With evidence of the teams for which Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams worked over the past decade having internal systems that paid players for specific instances of on-field performance, it’s no surprise that there’s now evidence of the team with which he spent a full decade doing the same thing.
Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that the Tennessee Titans (and, before that, the Tennessee Oilers and, before that, the Houston Oilers) “had a player-organized performance incentives pool to reward big plays — everything from bone-jarring hits to touchdowns to downing punts inside the 10 — with extra money.”
Former players who spoke to Wyatt said “coaches were aware” of the activity, but that the coaches “didn’t organize bonus programs or hand out money for deliberately injuring an opponent.”
Of course, there’s a fine line between “bone-jarring hits” and deliberate efforts to injure. (Or maybe there isn’t.)
One play said the mentality traces to Buddy Ryan, who served as defensive coordinator of the Oilers in the early 1990s.
“Buddy used to put it simple: If you take the other team’s best player out, your chance of winning increases dramatically,” former Oilers linebacker Al Smith told Wyatt.
Wyatt writes that, of a dozen players interviewed, none said that Williams administered a program for financially rewarding players who injured opponents. But safety Lance Schulters, who arrived in Tennessee after Williams left and Jim Schwartz became the defensive coordinator, admitted that the players had a system of their own.
“Guys would throw out there, ‘Hey, knock this guy out and it’s worth $1,000,’” Schulters said. “Let’s say when we played the Steelers, and Hines Ward was always trying to knock guys out. So if you knocked [him] out, there might be something in the pot, $100 or whatever, for a big hit on Hines — a legal, big hit.
“In some of our [defensive back meeting] rooms we had money up for big hits, stuff like that. But it wasn’t dirty, or anything crazy like ‘Take this guy’s knee out and you get $5,000.’ It was just a way of keeping it interesting.”
Schulter’s right about one thing. The habit — long suspected and now fully exposed — definitely will keep it interesting, for weeks if not months.