The presumably reformed Gregg Williams has officially returned to the Rams as the defensive coordinator, and things just became a little more colorful and lively in the combative NFC West.
Longtime friends and football brothers, Williams and Rams head coach Jeff Fisher hugged it out and restored a relationship fractured in the aftermath of the notorious “Bountygate” scandal in New Orleans.
Williams was Fisher’s original choice to run the Rams defense in 2012, but that all blew up when the NFL suspended Williams for his role in running the Saints’ dirty-hits bounty program from 2009 through 2011.
Williams was reinstated by the NFL after the ‘12 season but Fisher refused to bring him back to Rams Park. On top of that, Fisher fired Williams’ son, Blake, who served as the Rams’ de facto defensive coordinator during his father’s absence in 2012.
BERNIE VIDEO: WILLIAMS BRINGS BAGGAGE
The Rams’ defense figures to benefit from the reunion, because Williams will find ways to put more pressure on quarterbacks and improve his unit’s mediocre third-down performance in 2013.
We should also expect a rise in feistiness; a Rams team that rolled up 18 unnecessary roughness penalties over the past two seasons won’t back off under Williams.
It's nice that Fisher and Williams made peace.
The Rams’ NFC West opponents may not be as forgiving.
Williams is known for aggressive defenses highlighted by exotic blitz packages. But his brand of pugnacious defense turned predatory during Williams’ bizarre three-year term in New Orleans.
Williams has profusely apologized for his misdeeds. He spoke of a “great rebirth” when he joined the Tennessee Titans as a senior advisor in 2013.
“I take full responsibility and apologize for my previous actions, and I’ve used this year to reorganize my life and put focus on positive energy and positive ways to inspire and coach and motivate in this profession,’’ Williams said after returning to the NFL.
Some of you reading this may say: let it go. The man did his time and served his suspension. He was shamed by embarrassing Bountygate revelations. He’s vowed to keep it clean from now on.
Williams has received a second chance from the NFL, and from Fisher. He’s repented. So why not move forward? I don’t disagree with the sentiment. But my opinion doesn’t matter.
Williams and his Saints’ defense put bounties on players that still work in the NFC West.
And if you don’t think this stuff will come up in Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona as the teams prepare to play the Rams — well, please say hello to the Easter Bunny for me the next time you have him over for cocktails.
Let’s review, shall we?
The night before New Orleans’ game at Seattle during the 2010 NFC playoffs, Saints players were shown a slide picture of Duane “Dog” Chapman, the bail bondsman who starred in the “Dog the Bounty Hunter” reality TV show.
The slide show included this message: “Collect bounty $$$! Make no apologies. Let’s go hunting.”
The NFL’s gathered evidence featured a photo of rolled up $20 and $10 bills and challenges to “eliminate” Seahawks players, including "No. 24."
That would be current Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
The strategy didn’t go so well. In Seattle’s 41-36 upset victory, Lynch buried New Orleans with 131 yards rushing and stomped the Saints for a memorable 67-yard touchdown run.
It seems that Lynch went hunting instead.
As Lynch told Seattle-area reporters in a 2012 interview: “If they still had those bounties going on when we played against them in the playoffs, I wonder who got the money? Or should I have got the money?”
Documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon recorded Williams’ speech to the Saints’ defense the night before their game at San Francisco during the 2011 playoffs. Pamphilon released excerpts after Williams’ suspension.
In the meeting Williams talked about stopping the sturdy 49ers running back Frank Gore.
“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head. We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways,” Williams told the players. “Kill the head and the body will die. Kill the head and the body will die.”
And later, this: “We need to decide on how many times we can beat Frank Gore’s head.”
Williams wasn’t finished.
“Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head,” he said in the meeting. “Early, affect the head. Continue to touch and affect the head.”
(I'm sorry; was this man a defensive coordinator or a barber?)
Williams suggested a plan to shut down 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree: go after a knee. And affect the ligament.
“We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake (censored) prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find that out,” Williams told the Saints. “He becomes human when you (censored) take out that outside ACL.”
Williams also asked his players to do something about tight end Vernon Davis' sore ankles; encouraged them to hit wide receiver Kyle Williams, who had suffered a concussion; and recommended striking quarterback Alex Smith under the chin.
After hearing the Williams’ recording, Saints quarterback Drew Brees called the coach a “mad man.”
The Saints didn't affect the head.
Or the San Francisco offense.
Once again, the Bounty turned out to be a paper towel.
The 49ers prevailed by pounding Williams’ overwhelmed defense for 36 points. Gore averaged 6.8 yards per carry, and Crabtree caught one of the team’s three touchdown passes.
In a victory over visiting Arizona in the 2009 playoffs the Saints knocked Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out with a vicious hit during an interception return. Warner — who endured multiple concussions during his career — did return to the game but announced his retirement after the season.
The NFL’s Bountygate investigation concluded that Warner had been targeted by the Saints. Warner, true to his character, responded by encouraging forgiveness for Williams.
A newer controversy follows Williams’ return to St. Louis.
Former Jacksonville defensive end Renaldo Wynn recently claimed on Houston’s 610-AM radio that there was a reason behind Tennessee’s upset of Jacksonville in the 1999 AFC Championship Game: a pilfered playbook.
This is what Wynn said: “You know why we fell short in that AFC Championship game? After that I ended up getting coached by Gregg Williams (in Washington), first thing he said when he came in the door was, ‘Hey, you know why you lost?’ … he said he had our playbook. Gregg Williams had our playbook. Our game-plan on offense. He had our playbook.”
Wynn, who played for Williams when Williams ran the Redskins’ defense, suggested that the coach had other teams’ playbooks. “I know how he got them,” Wynn said. “He started getting playbooks when I was with him.”
Perhaps Williams will address this when, as expected, he speaks to the media today at Rams Park.
The Rams’ entertainment value just went up.
Their rivalries will likely intensify.
NFC West teams went 5-1 against the Rams last season. But given Williams’ sordid history in his past clashes against the team’s current division rivals, I don’t think the 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals will have a problem getting fired up to play St. Louis in 2014.