I finished with, “… Boston Globe.” And as we shook hands, his response was almost automatic.
“I think the world of Bill Belichick,” he responded. “I think he’s one of the all-time best coaches. … With he and I, there’s a respect factor there.”
Talking to Williams yesterday made you want to buckle your chin strap, climb on the team bus, and go practice with the guys down the road at the University of Miami (although that wouldn’t end well for most of us). He identified himself as an “old high school football coach.” He told the story of how the Saints wrapped up minicamp with 40 up-downs, started training camp with 40 up-downs, and now it’s become protocol for anyone joining the team — whether it’s a practice-squadder or ex-Pro Bowler like Chris McAlister — to do 40 up-downs in front of all the players.
They’d think, I have to do what? “Yeah, you’re gonna have to do that if you want to be a part of our team,” Williams would respond.
Trust this: It’s not hard to see why these guys play so hard for Williams. It’s apparent in the way New Orleans plays.
“We want you to shoot your gun, blow them up, get after them and tackle, and there’s 10 brothers there to clean up any mess you got,” Williams said. “Usually explosive (offensive) plays come from dog-trotting. Explosive plays come from people who don’t understand how to run to the ball.
“I get way too much credit for Xs-and-Os. I’m an old high school football coach. The tolerance that I have for a guy taking a lazy step in practice is zero. And it doesn’t make any difference how much money they make. It doesn’t make any difference where they were drafted, how many Pro Bowls they’ve been to, how many honors, I could care less.
“Every play’s an interview, every day’s an interview, and if you don’t
interview well, what gives you the right to play? That’s been a
fairness thing that these guys have bought into. They’re harder on
themselves than any meeting when I get up and dog-cuss them about it.
They’re hard on themselves because they want that trust where if they
miss a tackle, they’ve got 10 brothers cleaning it up. We’ve done a
pretty good job of that.”
Are they perfect? Of course not. The Saints are still just 25th in the league in total defense.
But they do play by Williams’ credo: “Live on the edge, play on the edge, never hurt the team.” It has produced 39 takeaways and a league-leading eight defensive touchdowns. There have been issues, too (league-leading 13 personal fouls), but overall, Williams seems to be getting the desired effect, which means Payton’s getting what he was looking for in hiring him.
“We’re talking about this: First guy blows ’em up, second guy cleans ’em up,” Williams said, talking about his philosophy on takeaways. “And that’s what we’re looking to do. Again, they’ve played for a lot of coaches. When I walked in the first day in the first meeting in offseason conditioning, on April the 1st, there were a lot of things to be covered in that 30-minute meeting. One of the things I covered was: There will not be an excuse, by anybody in this room, about having a coach slow you down.
“There will not be an excuse about wishing you played for a coach that would let you play, that would encourage aggressiveness the way I’d encourage aggressiveness. All my life, I’ve been trying to speed players up, toughen players up, nasty players up, and I promise you if we live on the edge, and play on the edge, I’ll grab you before you fall off.
“When you’re about to fall off that edge and cause our team to get hurt, I’ll grab you by the pants, we’ll have a chit-chat, I’ll settle you down. But until you get there, we can’t be good, and you have to climb to that edge.”
Not hard to see why those players want to run through a brick wall for this guy, I’ll tell you that.