Dezmond Spivey couldn’t believe the news.
Oh, sure; for weeks, he and his Grambling teammates heard rumors about their coach, Rod Broadway. Still, Spivey - the son of former Tigers safety Garland Spivey, and, therefore, a black-and-gold man from birth, and now a wide receiver for the team he once dreamed of joining - never truly believed Broadway would leave.
Then, in early February, it happened: After four years and one Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, Broadway confirmed he was leaving for North Carolina A&T.
For Spivey, only then did the truth hit. And the truth hurt. Broadway was a good coach, but a North Carolina native at heart. Translation: He was not a Grambling man.
“We could deal with it,” Spivey said. “But at the same time, I was like, ?That’s still my coach.’ I was surprised.”
What made Spivey feel better was another rumor: Doug Williams - the Zachary native and local legend, the first black quarterback to start (and win) a Super Bowl and, once, Eddie Robinson’s very successful successor at Grambling - might return.
It turned out to be much more than a rumor.
“When we found out coach Williams was coming back, we were all like, ?Yes. We want somebody who’s for Grambling,’” Spivey said. “I mean, he is a Grambling man. So it’s been a blessing.”
It’s been eight years since Williams resigned as the Tigers coach in 2003 for a front-office job with Tampa Bay, the franchise which made him a first-round draft choice in 1978.
Though he famously flirted with Southern in late 2009, Williams remained with the Buccaneers until May 2010 before taking a job with the UFL’s Virginia Destroyers that June.
Williams said he was all but assured of taking a job with the Washington Redskins, the team he led to victory in Super Bowl XXII victory against Denver in 1988.
Then Broadway left Grambling, and Williams’ cell phone all but caught fire.
“The Willie Browns, the James Harrises - they were calling, telling me that the only name they could send back (to Grambling) was mine,” Williams said.
“They knew I had an opportunity with the Redskins. They knew all that. But there’s such a love for Grambling. They have that love. They know I have that love. They figured they could persuade me. And I acted a fool and let them persuade me.”
So here he is, at 56, back home at Grambling, where he took over for Robinson in 1998 and, after installing a wide-open, pass-first offense, won three straight SWAC championships from 2000-02.
Of course, they’ll be a little shakier if Williams doesn’t win, because, as he knows, that’s what Gramblinites expect.
In American sports history, coaches and managers usually fail when they return to a job they held before.
Billy Martin flamed out with the Yankees in the 1980s.
Cito Gaston, winner of two World Series with the Blue Jays from 1989-97, never sniffed the playoffs in his second term, finishing fourth in the AL East three straight times from 2008-10.
John Robinson, wildly successful as USC’s football coach from 1976-82, returned to the Trojans for another five-year stint in the ‘90s. He was fired in ‘97 after back-to-back .500 seasons.
And Williams’ own coach, Joe Gibbs - winner of three Super Bowls with the Redskins - returned to Washington in 2004. He lasted four years and posting a 30-30 overall record.
What does Williams make of all this?
“I’m not worried about the history. I’ve just got to take care of me,” he said.
“I’m not looking at it from the good or the bad that could happen the second time around. I’m looking at it the same way I did the first time. You go in there, coach Grambling and hope that we win some championships.”
He has basically kept Broadway’s stout defense intact, complete with coordinator Cliff Yoshida and linebackers coach André Robinson. He will revamp the offense to fit his style, ditching Broadway’s pro sets for the spread.
Last year’s starting quarterback, Anthony Carrothers, won nine games as a true freshman, and he looked like a star in the making.
But Carrothers withdrew from Grambling this summer, leaving the team with only two freshman quarterbacks, Frank Rivers and Williams’ own son, D.J., who used to sign autographs and serve as a ball boy during Doug’s first coaching stint at Grambling.
“Sometimes, you ain’t got but two eggs to put in the cornbread. That’s all I’ve got,” Williams said. “We’ll put them in there and see what happens.”
Obviously, the country charm never left Williams, even after he left Grambling.
Now, he’s home again, back in the place that first made him famous.
And for now, Grambling couldn’t be happier about it.