Cleveland Browns: Remembering Gregg Williams, is his defense missed?

Dec 9, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Gregg Williams reacts during the second half against the Carolina Panthers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 9, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Gregg Williams reacts during the second half against the Carolina Panthers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Cleveland Browns head coach Gregg Williams was controversial but effective and a little crazy, but he had been to the Super Bowl twice bringing back a ring once, and wanted more.

Gregg Williams had a brief but exciting tenure as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2018, posting a 5-3 record, but ownership — and the fan base — could not wait to fire him, preferring to hire hotshot offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who seemed to have the magic touch with Baker Mayfield. Williams was bombastic, aggressive, demanding, and ever-optimistic, yet also blemished by scandal. D

o you miss Gregg Williams?

Williams was a quarterback in college and started his coaching career as special teams coach on the same staff with defensive guru Buddy Ryan with the Houston Oilers. If you are wondering where Williams was introduced to the attacking philosophy on defense, look no further than that.

He eventually became defensive coordinator and followed the team to Tennessee where they went to the Super Bowl, but lost to the St. Louis Rams. He had a head coaching gig in Buffalo, where they played great defense but did not score enough points, and then worked for Joe Gibbs in Washington. Eventually, he found his way to the New Orleans Saints and helped that team to the Super Bowl.

Williams was famous for calling blitzes early and often, much like his mentor, Buddy Ryan. He was known for the unorthodox. For example, he would sometimes play three defensive ends and one defensive tackle when he felt that the third defensive end was a better player than the second defensive tackle.

His defenses were not necessarily fixated on the 4-3-4 alignment, often switching to the 3-4. But it really didn’t matter that much, because he would often send five or six pass rushers after the quarterback, regardless of where they lined up. Rex Ryan and Dick LeBeau were probably major influences on Williams early on. There were a lot of sacks and forced turnovers, but he had to live with giving up the big play once in a while, also.

Williams will forever be tarnished by the “Bountygate scandal” while he was with the New Orleans Saints, where the team maintained a slush fund to reward players for knocking offensive players out of the game. It’s obvious that the NFL cannot institutionalize such a system and that this practice had to be abolished.

Like, how are they going to explain this to the Internal Revenue Service? Plus, the team is opened up to all sorts of lawsuits. The hits might be totally within the rules of football, but there is the perception that the hits are “dirty” if a monetary reward is involved.

Coaches just can not say publicly that players try to knock each other out, or at least they must be very guarded about how they say it. But fan-to-fan, we can have an adult conversation about that here. At the highest level of sport, that is exactly how NFL defense is played. There are limits.

Players are not to be deliberately tearing knee ligaments and the like. But to tackle someone hard enough to knock the wind out of him? Most definitely. If they get taken to the turf via a clean tackle with sufficient force to bruise ribs and miss a few games, that’s the way tackles are made in the NFL. You just can’t say that in front of television cameras, however.

Many fans, like this one, may not have played football at a high level, but at least practiced some form of highly competitive sport such as martial arts, rugby, soccer, hockey, basketball, or baseball. Thus we can understand that in high-level competition, competitors are trying to hit each other hard and knockouts are part of this competition.

Overcoming the fear of being knocked unconscious or having a rib broken is part of the process of reaching the highest level of your sport. Some sports are violent, and football is among the most violent that there is. It’s not for the faint of heart. It is very, very rugged. But there are many players who would love to play for Gregg Williams.

Bottom line is, opinions can vary, but this fan does not find fault with the coaches concerning the philosophy of bounty gate. Gregg was sloppy with how he comported himself in front of the TV cameras, but there are zero problems with the fundamentals. Football is a violent game, and the defense is supposed to make the offensive players hurt. This fan can live with that.

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Football goes in cycles, and some years we go through an idiot cycle in which we believe that only quarterbacks matter and only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers can win the Super Bowl. Never mind the fact that Rodgers has only won once in his career.

Currently, the mantra is that only Patrick Mahomes can win the Super Bowl. Many years, however, we are reminded that the defense shows up big on the greatest stage on earth. Since the year 2000, the losing team has wound up scoring 17 or fewer points 12 times. In other words, if your team scores 18 points or more, there is a better than .500 chance that they are going to win.

Man, defense wins championships most of the time. It’s nice to score 40 points with your quarterback throwing bombs all over the ballyard, but it does not have to be that way every time.

Now, what about getting fired from the New York Jets? You will recall that at the time the Jets were winless (0-11) and trying to protect a four-point lead versus the Raiders, and at the end of the game, Williams called an all-out blitz instead of using the prevent defense. Well, the Raiders scored a touchdown. Jets lose, and the New York media loses its collective mind. Stupid call! The prevent defense always works, so why didn’t Williams call for it? Head coach Adam Gase fired Williams as punishment for that apparent blunder.

Well, hindsight is always 20-20. The 2020 Jets were terrible on defense, and maybe the Jets’ defense was not as 100 percent effective as the New York media believes that it was. If Williams had used the prevent defense and lost, he would have been excoriated for being too conservative, of that we can be certain.

Those defensive backs were sufficiently weak that it is not clear that Derek Carr was going to be unable to find a receiver, given time to throw. Face it Jets, your defense was not that good that you could count on the defensive backfield to hold up its end of the bargain.

The 2020 Jets team gave up 457 points, and the 2021 team gave up 504 and were dead last in the NFL, despite having defensive guru Robert Saleh as the head coach. It’s not clear that anything was fixed by firing Williams.

With the Browns, it seemed to make sense to hire Freddie Kitchens over Gregg, because the offensive unit was the one that improved immediately as soon as former head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were sent packing. Jackson and Haley had the brilliant idea that Nick Chubb needed to be limited to only three touches per game, in order to feed Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.

You will recall that Jackson had been half-fired after going 1-31, with Todd Haley in charge of play-calling and Jackson not allowed to overrule him. This pathetically stupid arrangement is unworkable and means that the head coach does not have the authority of a true head coach and is 100 percent guaranteed to fail.

In any case, when Kitchens replaced Haley, as play-caller the offense took off. Nick Chubb became the bell cow at running back; former first-round draft pick Greg Robinson became the regular left tackle in place of rookie free agent Desmond Harrison; and another former first-round pick, Breshad Perriman, with 4.2 speed started getting reps at wide receiver. Suddenly, the Browns’ offense shifted into high gear and rookie Baker Mayfield was throwing lightning bolts all over the place.

Also, let us not forget that Williams was a college quarterback. It’s not like he is ignorant about offense. He was also a head coach at Buffalo. He can work both sides of the ball and deserves some credit for the offensive turnaround.

Nevertheless, Freddie Kitchens got most of the credit for all of that. In retrospect, offensive line coach Bob Wylie and quarterback coach Ken Zampese did not get enough credit. In fact, if you are wondering why Washington’s Taylor Heinicke came out of nowhere this season, it might have had something to do with having Ken Zampese as his quarterback coach.

Both Wylie and Zampese were fired on the grounds that they were friends with Hue Jackson. It was stupid to get rid of coaches who had done a great job. That should have been a warning that Kitchens was not as smart as it may have appeared. Thus 2019 was a bad year for the Browns, who went 6-10, and Kitchens rode off into the sunset.

The bottom line is that Gregg Williams is a football genius, and somehow the Browns managed to fire him with a winning record as head coach. The Browns have a very good coach in Kevin Stefanski and a brilliant defensive coordinator in Joe Woods, but it’s just too bad that there was not an opportunity for Williams to add to his 5-3 record as coach of the Browns.

You have to admit, it looks kind of funny between Hue Jackson at 3-36-1 and Freddie at 6-10. The coach with the losingest record stayed the longest, and the coach with the winning record was gone after only half a season.

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Yeah, I miss him, what about you?