Considering the trouble his mouth got him into, you’ll understand why Gregg Williams isn’t talking much these days. He’d rather fans notice the Tennessee Titans defense.
Look – they actually have one!
The reason why is almost unrecognizable. At least until you see him work and watch the Titans play.
“He brings out an aggressive attitude,” cornerback Jason McCourty said.
That’s what got Williams into trouble in the first place in New Orleans. But he seems to have found a balance between responsible human being and stark, raving lunatic coach. Who could forget Williams’ greatest vocal hits:
“Make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head.”
“We need to decide whether (Michael) Crabtree wants to be a fake (bleeping) prima donna, or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find out. He becomes human when we (bleeping) take out that outside ACL.”
“Respect comes from fear. This is how you get respect in this league … We never apologize!”
Thirteen months later, Williams couldn’t have been more contrite.
“One of the things I really did this year was focus on as many self-improvement things I could,” he said. “It was a great study year. It was a great year to lose a lot of weight and get back healthy.”
That was at the February press conference where Williams was introduced as Tennessee’s new “senior assistant defensive coach.” You half-expected him to be wheeled into the room like Hannibal Lecter. Titans owner Bud Adams would remove the leather mask, then he’d try to reassure the world that his new hire no longer dined on the flesh of NFL quarterbacks.
Given the Bountygate furor, it’s amazing more attention hasn’t been paid to Williams’ return. The NFL suspended him for orchestrating the Saints’ alleged payoff system. Coach Sean Payton was also bounced for a season, but he has returned like a conquering hero to New Orleans. William has been like a thief in the night.
His defenders said his psycho words and crazed tactics were taken out of context. But the prevailing sentiment was disgust, especially after the tape surfaced of his “Kill the Head” rant before the 2012 playoff game in San Francisco.
Williams went into exile and personality rehab. He did charity work and spoke to Pop Warner and high-school teams. He backpacked through northern Thailand, where apparently nobody had heard of Gore or his head.
When Titans coach Mike Munchak threw him a lifeline, Williams showed up about 30 pounds lighter and sporting a short beard and mustache. There wasn’t a stash of bounty money in his hip pocket.
He looked like a new man, but was he?
“I guess we had a wait-and-see attitude,” McCourty said. “We all went into it with an open mind, like we would with any new coach.”
The players were easy. Williams knows it will take a while for the public to come around. He has spoken to the media once since February. The strategy is to lay low and let results do the talking.
Tennessee’s defense was horrific last season, allowing a franchise-record 471 points. Instead of firing defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, Munchak brought in help. A guy who’d been built top-notch defenses everywhere he’d been. They were all blitzing, tenacious and totally in-your-face.
“That’s his coaching style,” McCourty said. “And that’s what we needed.”
It showed as the Titans went to Pittsburgh last Sunday and won, 16-9. They had five sacks, allowed 32 yards rushing and didn’t give up a score until the final 90 seconds.
Though he still likes to rant and rave, Williams has learned motivational madness has limits. If nothing else, don’t expect Sunday’s pregame talk at Houston to include any discussion of cash transfers.
And if Tennessee’s defense shuts down the Texans and continues to improve, more people are going to start asking why. At the risk of dredging up the past, the answer will be clear.