BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Doug Williams doesn’t usually do humble.
The man has been a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and MVP, is in the College Football and Black College Football halls of fame, and in seven seasons during two stints as Grambling’s coach led his alma mater to four Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and three black college football national titles.
But that was before 2012. An improbable SWAC championship season in his first year back at Grambling in 2011 was followed by a 1-10 debacle last fall.
It wasn’t as though the Tigers were constantly outclassed. There was a 56-0 trouncing by TCU, sure, but five of Grambling’s losses were by seven points or fewer. That included a 24-17 loss to eventual SWAC champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff and a 38-33 loss to archrival Southern in the Bayou Classic.
The kicking game, or lack of it, was a major culprit. Grambling attempted only one field goal of longer than 37 yards, and the Tigers were often forced to gamble on fourth down instead of taking the probable three points. But Williams asks for no sympathy.
“Blame nobody but us,” Williams said Monday at SWAC Football Media Day. “We didn’t play well, and we got beat. It’s special teams and offense and defense, and when one of those isn’t working, you’re in trouble.”
Though trouble found his Tigers week after disheartening week, Williams still managed to find a lesson in the losses. His trademark bravado and humor have been tinged by a measure of humility.
Not taken over, mind you, just tinged.
“I’ve had success everywhere I’ve been — high school, college, coaching, what have you,” said Williams, his massive hands clasped on a table in front of his black suit and gold tie. “I chalk up last year as one of those years I wouldn’t wish on anybody. But at the same time, it does a great job of preparing you for real life, making you humble and appreciating all the success you do have.”
Success is something Williams is sure Grambling will have again. To him, returning the Tigers to the top of the charts is a certainty, like the tides or the Houston Astros being out of contention by the All-Star break.
“We’re going to get back to being Grambling,” Williams said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. (It’s just) whether it’s this year or next year.”
The Tigers are still young — there are only seven seniors on the roster — but it’s a team that Williams said endured its trials last season and never quit trying.
“They understand what it takes to win games,” Williams said. “All these guys are going to get older and understand what we have to do.”
Experience, painful though it might be, isn’t the only tool in Williams’ restoration project.
He has kept the faith on offense with his son, D.J., at quarterback, who Williams said has embraced the pressure being a hall of famer’s son and keeps a photo on his cell phone of their remarkably similar throwing motions.
He chucked the 4-2-5 defense Grambling ran last season, a scheme Williams said he detested, to run a 4-3 with 3-4 elements under defensive coordinator Dennis “Dirt” Winston. The former New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker left UAPB for his third stint as a Grambling assistant.
“He’s brought in a lot of enthusiasm and camaraderie,” Williams said. “It’s a big change from what we were doing last year. This spring has been like a shot of fresh air watching the players respond to him.”
Then there is the young man who has never set foot on the Robinson Stadium turf. He’s freshman kicker Jonathan Wallace, a Class 3A All-State punter last season at Rayville.
“When Jonathan’s not in the game, I want him to stand by me because I want to hug him as the game goes on,” Williams said, smiling broadly.
D.J.’s arm, Dirt’s scheme and Wallace’s toe are fine, but for Grambling to get back, it will be Williams who gets the Tigers there.
“I am Grambling,” he said in reference to what the school means to him. “That plays a big part in it.”
Maybe the biggest part.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter at @RabalaisAdv.