Now on his fourth assignment as a defensive coordinator in the NFL,
That's where Williams comes in. His task is to get a Saints defense that ranked 26th in points and 23rd in total yards last season to remotely hold up its end of the bargain. With the Saints' wealth of talent on offense, if he can coax any significant step forward out of the defense, you have to like New Orleans' chances to end its underachieving ways and return to the ranks of legitimate NFC Super Bowl contenders -- as it was during its magical post-Katrina season of 2006.
"Since I've been either a coordinator or a head coach in this league, this is the most explosive offense I've ever been around, by far,'' Williams told me Wednesday afternoon, from his office at the Saints team complex. "It's a good situation to be in. We've got a nucleus of talent on defense, and with all the injuries they had last season, I think they've played much better defense here than most people give them credit for. But I think we've got a chance to be even better than that.''
Entering his fourth season as the Saints' head coach,
"I just thought we needed a change in leadership, to be honest with you,'' said Payton, who enticed Williams to New Orleans after he had spent one lost season as Jacksonville's defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. "I just thought it was time for a change. In our industry, it's the head coach, the quarterback and the two coordinators who can affect real change, right?
"We needed something. Obviously Gregg's not afraid to pressure, with either zone pressure or man pressure. But some of the tougher looks we've gotten from him over the years were just coverage looks, with four-man rushes.''
Change and new looks are everywhere on the NFL coaching landscape this year. By my count, there are 28 new coordinators in the league this season, with 23 of the NFL's 32 teams losing at least one coordinator since the start of the 2008 season. That's a remarkable amount of turnover in a short span, and it has resulted in more ongoing makeover projects on more offenses and defenses than any time in recent memory.
And I'm not sure any of those new coordinators are sitting on a bigger potential gold mine than Williams is in New Orleans, where six of the Saints' eight losses last season were by a combined 18 points. New Orleans has the AFC East and NFC East on its schedule this season, so nothing's going to come easily, but if Williams' defense can finally stay healthy, I like his chances to emerge as a real difference-maker among the league's new coordinators in 2009.
"There is talent here,'' Williams said. "I had [defensive tackle]
"But I like [middle linebacker]
Williams has added the services of first-round cornerback
The new bodies are welcomed, but Williams' MO is to help set a new, feisty tone on defense wherever he has gone. "I specialize in flipping the culture and getting guys to play with urgency and intensity, but I really don't have to do that here,'' he said. "Because there's already a good culture and these guys do play with intensity. We've just got to keep people in front of us, and make sure [offenses] don't go over our heads for a bunch of yards all at once. We need to limit that.''
Easier said than done, of course. But everybody at this time of year has a plan for improvement, at least on paper. Here are capsule looks at 10 other new NFL coordinators who will start this season in the spotlight: