Gregg Williams has never forgotten Excelsior Springs, Mo. His long career in the NFL, starting in 1994 as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers under head coach Jeff Fisher, eventually brought him a Super Bowl championship with the New Orleans Saints in 2009. Even after all those years with the NFL, Williams hasn’t forgotten Excelsior Springs, and Excelsior Springs hasn’t forgotten him.
That’s why Williams still keeps in touch with his high school head coach, currently East Athletic Director Sam Brown, and Brown’s old assistant, Ed Bush. That’s why Williams comes back every year to host his annual Tiger Classic Golf Tournament, which raises money for the Gregg Williams Foundation. That’s why almost $600,000 raised by his foundation has been given back to the school and community.
“His motto has always been ‘Once a Tiger, always a Tiger’,” Bush said.
Today, Williams is a coach under a lot of heat. After the NFL found that Williams had placed a bounty system in his defense which dates back to 2009 when the Saints won the Super Bowl, his reputation has drastically changed. The bounties involved players being paid bonuses for intentionally hurting or injuring opposing players. Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams as defensive coordinator again under head coach Jeff Fisher, has been suspended indefinitely and his status in the NFL will be reevaluated in a year.
To those watching breaking stories on ESPN or reading the daily papers like the Kansas City Star, Williams isn’t the same guy that his friends know. The people know that he used violent and shocking ways to motivate his defensive players- an act and a system that would not be excused by the NFL. It was something unexpected, uncalled for and could change the face of football in the future. But to his friends from his hometown, his family and his high school football coaches, he’s not a bad guy.
“He’s a tremendous person who made a mistake,” Brown said.
The first thing Brown will tell you is that he does not agree with the decision and tactic that Williams used in the NFL.
“The mistake was made that he supported a pot, and the pot shouldn’t have been supported,” Brown said. “The players in the NFL, since they make so much money, they are going to do things like that. But for coaches there is no place for that. And so he’s going to suffer from it for a year, and hopefully learn from it and go on.”
Williams has apologized to the media, and will try everything he can to get back to the NFL. Instead of appealing his suspension like others on the Saints staff such as head coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis, Williams has accepted his punishment and is working to get back to the NFL.
“Coach Fisher and coach Williams will do everything they can do to get [Williams] back into the NFL,” Brown said. “Obviously there were some mistakes made, and he is going to pay what he’s been delivered and hopefully he will get back into the NFL.”
Like everyone else, the community of Excelsior Springs and Williams’ friends were shocked when they first heard the news. As a personal friend of Williams, Brown felt like he needed to let people know that Williams really was a good person. But because of the personal degree of the situation, Brown turned down ESPN and Kansas City Star before doing a piece with Channel 9.
“It’s personal but, sometimes you want to make sure that people know that he’s a good person, and he really is a good person,” Brown said.
To Bush, Williams will always be a close friend. The two taught middle school PE for four years in Excelsior Springs, and stayed friends through his career in the NFL. If Bush ever asked for a favor, Williams was more than happy to help out.
“I’ll give you an example. My grandson’s birthday is in November,” Bush said. “Well when Gregg was at Tennessee, my grandson’s favorite football player was Eddie George, the Tennessee running back, and I called him up one morning and asked him if he could get me a personalized autographed picture for my grandson and he said sure. And in two days that was on my doorstep by special mail.”
Even with an unclear future and under the spotlight of a national sports scandal, the community of Excelsior Springs is hopeful for the future of Williams. The NFL has given second chances to players and coaches before.
Through thick and thin, Williams hasn’t forgotten where he came from. The four sided scoreboard donated by the Gregg Williams Foundation will still stand in the Excelsior High Gym. Just like every year he’ll be back for the Tiger Classic Golf Tournament, which he will kick off by emceeing the Hall of Fame Banquet on July 11.
“He made a mistake and is going to pay for it dearly, and maybe, maybe his coaching career. And that’s my main concern, because I’m from the same home town, and I just hate for that to be his legacy,” Brown said. “And you know what, that maybe what some people will always remember.”