TAMPA — The last time he left, there was blood on the walls. Or maybe it was just pride on the floors.
The last time he left, Tampa Bay was an intensely divided community. Some believed the owner was a cheapskate, or even worse. Some believed the quarterback's ego had outgrown his talent. Everybody agreed it was nasty business.
The last time he left, well, it was the worst day in the history of Buccaneers football.
And now, 27 years later, Doug Williams has left again.
The Bucs said Tuesday they came to a mutual decision with Williams to part ways six years after he rejoined the team in the front office. The announcement was not as ominous. The mood was not as emotional. And, honestly, the impact will not be as dramatic. How could it be?
It is almost impossible to overstate the effect it had on the franchise when Williams left for the USFL in 1983 after a bitter contract dispute with the late Hugh Culverhouse. As a young quarterback, Williams had led the Bucs to three playoff appearances in the previous four years. And his departure was the first step in a 15-year odyssey that turned Tampa Bay into the NFL's wasteland.
Yes, the last time he left was a disaster.
This time? It may have been inevitable.
There wasn't a whole lot of detail on the reasons for Williams' departure as Tampa Bay's director of pro personnel. Mutual decision. Pursuing other options. Wishing each other well, and all of that.
But if you think about the situation, it wasn't likely to have a happy ending. From the time he joined the front office as a personnel executive under Bruce Allen in February 2004, Williams had made it clear his ultimate goal was to be an NFL general manager.
When the opportunity presented itself last year — when Allen was fired along with head coach Jon Gruden — the Glazer family instead turned to Mark Dominik to be the new general manager. The decision made sense. Dominik had a fine reputation, and he had been in Tampa Bay's front office far longer than Williams.
But that doesn't mean the situation didn't have the potential to be uncomfortable. Williams was now working for the man who had the job Williams desired. And, furthermore, Williams was now sitting in the chair that Dominik had previously occupied as director of pro personnel.
From Williams' standpoint, he would have liked a little more authority in his position. From the Bucs' point of view, there had to be some question about Williams' long-term goals when he interviewed to be the head coach at Southern University in December and USF a couple of months later.
In the end, it probably made sense for everybody to go their separate ways.
Dominik may have some criticism thrown in his direction, and that's to be expected. He's the guy who already cut Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, and he's the guy who went 3-13 in his debut season. And nobody ever stood in the old Tampa Stadium and yelled their lungs out in praise of Dominik, the way they once did for Williams. So, yeah, that makes him an easy target today.
On the other hand, how many GMs would have kept Williams in the first place? When a new coach or front office executive is hired, he generally surrounds himself with his own people. And he rarely keeps someone who was once seen as a contender for his own job.
Dominik had nothing but praise for Williams on Tuesday night, but you can probably assume they had differing visions of the pro personnel chief's job. It doesn't mean they didn't get along, it just suggests they weren't exactly simpatico.
"Doug was very good in terms of being a liaison between the coaching staff and the front office, as well as the players in the locker room and the front office," Dominik said. "There was a natural connection he had because of his experiences as a head coach and a player, and that was a very valuable asset."
What's next for Williams? He did not return phone calls Tuesday night, so it's hard to say with any certainty whether he wants to continue working in an NFL front office or return to the sideline as a college coach. However, his interviews at Southern and USF are probably strong clues about the direction he may be heading.
The last time he left Tampa Bay, there was bitterness and broken hearts in his wake, and it took years for the wounds to heal. Hopefully, that will not be the case this time.
Williams has a right to be disappointed. He has a right to wonder why he isn't sitting in Dominik's chair. But, unless there is more to the story, he probably understands this is just one of the downsides of the business.
And, this time, perhaps we can look back on his time with the Bucs with fondness instead of regret.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.