Back then, Williams stepped in for his mentor Eddie Robinson, finding a badly eroded talent base and neglected facilities. The team, in 1998, was still dressing in the same room he’d used in the early 1970s – housed in the since-demolished Memorial Stadium. The current stadium support facility was still a far-off dream.
He said he remembers walking up the hill on campus with fellow former Robinson standout James “Shack” Harris, and both were crying.
“This is a little different than the first time,” said Williams, who coached at Grambling from 1998-2003 before leaving for a seven-year stint working in personnel with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “We are better off this time than when I first got here. At the same time, you feel a little at a loss. I am not playing with guys I recruited. Back then, we recruited a lot of young guys and started over. Here, we have some veterans – and I really don’t know exactly who they are, and what their mentality is.”
Having closed out his first spring sessions since returning with last Saturday’s Black and Gold spring game, it’s safe to say that Grambling’s defense won’t be a concern. Neither the first- nor second-string offenses got much going, in a low-scoring afternoon. The Gold team, featuring starters, eventually won 14-7 over the Black team.
It’s perhaps to be expected, since Williams retained Clifford Yoshida, defensive coordinator under the departed Rod Broadway from 2007-10, while coaches have been installing a pro-style offense on the other side of the ball.
Anthony Carrothers, last year’s starter under Broadway, returned under center and led the Black team to both scores. But question marks, glaring ones, remain at running back – a group that lost both the record-breaking Frank Warren and steady change-of-pace rusher Cornelius Walker.
“We’ve got one kid that has really has stood out in Dominic Bell,” Williams said. “He made a big play just about every practice. Other than that, no running backs have stepped in. Hopefully, we have some help on the way.”
Similarly, Saturday’s scrimmage confirmed a similar situation at wideout – a position of strength during Williams’ previous tenure. One of Williams’ first rehires upon returning was assistant Sammy White, who oversaw the position for Grambling through a series of standouts from Scotty Anderson to Tramon Douglas, then from Henry Tolbert to Clyde Edwards.
“We don’t have That Guy,” Williams admits. “That’s what we are working on right now. I don’t know whether that guy is on campus or not. We’re going to try to see what we have, and who will be in the mix. We’ve signed a couple of kids. We don’t know where they stand, but hopefully we’ll find that guy.”
Desmond Spivey made his case, hauling in a quick Carrothers pass along the right sideline – and then dashing for a 55-yard touchdown. Backup Antoine Temple, leading the backups on the Black offense with less than a minute in the initial half, balanced the score with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Terry McGill.
Carrothers then set up the final score of the day with a 50-yard pass to Mario Louis, opening the door for a one-yard touchdown run by Rodale Pippen. D.J. Williams was the second Gold team quarterback, while Efferlan Williams backed up Temple – who seemed to be pushing hard for the No. 2 position.
Areas of concern on defense exist, primarily at cornerback and safety, two positions depleted by graduation. “I think,” Williams said, “that our front seven will be pretty good.”