To paint Tennessee's hiring of well-known NFL pariah Gregg Williams on Thursday as nothing more than an act of desperation is not a totally baseless characterization. For either Titans head coach Mike Munchak or Williams himself.
Munchak undeniably will be fighting for his job in 2013, and if Tennessee doesn't get its defensive problems fixed to a degree this season, Munchak won't be around to deal with the fallout of the sure-to-be-controversial move. That's the reality of the situation the third-year head coach faces in Nashville.
But desperation or not, the addition of the disgraced former Saints defensive coordinator as a Titans senior defensive assistant makes solid sense and is not without some reasoning behind it. For several reasons that spring quickly to mind:
The man who is the face of the Saints' bounty scandal could not resurface just anywhere in the NFL. Of all the venues in which Williams could have landed, Tennessee is by far the best possible fit. The Titans are familiar with him and he to them, given that Williams spent 11 years (1990-2000) in the Titans organization and had his greatest success there, helping the club to its only Super Bowl season in 1999, and fielding the NFL's top-ranked defense in 2000.
If there does exist a welcoming spot where Williams has his best chance to restart a career that hit the wall in spectacular fashion, it figures to be first and foremost in Tennessee, where at least he's a known quantity. He and Munchak have known each other since 1990, when Williams broke into the NFL as a quality control coach for the Houston Oilers, the team Munchak played for as a Hall of Fame-bound guard.
Williams has worked with embattled Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray on three previous occasions as a coach, and each time Gray has had a good measure of success in his job: as the secondary coach under Williams as defensive coordinator in Tennessee in 1999-2000; as the Bills defensive coordinator under Williams as head coach in 2001-03; and as the Redskins secondary coach under Williams as defensive coordinator in 2006-08. In short, Gray has done the best work of his coaching career when Williams was in supervision.
It was shocking in the first place that Gray didn't lose his job this offseason, after the Titans surrendered a franchise record 471 points and gave up at least 30 points in seven different games, finishing 27th overall in team defense. But if you're Munchak and you're hoping to both prop up Gray and get him some help, it's hard to see who's better positioned to do both than Williams, a guy who knows Gray's strengths and weaknesses better than Munchak.
In Tennessee, there is a sense of urgency that time is short. Munchak and staff will be working in a win-or-else environment this season, thanks to the edict that was handed down by team owner Bud Adams, in deciding to retain the head coach for another season after 2012's disappointing 6-10 finish. But can anyone, anywhere in the NFL have more of a sense of urgency to get things fixed this season than Williams, whose career has been given a second -- and final -- chance that many didn't think possible?
Nobody's going to work harder for Munchak and the Titans than Williams, and nobody has more to gain from having success if things are done the right way. Williams is fighting this year to win back his good name, and that's even more motivation than fighting for a job. And he'll do it all in a rather singular spotlight, knowing his every word and action will be heard, watched, and parsed for intent.
As I wrote back in April, allowing Williams back into the league is exactly the right move, providing he understands the guidelines he has to work under. Rather than ban him from the game for life, the NFL should now use Williams as the face of change, given that his involvement in the Saints' pay-for-pain bounty scheme shined a light on one of the darker chapters in league history.
In the same way that Michael Vick serves as a constant reminder against the cruelty of dog fighting, and has saved the lives of dogs because of it, Williams must now take the lead in the effort to eradicate a crossing-the-line style of coaching and playing that once was his trademark and calling card. Williams can do more now for the cause of player safety and ridding the game of dangerous practices than he ever could have before his year-long banishment and fall from grace. He represents the culture change the NFL seeks, but you can only change that culture from within, not from the outside, once you're locked out of the game.
My sense is Williams can have real impact this season in Tennessee, on more than just a coaching level. The Titans need him, and he needs the Titans. Sounds like a good match to me. Here's hoping Williams' comeback takes off, his change is genuine and lasting, and desperation winds up being the impetus for something good coming forth from the wrongs that were committed.