Editor's note: On Friday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN's presentation of "Content of Character," will discuss education, equality and leadership. To recognize the MLK special, Donald Hunt shares his perspective on generational leadership.
Doug Williams had the finest day of his NFL career in 1988 when he guided the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Williams, a former Grambling State star, threw four touchdown passes in that game and was named the Super Bowl MVP. Moreover, he became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
His leadership and trailblazing efforts have opened the doors for a number of African-American quarterbacks. Williams couldn't have won a Super Bowl without receiving a good foundation that allowed him to polish his skills as a player and have a clear understanding of the game. He got his foundation from Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson. Williams is now carrying on the late Robinson's legacy as the coach of Grambling State. He is developing and shaping the lives of young players just like his mentor, and one of them is his son D.J. Williams.
Like his father, D.J. plays quarterback for the Tigers. As a freshman, he recently led Grambling State to a 16-15 win over Alabama A&M to capture the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. Winning championships is fine, but coaching his son and teaching life lessons to so many players is also important at one of the most prestigious black colleges in the country.
"I'm really proud of him," Williams said. "I think D.J. has learned a lot about playing quarterback. He helped us win a SWAC championship. It's been great coaching him. You know, Coach Rob coached his son, Eddie Jr., at Grambling. So, it's nice to keep that aspect of it. You know, D.J. had decided to come to Grambling before I got here. I didn't know I was going to be here. But I'm glad he's here. It's not all about football. It's about education. It's about life. We try to emphasize all these things."
D.J. was a huge star at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., and signed with Grambling State before his dad accepted the position as the Tigers' coach. This is Williams' second stint as Grambling State's coach. He was also the coach from 1998 to 2003. After that, he left to become a personnel executive and later a coordinator of pro scouting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004 to 2010. Last year, he was general manager of the UFL's Virginia Destroyers. Williams believes his background and experience have really helped his son, who grew up around the game.
"He spent a lot of time on the sidelines from '98 to '03," Williams said. "He was just 6 years old. That experience helped him understand the game. D.J. was fortunate to watch some quarterbacks like Josh Freeman, Brad Johnson and Chris Simms when I was with Tampa Bay. The big thing is that he's been able to grasp the fundamentals. That's really important because, once you learn the basics, that can take you a long way, like dropping back and staying in the pocket. It's the little things that make a difference."
Williams, a 6-foot-4 193-pounder, threw a big 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mario Louis in the conference title game. For the season, he completed 75 of 148 passes for 1,102 yards, 14 TDs and just seven interceptions. In spite of his success, it wasn't always peaches and cream. He had to deal with the pressure of being the coach's son. Of course, his father was a legend at Grambling State. In 1977, he was a first-team All-American. He was also a first-round draft pick in 1978 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I was well aware of the success my dad had at Grambling and in the NFL," Williams said. "I knew people had certain expectations. You have people saying different things. My dad was a big help to me. He's always offered me good advice and encouragement. Everything worked out. It was great winning the championship and the Bayou Classic. I think I've really matured and learned a lot about life."
The elder Williams told his son to concentrate on playing the game and going to school. He wanted him to stay focused on the important things.
"I told him don't worry about the negative things," Williams said. "You can't have rabbit ears. You have to think like a duck and let it roll off your back. I had to deal with a lot as a player. Of course, today kids have Twitter and Facebook and all these different things. D.J. saw how I dealt with all the players. He's really grown and matured over his freshman year. That's what you want to see with young people. He showed a lot of leadership as a young player. He has a good handle on what he's supposed to do."
D.J. wants to continue to improve as the Tigers' signal-caller. But that's not his only goal. He knows education will help him secure his future. He's already preparing for life after football.
"I plan to be here for four years," Williams said. "I'm on track to graduate in three-and-a-half years. My major is sports management. That's very important to me to make an impact as a student-athlete."
D.J. is moving down the path that should guide him in the right direction on and off the field. We all know Doug Williams is proud, but you get the feeling Eddie Robinson would be, too.