Gregg Williams focused the Browns after the dysfunction, discord and defeats rampant under fired coach Hue Jackson.
He got the players to believe they were good enough to win each week.
He went 5-3 — his predecessor was 3-36-1 in 2½ years — to bring back meaningful games in December.
All the good work as interim coach, and the public support that followed, wasn’t enough to convince general manager John Dorsey to forget the coaching search and keep Williams on a permanent basis. Dorsey opened the search Monday by requesting interviews with several candidates across the league and promised a “very thorough” and “very deliberate” process.
Williams remained a candidate and was the first to interview Tuesday but faced an uphill battle. Despite knowing each other for decades and spending more than a year in the same building, Dorsey said Monday he needed to sit down formally with Williams.
“I want to see his overarching vision and plan for this organization moving forward,” Dorsey said. “I want to hear his thoughts on the team moving forward, but I also want to be able to explore multiple options out there in the National Football League and just see who fits for this organization.”
Williams, 60, first became a defensive coordinator in 1997. He went 17-31 as head coach of the Bills from 2001-03, won a Super Bowl as coordinator of the Saints after the 2009 season and was suspended by the NFL for the 2012 season for his leading role in the Saints’ bounty scandal.
As defensive coordinator, Williams is a screamer who works heavily in profanity. After taking over as interim coach, he changed his persona.
“From what I saw how he dealt with the defensive guys, I think he toned it down a little bit,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “He was very more the leader of the team instead of one position group at that point.
“He had a clear message. He was concise, clear message, but we were all on the same page. We knew what he wanted, we knew what we were going to get from him and that’s all you can really ask for in a coach.”
Williams has a big ego and an overbearing personality, so Dorsey was asked if the style could wear thin as a head coach over a full season or longer.
“No, I think the one thing with Gregg is I like what he’s done in the last eight weeks and I applaud him for that,” Dorsey said. “Because he’s kind of got these guys believing, he’s brought them in together as one, he’s got them playing hard, that’s all you can ask for and guys seem to play hard for him and they practice hard.”
If Dorsey was impressed by Williams’ eight-game audition and isn’t worried about his message losing impact, why not stick with the man who captained the organization’s best stretch since Mike Pettine in the first half of 2014?
“Well, I want to be able to see everything,” Dorsey said. “That’s why you want to sit down and talk with him and see his plan and see his vision.
“You don’t want to sell yourself short. Why not go see other people out there, too, just to see? And we talk about doing our due diligence and what’s best for this organization. Why not go and look at everybody?”
The players bought into Williams and his staff over the final eight weeks. Those who talked Monday as they cleaned out their lockers appreciated the work but were prepared for another change at the top.
“We fought for Gregg these last eight games, and it is a credit to him,” Bitonio said. “He did a heckuva job coming in. That is a tough spot to be put into. For him to come into that and do the things that he did, it was pretty impressive.
“We are going to be ready to play for whoever they bring in.”
“Whoever’s here in April, I’m cool with,” defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said.
The Browns haven’t confirmed other scheduled interviews, but NFL Network reported they will interview Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell on Friday and Vikings interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on Monday, citing sources.
Campbell is also slated to meet with the Packers and Cardinals while the Saints have a bye in the playoffs.
** Cleveland.com reported the Browns don’t plan to interview Adam Gase, who was fired by the Dolphins on Monday.