Grambling's resurgence has Williams' fingerprints, Fobbs' passion
(STATS) - There's an elephant in the room during this spectacular season at Grambling State, a campaign in which the Tigers have won eight straight heading into this weekend's Bayou Classic before a trip to the SWAC championship game the following week.
With every touchdown catch by Chad Williams and every kick return by Ka'Jandre Domino, there's been a keen observer of the Tigers residing in the nation's capital. And Doug Williams can only imagine what it would have been like coaching those players.
"You think about the success that they're having, you gotta think about the job that the coaches I brought in there did recruiting, because the guys that are making plays... every receiver we brought in there, except one," Williams said. "So we expected them to be doing what they're doing."
It was just two years ago that Williams was let go by the Tigers during a tumultuous 2013 season best remembered for players refusing to play a game against Jackson State for a myriad of issues including subpar facilities, poor allocation of travel money and long road trips. It was a complete bottoming out for a program once considered the gold standard for historically black colleges under the legendary Eddie Robinson.
To this day, Williams claims he doesn't know why he was fired in his second stint at his alma mater. Now working in the front office for the same Washington Redskins team he quarterbacked to a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII - a game in which he was named MVP - Williams still has bitter feelings about how it ended.
"I mean the way the thing happened, it was so undercover," he said. "It was kind of like one of those situations where they knew what was happening but I didn't."
Williams enjoyed tremendous success in his first coaching stint with Grambling from 1998-2003, winning three consecutive conference titles in that stretch. He returned in 2011 and won another championship before things went south with a 1-10 mark the following year.
That set the stage for his dismissal two games into another 1-10 season that featured no shortage of turmoil and a pair of interim coaches. It was part of a dark era for the school in which numerous athletic teams struggled and rumors swirled of administrators pocketing funds to leave the budget at a major deficit.
"Coach Rob used to always say we'd done so much with so little you could almost do anything without nothing," Williams said. "And I think the key is the people who were in place didn't manage what they had the way they should have."
The tradition of Grambling football is now under the guidance of another alum, lesser known but no lesser a G-Man himself in Broderick Fobbs. A former Tigers running back and two-time captain for coach Robinson, Fobbs took over saying he had yellow and black in his blood. His father played for Robinson and his mother also went to the school.
Fobbs immediately guided the Tigers to a 7-5 season last year, though a stinging 52-45 loss to Southern in the Bayou Classic in a winner-take-all showdown for the West Division crown cost Grambling a chance at the title. Still, the progress was evident for a team picked last in the preseason.
Now the Tigers are back with an even better squad, one that does not feature a single preseason All-SWAC first-team player. Quarterback Johnathan Williams, a second-team selection, is favored to be named the SWAC player of the year thanks to his 291.5 yards per game of total offense which has translated to an 8-0 conference mark.
The Tigers, 8-2 overall and up to No. 21 in the STATS FCS rankings, are averaging 44.1 points per game. They scored 70 for the first time in 10 years with a 70-54 win over Prairie View A&M on Sept. 26.
Fobbs clearly has the swagger that the Grambling community expects.
"This is truly a team effort," Fobbs said. "I can't do this alone even though I am the visionary."
What Fobbs doesn't have is any sort of relationship with the man who coached before him.
"We have no conversations, no relationship, there's no sense in sugar-coating it, because we don't," Williams said.
There's probably a good reason for that considering Fobbs inherited an unusual situation taking over for a coach who was so publicly critical of the university - the same school that made both men. The 41-year-old Fobbs is from a different generation than the 60-year-old Williams, and it was clear that he desired to implement his own vision for the program.
Fobbs seems more focused on building up the wins first and building up the bridges to history later. Former Grambling defensive end Jason Hatcher - now, coincidentally, playing for the Redskins - said earlier this season that he also had yet to speak to Fobbs.
Hatcher added that he doesn't doubt such a meeting will come. The coach's emotional interview in which he exclaimed, "This is the G!" after a thrilling 35-34 win over Alcorn State on Oct. 17 showed why the fan base is excited about the new man in charge.
And though Fobbs has not spoken to Williams, he has given credit to him for the talent he inherited.
"I'm not a pessimist, I'm an optimist, so coming in and seeing the caliber of players that were already here and then the quality coaching staff that we were able to put together, I spent several nights focusing on comparing our program to some of the places that I've been that were successful and it was hard to find much of a difference," Fobbs said.
"The only difference that I saw was maybe football IQ."
Still, Williams is on the outside looking in at players he recruited - for now.
"When we changed hands, nobody asked me about one player," he said. "They've done a good job coaching them, which is good because we knew the kids had talent. So we see here what they're doing now is nothing that wasn't expected."