Browns

Gregg Williams: From Bountygate to Berea

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Saturday night, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that the Cleveland Browns are firing defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and will hire the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, to the same position. La Canfora had reported back in November that the Browns were considering to move on from Ray Horton as defensive coordinator.

Williams spent the last three years as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, but he may be better known for his role as defensive coordinator for the 2010 Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. Williams led the Saints’ defense for three seasons from 2009-11 and is infamous for his role in the Bountygate scandal. The NFL suspended Williams and head coach Sean Payton one year for creating an environment where players were paid bounties for injuring players on opposing teams.

In fact, Williams was caught on recording telling his players to injure several members of the San Francisco 49ers ahead of a playoff loss as ESPN detailed following the release of an audio file from a director for their 30 for 30 series.

Williams, who is suspended indefinitely by the league and is not appealing the penalty, can be heard in the audio recording instructing his defensive players to injure quarterback Alex Smith, running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and receivers Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams.

According to Pamphilon, Gregg Williams pointed to his chin while telling his players to hit Smith “right there,” saying, “Remember me. I got the first one. I got the first one. Go get it. Go lay that m———– out.”

Williams uses one of his favorite slogans in the speech: “Kill the head and the body will die.”

The hiring of Gregg Williams, therefore, creates a problematic moral question.

Let me come right out and say it. I am not a fan of this hire. I understand that the first point that most people will make is that many teams in the NFL were supposedly utilizing a pay-for-injury money pool in the very same way that Gregg Williams was with the Saints. I don’t care. I’m not in favor of looking past something simply because other people were doing it. I’m willing to concede that other coaches were doing this, but we don’t have any proof. I’m not going to spend a second worrying about who else might be responsible for such a despicable thing. I’m going to focus on the one who had his hand caught in the cookie jar. Williams put players’ ability to provide for their family at risk. He created a situation where those players’ lives were potentially at risk. That isn’t a small matter to me.

I know that the NFL is a violent work environment, but there are rules to limit that violence. I work for a tech company and it is significantly less violent than the NFL. However, can you imagine if it was acceptable for other tech companies to have their employees attempt to break your hands to gain a competitive advantage? Or allowing people to hack into other companies to steal intellectual property, then giving them a slap on the wrist if caught? Why should we be OK with the same thing happening in the NFL?

It’s unfair and disgusting. We should be outraged and want to see that offender banned from the league to send a warning to any other coaches who might set up such a dangerous environment.

Hue Jackson understands what Gregg Williams did in the Bountygate scandal, and he is looking past it.

Williams has led defenses to different levels of success for the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans. He is someone whose former players show respect and admiration.

None of that matters to me. I know myself, and I’m not going to stop rooting for the Cleveland Browns simply because they hired someone who disgusts me. If I knew how to quit the Browns that easily, I certainly wouldn’t have watched the horror show that was this past season. Let alone the 17 abysmal seasons before it. But I can promise you that it’s going to really bug me having to root for a defense that is designed by Gregg Williams.

This is the primary coach who will be molding and shaping our young defensive players, and I don’t believe he possesses the right values for the job.

  • humboldt

    Well said, Pat. And this follows their brilliant decision to bring in the disgraced Art Briles as an offensive consultant during the season.

    This franchise is nearing a ‘beyond redemption’ point for me. It’s gotten to the stage where headlines that should be satire in The Onion (e.g. “Browns turn to Bounty Whisperer to bring integrity to their defense/organization”, “Browns look to clean up organizational image by bringing in Art Briles”) are what shows up on Cleveland.com. This zombie franchise does not deserve our fanbase.

  • mgbode

    well then there is the rest of the NFL where the Raiders, Texans, Dolphins and Lions had injured starting QBs (Stafford played but was obviously limited) alongside the many other important players who are hurt, oh and the Titans probably make the playoffs if Mariota’s leg doesn’t get broken.

    at least we have Joey Porter getting arrested for assaulting a security guard and police officer & Bud Dupree lowering his helmet to go after Matt Moore in game and then there was the SI Longform on Joseph Randle…

    NFL is the toughest sport to follow. So many things you have to put aside first to do so. Yet, here we are.

  • CBiscuit

    “Remember me. I got the first one. I got the first one. Go get it. Go lay that m———– out.”

    Ugly stuff for sure. But…well if it’s any consolation, with the Browns, all of this will definitely be behind him. No one is going to get laid out, and Williams will get to keep all of his hard earned money.

  • humboldt

    “Dawg: Bounty Hunter”

  • mgbode

    if you click on that link there are some other really ugly quotes in there too

  • Hopwin

    Gregg Williams is the final straw on this morality camel’s back?

    Not Jimmy’s support of fracking
    Not Jimmy’s federal indictment for fraud
    Not the morality of accepting cash compensation for putting the Cleveland Browns as a “product” on the field
    Not using taxpayer money to pay for the stadium
    Not hiring Andy Moeller
    Not bringing over Jamal “coke-dealer” Lewis
    Not consulting with Art Briles
    Not kicking the tires on Ray Rice

    Well I guess we all draw our own line in the sand eh?

  • humboldt

    Right, I know we’ve discussed it for some time but the league is quite ugly right now. I half-heartedly watched only bits of one playoff game this weekend (love watching Aaron Rodgers lead an offense), but even then I turned it off when Jordy Nelson was speared by a Giants defender making the same sort of violent knockout play our new D-coordinator incentivized a few short years ago.

  • Pat Leonard

    I agree with that. This was my moment of outrage, penned for the public, but now that it’s out, there isn’t much I’m willing to do as a follow up. I’m not going to die on this hill. I just really hate that the hiring happened.

    Also, I’m dying seeing that you changed your handle to CBiscuit. LOL.

  • RGB

    Just win baby.

  • Garry_Owen

    Whoa. Is everyone who supports fracking “immoral”? Jimmy also was not indicted for anything. A 1-15 football season is immoral? If using taxpayer money to build a stadium is immoral, who is worse? The Browns, or the city/state “leaders” that made it happen?

  • Garry_Owen

    Is it possible that Williams has moved on from these things and has changed his behavior? If so, what would it take from him to make him an acceptable hire?

  • Pat Leonard

    Thanks Humboldt. This seems like more of a league issue than just a Browns issue though. The lessons that we teach our children are suspended when it comes to adding more wins, and every team does that.

  • Hopwin

    Fixed the Jimmy indictment. Rest are questions for each person to ask themselves.

  • RGB

    Save some puppies from a burning building?

  • Garry_Owen

    What if those puppies are pit bulls?

  • Pat Leonard

    He made a good apology after he was caught.

    – “It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it,” Williams said. “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.

    But I am so against the idea of doing something like this that it isn’t a three strike thing for me. If any coach is caught promoting injuring players, I believe that should be a no-tolerance issue.

  • CBiscuit

    Thanks…due to new clients, it’s my half assed stab at anonymity (at least from the non-WFNY friends/newcomers)!

    And btw, I get the moral twinge here with the hire, as that was some pretty nasty stuff. And it’s always my dilemma in sports. For the record, I vote that we shouldn’t sell our soul. BUTTTTT, I say if we are going to sell our soul…let’s at least get some winning right? ….ala the Yinzers…they find a way of rooting for the Roethlisbergers, Joey Porters, James Harrisons etc of the world.

  • CBiscuit

    The “kill the head” part honestly and legitimately made my stomach turn.

  • humboldt

    Well, his behavior is now illegal, so one presumes he would have the good sense to no longer do it, if only merely out of expediency and self-preservation.

    However, it is reasonable to question the moral character of a man who would willingly exhort people to carry out literal violent acts to injure others.

  • humboldt

    The Browns take the general moral decay of the NFL and add a unique bungling component to it

  • CBiscuit

    What if those puppies were pit bull arsonists who started the fire to cash in on his insurance money, and he rewards them with treats?

  • Garry_Owen

    Roger. So what would we need to see/hear from him to make him absolved of prior bad behavior?

  • Pat Leonard

    Now we’ve got something cooking!

  • Garry_Owen

    This moral quandary is getting more and more bright-lined as we go.

  • RGB

    Donate them to Pitbulls and Parolees. Then do a celebrity spot on the show and donate his appearance fee to the ASPCA. Then wash Sarah McLachlan’s Prius at halftime of the Puppy Bowl.

  • mgbode

    citing Hunter S. Thompson

  • humboldt

    I presume everything we see/hear from him will be in compliance with the NFL’s post Bounty-gate policies. I have no reason to believe he’s not intelligent.

    However, his previous behaviors/moral conduct would lead me to not hire someone like him in my organization. If we had a doctor who had intentionally encouraged people to injure patients apply for a job I would certainly not hire him in my hospital

  • Pat Leonard

    He would really be in the arms of the angels after that.

  • Garry_Owen

    It is, however, also metaphorical, and the principle that underlies every team’s attempt to hit Tom Brady as hard and as often as possible. (Obviously, this isn’t to excuse the bounty portion of what he said, which is inexcusable, but just to put the phrase itself into context.)

  • Garry_Owen

    Fair. But Williams has also never taken the Hippocratic Oath.

    Listen, I’m not a fan of this guy at all, and don’t have any clue what to think of him as a football mind. I’m just curious, in general, and as an intellectual exercise, at what point we as a culture and society permit folks to remove their various scarlet letters. Mercy triumphs over judgment?

  • Garry_Owen

    Beat me to it.

  • RGB

    Now’s your chance to go 4th Level.

  • nj0

    Son, we live in a world that has end zones, and those end zones have to be guarded by men with shoulder pads. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Garry_Owen? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for quarterbacks and you curse the blitz. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know – that quarterback concussions, while tragic, probably won games. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, won games. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.

  • mgbode

    I doubt I’ll write up a counter article to this one because I agree on the moral pause with his hiring.

    But, three strikes would have been unfair to GW. The NFL went from completely ignoring this type of behavior whether in those pregame speeches, postgame answers, and elsewhere to bringing the hammer down on the Saints.

    Should it have been acceptable? Of course not. But, it’s like mid-90s baseball. Punishing guys way later (not allowing them into the HOF) for something you knew but ignored at the time doesn’t feel right to me.

    He was punished (not severely enough IMO, but still) and he is pretty well removed from it now (though it will and should always come up when his name is brought to new people).

  • nj0

    I think the league has always been ugly (uglier, probably). We’re just more aware of it now.

  • humboldt

    In a professional league with an already high prevalence of injuries that both shorten careers and leave people physically, mentally, and emotionally enfeebled the rest of their lives, I think there is well-warranted stigma around those who willfully choose to incite or enable direct acts of violence.

    I’ve told you how I feel, and clearly others here have similar and/or less strong feelings. I do think it would be interesting to see how the former 49ers players who he specifically targeted for bounties feel about his reinstatement as a D-Coordinator in the NFL.

  • Garry_Owen

    Perfect.

  • Garry_Owen

    I think it would be interesting to hear from those players (and others), honestly, whether this sort of thing surprised them or if they had heard it in other contexts (HS, college, pro).

  • Pat Leonard

    Agreed, and I think that message needs to continue for defenders. Hit ’em hard. Hit ’em legally. Be nasty out there.

  • mgbode

    really trying to figure out how supporting or not supporting fracking is a moral issue — whether or not it hurts the environment is one thing, but the morality of it I’m not sure I follow

  • Garry_Owen

    If bringing the hammer down on the Saints was wrong, why should he have been punished more severely? If you’re going to use a hammer, make sure it’s Thor’s?
    (For the record, I’m not disagreeing with you; just curious what your thinking is.)

  • humboldt

    Yes, you’re right. There has been increasing civility around the NFL since (by my totally arbitrary opinion) around 2008-2009. That’s roughly the time the Boston brain bank researchers started publishing and receiving publicity for their CTE data and the NFL stopped its policy of denial and mendacity. I think events like bounty gate seem more egregious now because they take place in a context where the norms have shifted in favor of greater player protection and the actors cannot appeal to ignorance of scientific fact around the long-term nature of injuries.

  • Pat Leonard

    To be fair, this isn’t my line in the sand. I’m still supporting the Browns. Just pointing out something I don’t like. I’m sure I would have had a seriously strong reaction to most of those issues if I’d been writing for WFNY at the time.

  • humboldt

    Sure, although “but we did it in high school” is not the strongest moral defense 🙂

  • CBiscuit

    “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…”

    -Johnny citing HST

  • Garry_Owen

    It’s not a moral defense at all. But it speaks to expectations of the players with targets on their heads.

  • Pat Leonard

    If I have an avenue to insert Sarah McLachlan song lines into a comment, I’m cutting off every person in that lane as fast as possible. It’s morally reprehensible and hypocritical, but hey it’s me.

  • mgbode

    Where did I say bringing the hammer down on the Saints was wrong?

    If implied, apologies. I meant that they shouldn’t have barred GW from coaching ever again (as Pat implies both above and w/ his three strike talk). To do so would have been unfair since they were complicit with his methods until said hammer.

  • Pat Leonard

    That’s not a good comparison for me though. Steroids don’t have the added affect of ending a man’s career and livelihood. It’s a separate issue for me that the NFL allowed it for so long. I’ve got a mouth full of spit for Roger Goodell and the former commissioners for turning a blind eye. I’m not going to spend one tear for Gregg Williams being the first one caught and punished for it, and the punishment was light in my estimation. I hate that they didn’t make this a full-on investigation of every head coach and defensive coordinator in the league.

  • BenRM

    I don’t know – how long do we make this guy pay for something he got caught doing? I phrase it that way because I feel fairly certain that “bounties” were/are common place in the NFL. The Saints just got caught. Does that make it right? No. But I do think it makes it more understandable.

    It was 4 to 5 years ago. He was suspended, and since he returned, we haven’t heard of further problems. Also, his name has two “G’s” in it, which was probably hard growing up.

    I had a much bigger issue with the Browns bringing in Briles this summer. What Briles oversaw was much more outrageous than what Williams did. It was much more recent, and Briles hasn’t really “paid his dues” as it were.