General manager Mike Rizzo and Williams, who was the D-backs' third-base coach, worked together in 2001 when Arizona won the World Series with Williams as the everyday third baseman and Rizzo as its scouting director. Williams' only experience as a manager was in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, when he guided the Salt River Rafters to the league finals.
The decision to hire Williams was made by Rizzo and the ownership group, which includes the Lerner family.
"We make most of the big decisions as a unit," Rizzo said during a conference call. "We are all on the same page. [The Lerners] were involved in every interview we had. They certainly voiced their views. This is a decision made by the group, not simply by Mike Rizzo."
Lack of experience didn't seem to matter to Rizzo, who said Williams was acting like a manager when he was a player. Williams, 47, was one of the best third basemen in the 1990s, best known for his days with the Giants and D-backs. He was a five-time All-Star, won four Gold Gloves and led the National League in home runs in 1994. He was on Arizona's coaching staff the past four seasons.
"He is a guy that was a manager in training as a player," Rizzo said. "He was one of those players that was a manager on the field. You put his apprenticeship as a coach in the big leagues and as a manager in the Fall League -- there are different routes to the manager's office. I think experience is important, but you can get experienced in many different ways."
Rizzo said that Williams' knowledge of the Nats roster and Minor League system set him apart from the other candidates.
"His presentation, his communication skills, his knowledge of the ballclub, league, division, his presence and some of the character traits that he processes were really the differences between him and the other very qualified candidates," Rizzo said.
According to a source last week, Rizzo targeted Williams for the position as far back as the summer. Another source said Williams was Rizzo's top choice, followed by Washington bench coach Randy Knorr and Rays bench coach Dave Martinez. But Rizzo denied that Williams was the favorite entering the offseason.
"I knew a lot of the candidates. They were all terrific interviews, the process went great," Rizzo said. "It was a very difficult decision, but Matt, we felt, has the all characteristics of a successful manager, a guy we think could take us to the next level."
While Williams will seek to reverse the fortunes of a team that took the National League East in 2012 but won 12 fewer games this year, slipping to second place, 10 games out of first, he will get to know third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who said it doesn't matter that Williams doesn't have any managerial experience in the big leagues.
"Look at the World Series this year, those managers -- Mike Matheny and John Farrell -- didn't manage too much and they are doing OK for themselves," Zimmerman said. "When it comes down to it, it's up to the players. You can have the best manager in the world, but you have a crappy team, no manager is going to be able to do much.
"Matt is coming into a great situation. We have a great team, a really good group of guys. Learning from last year, we are going to get a lot better. It's going to be a fun year."
The organization was aware that Williams' name was in the Mitchell Report, a 2007 investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. In addition, published reports associated him with various substances obtained in 2002. When the Mitchell Report was released, Williams was a television and radio analyst for the D-backs as well as a special assistant to then-CEO Jeff Moorad.
"We did agonize a little bit, but it was certainly brought up in the interview process," Rizzo said. "We asked about it. We are good at accountability here. To me, the three most important aspects are accountability, performance and excellence. That's something we strive for here with the Nationals. Matt was extremely candid about the Mitchell Report. He owned up to it. He certainly showed accountability for it. He wants to be only judged by his coaching and managing going forward."
The Nationals had been looking for a manager since Johnson retired at the end of this season. Besides Williams and Knorr, the Nationals interviewed third-base coach Trent Jewett, Rays coach Dave Martinez, Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus and Blue Jays coach DeMarlo Hale.