Rizzo discusses the Matt Williams hire

General manager Mike Rizzo will introduce Matt Williams to the Washington media and Nationals fans tomorrow at 2 p.m. live on MASN HD. But this afternoon, Rizzo hopped on a conference call with reporters to discuss his hire of Williams as the Nats’ next manager.

Rizzo said that the Nationals had “a number of highly qualified candidates” inquire about their managerial opening in the last few weeks. But in the end, the organization went with the 47-year-old Williams, a five-time All-Star during his playing days and former third base coach with the Diamondbacks who is becoming a big league manager for the first time.

“It’s an exciting day here. We’re really fired up to have Matt in the Nationals family,” Rizzo said. “Obviously, this job was a very attractive job to a lot of people, so we got a lot of recommendations. We had a lot of interest. We narrowed a huge, talented field down to a very manageable interviewing process. We interviewed several great candidates. Matt’s performance, his presentation, his communication skills, his knowledge of the ballclub, the league, the division, his presence and some of the character traits that he possesses were really the difference between he and the other very qualified candidates. ...

“What struck me about Matt Williams (during the interview process) that I maybe didn’t realize is he’s extremely intellectual, he’s extremely articulate. He communicates in a manner that is extremely effective. His knowledge of our organization and our roster, and even our minor league system, was impeccable. He was extremely prepared and extremely articulate in the interview process, and I think that’s something that went into the selection process.”

Rizzo has known Williams on a personal level since their days together in Arizona, when Williams was the Diamondbacks’ third baseman and Rizzo was the team’s scouting director. The men have kept in touch at times in recent years, bumping into each other during the Arizona Fall League or when Rizzo was spending time at a second home in Arizona.

Despite that previous relationship, however, Rizzo says that he didn’t view Williams as a favorite for the position going into the interview process.

“I think he was on equal ground,” Rizzo said. “A lot of the candidates that we interviewed, I had a relationship with. Matt was one of them. I’ve known him for a long time. We were together in Arizona, obviously. But I wouldn’t consider him going into this a favorite. I knew a lot of the candidates, and like I said before, they were all terrific interviews and the process went great.

“It was a very difficult decision, but Matt, we felt, possessed all the characteristics of a successful manager and the guy that we think could take us to the next level.”

Rizzo said that the decision to hire Williams was one made by himself and ownership alike, and that everyone was on the same page. Williams was known as a fiery guy during his playing days, and while some that have been around him claim that he’s mellowed a bit in recent years, Rizzo expects Williams to continue to be a passionate, intense guy at the ballpark.

“I don’t think there’s a big difference,” Rizzo said. “I think that Matt played with an intensity as a player, but he also was a terrific teammate. You talk to the guys that he played with and they swear by him. He was always team first and himself second. He was the consummate team player and a great teammate. He was a leader in the clubhouse by example and also a vocal leader. He obviously put himself in a position to lead a ballclub to a World Series championship and many playoff games. So he had that pedigree in him.

“As a manager candidate, I feel he has the same fire, same desire and the same team-first attitude that I think will be taken well by the players. He’s always been a players-guy as a player, and I think he’ll continue to be a players’ guy as a manager.”

Williams lacks managerial experience; his only stint as a manager was during the Arizona Fall League last year. But Rizzo doesn’t view Williams’ minimal managerial background as a negative.

“I think there’s different routes to the manager’s chair,” Rizzo said. “I think each situation is unique and different. I think Matt Williams’ ascension to the manager’s position, it took a long time and it took a lot of sticktoitiveness for him. Here’s a guy who’s made a lot of money as a player and doesn’t need to get into coaching or managing, but because his passion for the game and his love of baseball kind of feeds him, he wants to be in it.

“He’s a guy that really was a manager-in-training as a player. He was one of those guys that was kind of a manager on the field, and put his apprenticeship in as a coach in the big leagues and as a manager in the Arizona Fall league. Different routes to the manager’s office. I think experience is important, but you can get experience in many different ways.”

Rizzo said that he’s in discussions with members of the coaching staff at this point, but wasn’t ready to formally announce which members of the previous regime would return. It’s expected that bench coach Randy Knorr will be back in the same role, but the rest of the coaching jobs under Williams are still up in the air. Rizzo did say, however, that there won’t be major turnover when it comes to the Nats’ coaches.

“Suffice it to say there’s not going to be a whole transformed coaching staff,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to try and keep some consistency.”

With this hire, Williams becomes the first player listed in the Mitchell Report to be named a major league manager. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2007 that Williams purchased $11,600 worth of human growth hormone, steroids and other drugs from a Florida clinic in 2002.

Rizzo was asked if Williams’ ties to the Mitchell Report were taken into consideration when the Nats went through the interview process.

“It certainly was something that we discussed,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t agonize over it. But it was certainly brought (up) in the interview process. We asked about it. We’re big on accountability here. ... Matt was extremely candid about the Mitchell Report and owned up to it. He certainly showed accountability for it and he wants to only be judged by his coaching and managing going forward.”

Williams will inherit a talented ballclub, but one that underperformed in a big way this season. Rizzo was asked if he had any message for Williams on how to attack his new job with a team that is looking for a bounceback season in 2014.

“The first instruction for me to Matt is to be Matt Williams,” Rizzo said. “That’s the guy we hired, that’s the guy we want. That’s the personality we want in the dugout. Be yourself, because that’s the person we want manning the dugout.”

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