That Gregg Williams is at the center of controversy should come as a surprise to . . . absolutely no one.
After all, it was never a question of whether Williams would become a polarizing figure as the Jets’ defensive coordinator. It was simply a matter of when.
That time is now.
Williams wasn’t the one who injected himself into the fray this time. Credit Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with relaying information he’d heard from his new teammates, who told him that Williams had instructed his players to go after Beckham in a Giants-Browns preseason game in 2017. Beckham suffered an ankle injury in that game, reinjured the ankle a month into the regular season and had surgery.
No Browns players have stepped forward to publicly corroborate Beckham’s story, and Williams vehemently denied any suggestion he had his players purposely try to injure Beckham. Or anyone else, for that matter.
“We don’t do that,” Williams told reporters Friday as he prepared to face his old Browns team for the first time in Monday night’s game at MetLife Stadium. “Never done it anywhere that I’ve been. We don’t do anything to hurt the team.”
Williams’ history suggests, however, that the truth is a bit murkier than that.
He was at the center of the Bountygate scandal that resulted in his indefinite suspension — which turned out to be the 2012 season — for his alleged actions in running a program with the Saints that rewarded defensive players for big hits against opposing players.
NFL investigators determined that Williams had initiated a bounty fund, which included cash contributions from him and his players. There were rewards for “cart-offs,” when opposing players had to be removed from the field on a cart, and “knockouts,” when players couldn’t return for the remainder of the game.
According to documents reviewed by the league, Saints players usually earned $1,000 for “cart-offs” and $1,500 for “knockouts.”
Williams initially denied his role in the bounty program, but eventually admitted wrongdoing to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and apologized for his actions. Among other things, Williams said he knew the bounty program was wrong.
Since being reinstated after the 2012 season, Williams has worked for the Titans as a defensive coach in 2013, the Rams as defensive coordinator from 2014-16 and the Browns from 2017-18 as defensive coordinator and interim head coach after Hue Jackson’s ouster last October.
He was then hired as part of Adam Gase’s staff.
What Williams’ continued employment since Bountygate tells you is that he is valued for his defensive mind, and his schemes, which rely on a heavy amount of pass pressure, have been generally effective. The Jets hope his high-energy style can invigorate a defense that had grown stale under Todd Bowles.
And when Beckham openly ripped Williams last week, Jets players came to their coach’s defense. Third-year safety Jamal Adams has been a particularly outspoken supporter of Williams, telling reporters that he is a fan of Williams’ aggressive style. He also took to social media on Friday afternoon, tweeting, “G Dub! I luv you, coach! Got your back!” Keep in mind that Adams and Beckham both went to LSU and call themselves friends.
Gase also issued support for Williams.
“Everything I’ve heard from Gregg Williams and our staff has been the type of things that we want football to be played like, which is about it’s about us, energy, effort,” he said. “I mean, everything I’ve seen, we’re coaching it clean.”
Adams went into Monday night’s game saying the players will be mindful of Williams in this one, especially as he faces his former team. And though Williams tried to downplay any personal stake in facing the Browns, you’d better believe he was emotional about going against the team that chose offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens instead of Williams to be the head coach.
Williams has been a polarizing coach through much of his NFL career, and especially throughout the Bountygate scandal and its aftermath. He’s with a new team in a new season, but that won’t change the man’s approach. Williams is an in-your-face coach who will never back down.
And will not go quietly, no matter the opponent and no matter the criticism.