Only in Nashville, with the Tennessee Titans, would Gregg Williams get his opportunity for a return to the NFL as a senior assistant/defense. In the end, Williams’ season-long suspension for his infamous role in running a bounty program as the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints ended up lasting only slightly longer than that of Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Only in Nashville would Williams be accepted by the owner, the head coach, the defensive coordinator and, to an extent, by the media, a number of whom knew him as the Titans defensive coordinator and hold a different perception of him than that of the pariah, which is the pervasive concept of Williams around the country. Some of those media members, like Blaine Bishop and Frank Wycheck in local radio, were Titans players when Williams coached with the organization and they see the shades of gray in Williams that others do not.
Speaking of Gray – Jerry Gray, the Titans’ defensive coordinator – could not be more accepting of Williams. Williams served as Gray’s position coach with the Oilers/Titans when Gray was a player. Gray worked side by side with Williams over the years as he learned the ropes in the coaching industry. Gray became Williams’ defensive coordinator in Buffalo when Williams served as the Bills’ head coach from 2001 to 2003. Gray also worked as a position coach when Williams later moved to Washington as the Redskins’ defensive coordinator. Gray described his relationship on Thursday with Williams as being like brothers, saying he knows how Williams thinks.
Only in Nashville would the owner, 90-year-old Bud Adams, be willing to absorb what could be seen as a major public relations hit. Adams is loyal to his people and he no doubt remembered fondly Williams’ role as the Titans’ defensive coordinator in the organization’s lone Super Bowl appearance during Adams’ 53-year ownership tenure in 1999-00. Williams began his run with the franchise in 1990, giving him 10 years for Adams to get to know the type of personality that Williams is – Williams characterized himself as a “competition addict” on Thursday – and Adams is thirsty for the kind of moves that will bring success, as his quixotic quest for Peyton Manning proved last year around this time.
Only in Nashville would Williams have been willing to restart his career. He said as much when he pointed to head coach Mike Munchak, who was a player for the franchise when Williams began his coaching career with it and then later the long-time offensive line coach as Williams worked his way up the coaching ladder. Williams also pointed to Gray as another reason why he chose to come back to work with the Titans. The two men will create a comfort zone for Williams, who talked about how he knows the city, the organization and many people in it, all of which will serve as a safe haven for him. Williams called his return to Nashville “a rebirth,” rendering him a sort of prodigal son, if you want to get Biblical in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
Only in Nashville would someone such as Gray, who has the relationship he does with Williams, be able to create an environment for the players to accept Williams. Among the major negatives cited in Williams’ return to the league is that Williams “ratted” or “snitched” on his former players to the league during its investigation into the bounty scandal. Scott Fujita, a Saints linebacker when Williams coached there, told The Tennessean newspaper that “a lot of players I know in the league would not want to play for” Williams because of what he told investigators. Prepared for that question on Thursday, Williams twice stated that if players want to get better, they will work with him because he will be able to offer his acumen as a Super Bowl-winning coordinator with the Saints in 2009-10.
“Players are players,” said Williams, who said he focused on self-improvement in his year of exile, traveling to Thailand to work with orphanages and speaking all over the country to football teams of various ages in a low-profile way. “They want to know that can you help me? Can you help me win? Can you help me be better? Can you help me stay one more day? Can you help me make more money?
“That’s what they want to know and they want to be the best they can be and I believe 99 percent of the people I am in contact with, they are pleasers. What they really want to do is they want to please you. Do they get a chance to play for a coach who will tell them how to do it? I can’t wait to get started.”
Only in Nashville was Munchak in a position of insecurity where next season, his third as head coach, could be his last. He had to make a high-risk, high-reward move to improve his defense that allowed an NFL-high 471 points last season and felt Williams could be the guy.
Not in St. Louis was Williams afforded his second chance. He worked with Rams head coach Jeff Fisher for years between Houston and Nashville and Fisher had hired Williams as his defensive coordinator before Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension took effect. Williams’ son Blake was hired as the Rams’ linebackers coach but so total was the break that Fisher wanted to make with Williams and his legacy that the Rams also parted ways with Blake Williams recently. Gregg Williams side-stepped a question on Thursday about the Rams, saying his suspension had just been lifted earlier in the day and he was not able to talk to anyone with St. Louis.
Gregg Williams began his appearance with a prepared statement in which he took full responsibility and apologized for his actions. Only in Nashville will he get his chance for redemption.