New Florida D-line coach Williams finds success in all career stops
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Brad Holmes wasn’t sure what to make of his new position coach when they first met.
Then a young defensive tackle at North Carolina A&T, Holmes and his teammates were surprised when Terrell Williams joined the Aggies as defensive line coach in 1999.
"He was a young guy, not much older than us," Holmes said. "We didn’t know how he was going to be."
Two years earlier Williams was the starting nose guard at East Carolina. The next season, he started his coaching career at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College.
Williams was inexperienced, but in his first season at North Carolina A&T, he fit right in, helping the Aggies win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title and claim the Black College National Championship.
"He kind of had an aura about himself," said Holmes, now director of college scouting for the St. Louis Rams. "He wasn’t a yeller, but he knew how to get his point across. He got his point across really well. And he was funny, too."
More than 15 years later, Holmes stays in contact with Williams and is not surprised at his climb up the coaching ladder. The latest stop for Williams is at UF, where head coach Jim McElwain named Williams defensive line coach earlier this month.
No longer a fresh-faced newcomer, the 40-year-old Williams has experience and an impressive resume. He comes to Florida after a three-year stint as defensive line coach with the Oakland Raiders.
Williams grew up in Los Angeles and played at rough-and-tumble Dorsey High, a school that has produced a significant number of NFL players over the years, including Keyshawn Johnson and Chris Mims. After a stint at West Los Angeles College, Williams made a cross-country move to play at East Carolina.
Williams made coaching stops at Youngstown State, Akron, Purdue and Texas A&M before returning home to California to join the Raiders’ staff in 2012. When McElwain offered Williams the opportunity to make another cross-country move, this time to Florida, he turned down a contract offer to stay in Oakland.
"I had a couple of more opportunities, and I’ve had opportunities to leave before at a couple of different powerhouse schools, but I just felt that Florida was a great opportunity for me and my family right now," Williams said. "My wife is from Fernandina Beach. She went to Florida A&M. Both of her parents are Gators. You just don’t leave the NFL to go coach at any college."
Prior to his decision, Williams spoke to McElwain and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins extensively about the position. The Gators were interested because wherever Williams has coached, he has produced results.
"A good fit," Collins said. "The kids here are looking for an edge."
Based on his past success, Williams usually provides one.
In his three seasons in the NFL, Williams coached veterans such as Richard Seymour, LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. At Purdue he helped developed Cliff Avril, who is playing in the Super Bowl next weekend for Seattle, and at Texas A&M, Williams coached a defensive line that contributed significantly to the Aggies leading the nation with 51 sacks in 2011.
The signs were there early in Williams’ career that he chose the right profession. Holmes recalled Williams adding a unique voice at North Carolina A&T even as a 25-year-old assistant.
"He was a calm-natured, funny guy, but we always knew when it was time to get serious," Holmes said. "He was really good at getting his group to buy into what he was doing. He had connections in the NFL, even at that point. I remember he showed us moves that some guy in the NFL showed him, and he showed it to us. We had success with it. We were like, ‘wow, this actually works.’ We liked him because he could motivate, he was funny, and he wasn’t too much older than us, so we could relate to him."
By the time Williams was at Purdue from 2006-09, Holmes was a scout with the Rams. He primarily scouted the Midwest at the time and began to notice players like Avril and Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer under Williams’ watch. That is when Holmes realized how well-respected of a mentor his former college coach had become.
Florida is the eighth stop for Williams during his career, and at each place, his title has been the same: defensive line coach.
The position is his passion.
"Obviously, if you coach in this profession, you would like to be a coordinator, you would like to be a head coach, but I’m a defensive line coach first and foremost," he said. "I don’t care if I was a coordinator. I don’t care if I was a head coach. I’m a defensive line coach. I played defensive line. I’ve only coached defensive line. I’m not a quarterback coach. You won’t ever see me coaching offensive line. I’m a defensive line coach. I believe in it.
"The defensive line coach at Florida is better than some NFL jobs. So I’m very comfortable with being here."
Williams inherits a group that loses defensive end Dante Fowler and nose tackle Darious Cummings but returns the bulk of last season’s unit, including Jonathan Bullard, Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister.
"A lot of the guys I still remember from high school," Williams said.
If that sounds unusual from a coach coming from the NFL, there is a reason why.
He told his wife, Tifini, that he felt re-energized by the opportunity to recruit again. Williams developed a long list of contacts in Florida during his previous stops and remained connected to recruiting during his three seasons in Oakland.
"You either can do it or you can’t," he said. "In the NFL, Saturdays are basically a free day, so I always would watch games and I would get on the Internet and study who the top guys are. I still paid attention to it. Those guys thought I was crazy, but that was me."
Like the rest of Florida’s new coaching staff, Williams has spent most of his time focused on recruiting his first three weeks at UF. Once National Signing Day passes, Williams will turn his attention to his passion: coaching defensive linemen.
"For us, it’s about being aggressive, attacking guys," he said. "That’s the only way I know how to coach that position. It’s not a passive position, and I’m not a passive guy."
Holmes can verify that.
In one of his most vivid memories of Williams at North Carolina A&T, Holmes recalled a day that Williams told the defensive line to bring it hard at practice. Halfway into practice, the energy wasn’t there. Williams had done very little yelling, instead providing instruction in his trademark calm manner.
Suddenly, Williams told the players to stop. Play time was over. The team practiced on a field surrounded by a bowl with grass seating. He made them finish individual drills practicing on the grassy hills circling the stadium, including pushing sleds up them.
The players got the message. If Williams told them to bring it, they brought it.
"He definitely knows what he is doing," Holmes said. "He ended up being really, really good for us."