Grambling community stunned by exit

Updated: February 12, 2004, 8:37 PM ET
Associated Press

GRAMBLING, La. -- Grambling's avid football following took a blow Thursday when popular coach Doug Williams took a front-office job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Players and fans expressed disappointment at the loss of the highly successful coach, but receiver Moses Harris, who'll be a senior next season, said much of the community was just trying to be happy for Williams.

"They're not really taking it as bad as I thought they would," Harris told The Associated Press. "They put themselves in his shoes. These opportunities don't come every day. He's done his job here, changing boys to men."

Harris said he and his teammates are confident they will continue the success they've had in recent years under a new coach.

"It shouldn't be that hard adjusting," Harris said. "We'll just have to do what we have to do to get it done."

Still, Harris said he'd miss playing for Williams.

"He was honest, straightforward, direct with his players," Harris said.

Having won a Super Bowl as quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Williams had instant credibility with his players at Grambling. Harris said Williams was calm and confident in tight games, a mentality that he helped spread throughout the team.

Grambling athletics spokesman Peter Forest said no successor would be named immediately. Quarterback Bruce Eugene, who'll also be a senior next season, said the whole team is pushing for offensive coordinator Melvin Spears to get promoted to the top job.

"Coach Williams did a good job developing a good staff for us," said Eugene, who threw for 3,805 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.

Eugene said he was "a little heartbroken" when Spears informed the team that Williams, who was in Tampa Bay on Thursday, would be leaving.

"But after it was explained to us, we were happy he was getting a job like that," Eugene said.

Fans echoed such mixed feelings.

Earling Hunter, a 1998 GSU graduate, said he was caught off guard by the fact that Williams left for a front office job, working in the scouting department under Tampa Bay director of pro personnel Mark Dominik.

"I always expected his departure to be for a coaching job at a larger school, in a larger conference," Hunter said. "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.

"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."

Grambling struggled through losing seasons in each of coach Eddie Robinson's final four years. Williams, who played for Robinson before a successful pro career, went 52-18 as Grambling coach in the six seasons after Robinson left. Williams coached the Tigers to three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships to go with the 17 won under Robinson.

Grambling was on track to win a fourth straight title this season until they were derailed by Southern in the Bayou Classic, ending the Tigers' season a game short of the SWAC title game.

Williams oversaw the signing of more than 20 prospects this month before the Buccaneers offered him a job.

Eugene said Williams "was one of the main factors for me [coming to Grambling] because Coach Williams is a very inspirational coach. But it was not only that he was the coach. It was because Grambling has great tradition.''

"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, he coached at his former high school in Zachary, was a scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was offensive coordinator with the World League's Scottish Claymores and was head coach at Morehouse College.

"I can't say that I am surprised by the news," said Kenn Rashad, a 1990 graduate of Grambling. "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 ... It was just a matter of time."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press