FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Gregg Williams is the furthest thing from warm and fuzzy.
Never has been. And, never will.
That’s not how the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator is wired.
Williams has helped build stingy defenses all around the NFL for nearly 30 years with a mix of fiery passion, intimidating intensity and undeniable self-confidence. It rubs some – OK, many – the wrong way. But Williams has made a long, successful career of never, ever being Mr. Nice Guy.
“My secrets get out,” the 60-year-old Williams said in his first news conference since being hired by coach Adam Gase in January.
“And the reason I keep getting hired is culture,” he added, “and culture beats strategy any day of the week.”
Williams motivates his players with his undying desire to win. He wants guys in his defense who reflect everything for which he stands.
“It’s about how you find ways yourself to be tougher,” he said. “How you find ways to play harder, play smarter for longer than any opponent you go against. And, all the scheme is is a way to surround the ball, surround the formation and just find ball, see ball, get ball.
“But it comes from an attitude. It comes from a personal understanding of what it takes to play this game at this level at the highest level.”
Williams’ arrival has been welcomed by the players, who rave about his “crazy” energy and no-holds-barred approach.
“Between those whistles, it’s a dog-eat-dog mentality,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said.
“It’s aggressive, obviously,” safety Jamal Adams added. “We talk our noise and we fly around the ball. I know we’re going to compete every down, every play. That’s what it’s about.”
Williams made an immediate impression on Adams, pulling no punches with the third-year safety who’s coming off his first career Pro Bowl selection.
“You know,” he told Adams, “I’ve coached a lot better people than you before.”
Adams, who appreciated that blunt assessment, was sold on Williams immediately.
“I love him,” Adams said with a big grin. “It’s like an uncle, really. He’s coaching us hard, he wants the best out of us and you could run through a wall for a coach like that.”
That’s nothing new for Williams, who has heard things like that throughout his journey in the NFL, from Houston and Tennessee to Buffalo, Washington, Jacksonville, New Orleans, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Cleveland and, now, New York.
“Players can smell and feel and know whether you’re conning them, faster than coaches do because they see the personal side of it,” Williams said. “So, yeah, I push, prod. And attitude does come first and I tell them attitude is everything.
“Pick a good one today.”
Williams has been a polarizing figure at times, particularly during his time with the Saints from 2009-11 as the defensive coordinator under Sean Payton – a period that included a Super Bowl win in 2010. Williams was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2012 season for his role in the “Bountygate” scandal in New Orleans, where Saints defensive players were paid bonuses for injuring opposing team players.
That mark on Williams’ resume became a topic of conversation again when he joined the Jets because Joe Vitt was hired as the team’s outside linebackers coach. The two were on the Saints’ staff during the controversy, and Vitt testified against Williams in the hearings, accusing Williams of lying in his testimony to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Williams and Vitt are working together for the first time since. Oh, and Vitt just happens to be Gase’s father-in-law.
“Not a question,” Williams snapped when asked about the dynamic now between he and Vitt. “Next question. Go ahead. He’s a great friend of mine, OK? And, he’ll always be a great friend. I don’t care what you’ve written. Go ahead. Somebody else.”
Vitt, who was suspended for six games for his role in the scandal, was similarly evasive when asked about his relationship with Williams.
“So this is a National Enquirer question, or what?” Vitt said. “I like Gregg. Me and him are friends. Next question.”
The working relationship between Gase and Williams also bears watching as this season goes along, particularly because of their strong personalities and ultra-competitive tendencies.
Gase has said Williams’ approach will only make him better, and the aggressive defense will do the same for quarterback Sam Darnold and the offense. Williams pointed out that Gase has worked with several of his good friends in coaching, and developed a mutual appreciation while playing against each other in the NFL.
“Respect and trust is earned,” Williams said. “He has earned my respect, OK? And, he’s earning my trust now because we’re working together on the same thing. It’s been fun. And he’s a very good coach, has a really good mind and has a challenging mind on what conceptually we’re doing and how he goes about doing it. So, it’s fun.”
And, as always, intense.
“You know, it’s the honesty part of it,” Williams said. “Every day’s an interview, them to me and me to them. People ask me all the time how much longer am I going to do this? I love what I do. I’m a competition-aholic.
“When I walk into a room and nobody will pay attention anymore, it’s time to do something else.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.