Titans still defining role for coach Gregg Williams

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – While sitting out last season on indefinite suspension, Gregg Williams never doubted he would coach again in the NFL. 

“No, no, never once I ever even thought that, never once,” Williams, who played a primary role role in the New Orleans Saints’ infamous “Bountygate” case, said of the notion.

In also suspending Saints head coach Sean Payton for a year, the NFL determined Saints players were encouraged to injure opponents for compensation. Williams was cast as one of the ring leaders — a notion that he has neither confirmed nor dispelled publicly.

Within days of being reinstated by the NFL in early February, Williams was hired as senior defensive assistant by the Tennessee Titans. That’s the same franchise in which he got his professional coaching start in 1990 with the then-Houston Oilers before eventually rising to become considered one of the NFL brightest defensive minds.

“I feel like I am home,” Williams said Monday while addressing the media for the first time since the February news conference that announced his hiring by Titans head coach Mike Munchak. 

But with the hiring of Williams comes the natural attention drawn to the way he will go about his business. And let’s just say that he is not timid in his approach, both on and off the field, even with the year-long suspension behind him.

“I never have been worried about that, in all honesty,” Williams said of being under the microscope. “I never have been worried about that at whatever mark of my career has been in. I am just happy to get a chance to continue to do it one more time, one more time each year. 

“Multi-year contracts, all that kind of stuff in the National Football League, it’s a production business. We are all on one-year contracts. I’m very, very happy that I get a chance to do it with familiar people.”

Munchak said that he has placed no boundaries on Williams and the way he goes about his coaching business.

“The whole thing was to have him come here and be himself and do it his way,” Munchak said. “We weren’t going to mute him or anything and say you can’t do this or you can’t do that.”

Indeed, Williams knows his way around this franchise in general and, in particular, Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who was secondary coach under Williams while he was defensive coordinator from 1997-2000. Together, they developed one of the league’s best defenses, one that helped land the team in the Super Bowl to conclude the 1999 season.

When Williams was hired as head coach by the Buffalo Bills in 2001, he took Gray with him as defensive coordinator. During his stint from 2004-07 as Washington Redskins defensive coordinator, Williams had Gray on his defensive staff as secondary coach from 2006-07.

Gray enters his third season as Titans defensive coordinator coming off a season where the unit yielded 471 points — most in the NFL and a team record for defensive futility. 

Just how the defensive leadership will be divided between Williams and Gray is a work in progress.

“That’s why this time of the year is not just for the players. It’s for the coaches, too,” Munchak said. “We get a chance to get a feel for where different guys’ strengths are as coaches.  … There wasn’t any one particular thing we said (Williams) was here to do other than to work with Jerry and work with the defense and help us become a better defense.”

That could mean Gray will remain in the press box during games, where he moved during last season, while Williams will be working along the sideline. Williams said his working relationship with Gray is grounded from several decades of coaching alongside each other in a variety of roles.

And who gets the final say if there is a point of contention between Gray and Williams? That’s easy to figure, according to Williams.

“We are all in this together,” he said of the coaching staff. “There is not just one voice there. There is one message, and Mike Munchak gives us the message. He’s the head football coach. And then we go and repeat that message to everybody through lots of different voices.”

With the offseason additions of veteran free agents like safeties Bernard Pollard (Ravens) and George Wilson (Bills), tackle Sammie Hill (Lions), linebacker Moise Fokou (Colts) and Ropati Pitoitua (Chief), the Titans are hoping their knowledge of how to approach all aspects of the profession will rub off on a defense that had a lack of leadership the past few seasons.

When you add Williams to the mix, the intensity and level of accountability have been ramped up quite a few notches.

“I am liking it a lot,” Titans safety Michael Griffin said. “Coach Gray and Coach Williams have been together for a while. They are both teaching the same things.”

And that is adding an aggressive element that reflects back to the good old days of the Titans’ defense a decade or more ago when it was considered one of the league’s best. 

“The biggest influence is that defensively we attack and be physical,” Williams said of what he brings to the defense. “If the focus is on us, then we need to make sure we focus on how we are going to attack the offense and have some says and give the players a say.”

All of which brings Williams to an analogy of a defender being like a day laborer who has all the tools necessary to succeed: “We tease them all the time about (how) they have a tool box and pull the right tool out and use it when there is a time mismatch, when there is a time disadvantage or something to gain an advantage, to pull out the right tool.

“Let the players have the say. There are a lot of coaches in the National Football League that are afraid to give player say. I am proud to give players say.”