometown of Zachary, La.

Remind Williams of that idyllic time, and he smiles, shrugs his broad shoulders and says, "It was a special time for a man just doing his job.

"I know a lot of people won't believe me, but I got more pleasure outof coaching at Northeast High in my hometown last year than in winning the Super Bowl," Williams said.

"We went 13-1, got to the state semifinals, and my parents, aunts, uncles and close friends were up in the stands cheering us on. That's something you can't buy. Everyone should enjoy an experience of sharing like that once in their lifetime."

Those words might ring hollow coming from someone else. But to those who know Williams, they are a true measure of the man.

"Despite all his great accomplishments, Doug is no big-timer," said Navy head coach George Chaump. "He's down to earth, and the players respond to that humble quality. He loves working with young people, and that devotion comes through on and off the field."

Said starting sophomore tailback Omar Nelson, of Silver Spring, "I grew up watching Doug Williams play quarterback for Tampa Bay and Washington. To have him as my coach really makes it exciting. He's instilled pride in all the running backs. He wants us to be a big part of the offense this year."

Chaump and Williams met in 1979 at Tampa Bay, where Chaump was coaching the Buccaneers running backs and Williams, the team's No. 1 draft choice out of Grambling, was heralded as the savior of a ragtag expansion team.

"Doug was a big, strong guy capable of throwing the football 80 yards," said Chaump. "Almost overnight, he made the team respectable. People forget he almost led the Bucs to the Super Bowl in 1979. We lost to the Rams, 9-0, but Doug played only the first half. One of the Rams caught him in his throwing arm with a helmet and tore a biceps.

"We won a division title again in 1981, but when the Bucs didn't re-sign Doug in 1983, the franchise went [downhill]."

Chaump got to know Williams as more than a gifted athlete.

"He'd come over to our house in Tampa on a regular basis and play catch with my three daughters," said Chaump. "He just knows how to relate to people. He's never been one to brag, 'I did this.' He's just a special person, and that's why I jumped at a chance to add him to my staff."

When it is suggested he might be wasting his talent, coaching running backs instead of quarterbacks, Williams says, "Football is football. A lot of great coaches like Joe Gibbs started out coaching running backs or tackles. It's a learning experience.

"Sure, I wanted to be a head coach, especially at one of the black colleges," he said. "It would have been ideal for me to be the head guy at Southern University, just down the road from my hometown. I applied twice, but didn't get it.

"I also got feelers from Florida A&M, and an inquiry from Texas Southern. I'd hear I was in the running, but nothing would come of it. That's why I say I was flattered by Chaump's offer. This is where I want to be."

The decision to coach came easily to Williams. In 1991, he accepted the head coaching job at Pointe Coupee Central High in Louisiana, 40 miles from Baton Rouge. Almost overnight, he had gone from a $1 million-a-year NFL quarterback to a rural high school athletic director and coach making $32,000 and saving expenses by doing the team laundry.

"It was a payback," he said. "How can you say you're really concerned about what's happening to the youth of our country, especially poor blacks, if you're not going to make a commitment to help?"

Williams learned his sense of commitment from his brother, Robert, and from his college coach, Grambling's Eddie Robinson.

"Being around Coach Robinson made me a better man," Williams said. "And he showed me you didn't need beautiful dressing rooms, manicured fields or fancy uniforms to have a winning program. We'd practice in the sand, and when it got wet, it almost turned to quicksand. But when we'd play on someone's turf field, we were always quicker than the other team."

His senior year, Williams finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and became the first black quarterback to be selected on the first round -- 17th overall.

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