HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – He has the face of a school teacher, but has made his living in the NFL since 1990. New St. Louis defensive coordinator Gregg Williams came to the Houston Oilers with then Head Coach Jack Pardee from his graduate assistant position at the University of Houston back in 1989.
The once clean shaven, seemingly quiet, and unassuming Williams is now smack dab in the middle of what has been termed a “Bounty” investigation by the National Football League. Allegedly, Williams oversaw a bounty system in New Orleans that offered payouts to players who injured opponents during his tenure as Saints Defensive Coordinator.
It has been reported that Williams is fully cooperating with the NFL during this investigation. But any information regarding communication between the two parties has not been released. So, in the meantime, we take a look back to his start in the NFL.
McDOWELL & JOHNSON REMEMBER
During Williams’ first days with the Oiler’s, his responsibility was Quality Control. He was eventually promoted to Special Teams Coach under then defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan. He served as linebackers coach from 1994-1996.
Williams was promoted to Defensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans in 1997 after the Oilers moved out of Houston and were renamed. That’s when his ascension began as a legitimate NFL coach.
Williams worked closely with another former Houston Oiler. Hard-hitting safety, Bubba McDowell, was drafted out of Miami in the 3rd round of the 1989 NFL draft. He played for the Oilers from 1989 to 1994. In fact, McDowell and former Denver Broncos safety Steve Atwater were arguably the two hardest hitting safeties in the league.
McDowell, who knows Williams very well, recalls what he remembers of the man now under the NFL’s bounty gate” investigation.
“Even back then, you would think he was the quiet type guy and very down to earth, very approachable, very good with players. He was a player’s coach. Those are the kinds of coaches that players want to play for because they’re real approachable, easy to talk to.”
“They’re always going to listen and be there for you no matter what. And basically if something goes down, they got your back.”
McDowell is currently the defensive backs coach at Prairie View A&M University. He was driving to his home from work when he got the unraveling news regarding Williams.
“When I first heard about it, I was really in shock, like in disbelief,” says McDowell. “It was one of those deals where – excuse me – did I hear that right? I thought to myself – nah – that can’t be true. I did some calling around and talked with some of my buddies who are scouts for the NFL and they were like – ‘oh yeah – he’s in trouble – he’s all but admitted it.’
“Utter disbelief, you know. It was sad to hear that somebody like him had gone to that level.”
DIDN’T LEARN TACTICS FROM EDDY OR RYAN
Former Oiler’s defensive back Richard Johnson, teammate of McDowell’s, was the 11th pick of the first round out of Wisconsin during the 1985 NFL Draft. Yes – that’s the same school and draft position as Texans 2011 first round draft pick, defensive end, J.J. Watt.
Johnson played under former Oiler’s Defensive Coordinators Jim Eddy and Buddy Ryan. Those coordinators worked under former Oiler’s Head Coaches Jerry Glanville and Jack Pardee respectively. Johnson says coaches attempted to motivate players, but nowhere near the manner in which Williams is accused – not even Glanville – who was known as the man in black.
“We didn’t do it like that. Ours (incentive) was more of a special team’s type of deal where they gave special team’s guys certain awards for accomplishing blocked kicks and things like that. But, it wasn’t so much as going out and trying to hurt a guy or hit a guy. It was more, as a team – get a tackle inside the 10 (yard line) and stuff like that.”
Johnson recalls Williams being anything other than the type to promote violence. In fact, Williams seemed to be just the opposite, says Johnson.
“Very cooperative, very eager to learn the game. He was very quiet and unassuming. I think about it (now) and wonder does Greg holler at his players? I’m sure he does now. But, back then he had a different personality. I would have never known Greg to be that type of guy. I wouldn’t have picked him to be as successful (as he became) or a defensive coordinator.”
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION
One begins to wonder about the why and how. The bigger question is – what was the motivation for Williams to allegedly begin this bounty system? What would have driven Williams to possibly do create such a thing? Johnson and McDowell weigh in on the matter.
“If anything, you try to get extra motivation for your players,” says Johnson. “You try to get them to where they’ll go out and do the little extra things. I think certain coaches realize that when you get to a certain level of pro ball, some of the guys might need a little extra motivation to get them going to do those extra things that you would like them to do.”
But, Johnson comes out of that mindset to the reality of the sport and doesn’t quite understand the ‘why’ of it all and why there was no place for that type of activity.
“You hear guys talk about their families,” says Johnson. “I don’t think I would participate in something like that because I wouldn’t want that to happen to me. I’m out there trying to support my family and it’s my job.”
McDowell goes back to the 1980’s and ‘90’s when the sport of Pro Football was appreciated for the entertainment value and violence that America came to appreciate.
“It was just natural for you to go out and hit because back then, if you get a big hit, your name was going to be plastered all over the news, all over the newspaper. You would be in favor with the fans, and that’s what people came to see back in those days.”
“So, to be motivated by a dollar amount – I mean that’s crazy,” say’s McDowell. “That, (the hard hits), automatically came with the game. If you got to get paid to go out and hit somebody, this game ain’t for you. That means you’re not into this game like you thought you were.”