Holler: Coaching death sentence for Williams?

Gregg Williams

Saints players and other coaches could face fines or suspensions for Bountygate, but Gregg Williams should be under consideration for the NFL coaching death sentence as his trail of hitmen incentives grows bigger and more ominous.

In the 48 hours since the story broke that the NFL has conducted an internal investigation into the Saints having a bounty system in place to pay defensive players for injuring opposing offensive players, the net just seems to be getting wider and wider. In the process, Gregg Williams is becoming akin to a serial bounty hunter.

The Vikings made allegations following the 2009 NFC Championship Game and the NFL listened – fining defensive lineman Bobby McCray $20,000 for a pair of cheap shots on Brett Favre that resulted in his severe ankle injury. At the time, my memory of that game was a tearful Deanna Favre trying to get to her husband outside the locker room beneath the Superdome. In its current context, the memory has been replaced by the ugliness of a plot not only to knock Favre to the ground, but to end at least his 2009 and maybe his career.

In the aftermath, there have been reports that Williams operated a similar system while defensive coordinator in Washington and head coach in Buffalo.

Last year on NBC's Football Night In America, Tony Dungy claimed that Peyton Manning's neck injury woes began as far back as 2006, when he took a big hit from the Redskins' Phillip Daniels, when Williams was his defensive coordinator. Dungy wasn't jumping on the bandwagon. He made the claim last November on the Sunday night broadcast, not Friday or Saturday of this past week.

With Williams' system in place in Buffalo when he was the head coach, one can only imagine that former players with nothing to lose or willing to talk on the condition of anonymity are likely going to confirm that Williams ran a similar program while with the Titans and Jaguars as well.

It has already become clear that this wasn't an isolated incident, but a systematic attempt to take out players, long-term ramifications be dammed. While the NFL is a tough-guy sport, being a thug has never been condoned. There is a clear-cut policy of fining and suspending players who have a reputation for being dirty. Two years ago, Jared Allen got caught up in that net, a charge he vehemently denied. Allen didn't want to have the reputation as a dirty player and fought hard to clear his name. In the case of Williams, it seems much more insidious.

What has made this story so easy to sensationalize is Williams clearly installed the system from on high. He wasn't in the trenches doing the injuring. He was watching from a distance, but he clearly was the mastermind behind the horror.

As more players come forward and speak out about what they experienced under Williams, a disturbing pattern is coming forward. Williams made the decision years ago to reward players who delivered "kill shots" to opposing offensive players and it has followed him from team to team to team. One can only imagine that the St. Louis Rams, which recently hired Williams as their defensive coordinator, were going to impose a similar practice. Why not? A leopard doesn't change its spots, right?

The full picture still isn't in clear focus, but the pieces are all falling into place. These weren't isolated incidents. They were systematic and recidivist. Commissioner Roger Goodell now has the onus of serving as judge and jury on the Williams matter and, as more information and confirmation comes to light, the evidence mounting against Williams is getting harder and harder to dismiss or ignore.

Goodell needs to send a message that such actions won't be tolerated. It may never be known how many players had their careers cut short because Williams-coached players wanted to make an impression on their coach. It may be time for Goodell to use his power to impose a death penalty of his own.

While Goodell's investigators have conducted their due diligence in the investigation process, Williams' admission of a three-year program in New Orleans may be all the information needed. He confessed. Now it's time for Goodell to flex the muscle that his position is within its right to do.

The Saints are almost certainly going to get hit with significant punitive action, be it in the form of fines, suspensions and/or forfeiture of draft picks. The initial investigation has turned up that head coach Sean Payton was aware of the bounty system and didn't stop it and that general manager Mickey Loomis lied to investigators about his knowledge of the bounty program. Both of them are going to be subject to stiff fines or suspensions, but, in the end, it was Williams who brought the darkness into their house – just as he has apparently done in his more recent stops on his coaching resume.

As the evidence piles up one side of the scales of justice, it would seem that there is one logical conclusion Goodell needs to make – an indefinite or permanent suspension of Williams from coaching in the NFL. When players have been suspended for repeat offenses, Goodell has publicly stated that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a birthright. Coaches should be held to an even higher standard, because, quite simply, they should know better.

When the league imposed its policy related to concussions, one of the main arguments toward including suspensions was that fines – even stiff ones – weren't going to get the attention of players. Taking them away from the game was the only way the message was going to be sent. The same should be true for coaches and, in the case of Williams and his clear repeat offenses, a lifetime ban isn't and shouldn't be out of the question. His actions have brought disgrace to "The Shield" and he should be held accountable – even if that means imposing a coaching death penalty.


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    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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