Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams apparently wasn’t always the guy who told his players in January 2012 to “kill the head” and attack ACLs. According to former NFL defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, a decade ago Williams was a much different coach.
“He was the softest coach I’ve been around,” Ahanotu told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It was to the point, really, where I said, ‘Man, this guy’s really not made out to be a coach.’ Honestly, that’s what I always felt in Buffalo — this is not football. His approach was very cerebral. . . .
“He always talked about these complex things. It was like, ‘Man, can we just line up and play football.’ That’s how I always felt with him. I was only there for one year with him and coaches always develop and change. Maybe this is what he changed to.”
Perhaps that’s what precisely happened, with Williams becoming progressively more aggressive after getting fired as head coach of the Bills and then bouncing from Washington to Jacksonville and finally to New Orleans.
Ahanotu also agrees with the Commissioner’s stance on Williams’ most recent tactics, even though Ahanotu agrees with the notion that knocking opposing quarterbacks has always been one of the objectives of football. “I played D-line and we tried to knock the quarterback out,” Ahanotu said. “We tried to knock him out. We wanted to knock him out of the game. This was before all of the concussion awareness and that. But regardless whether you knock him out with a concussion, you want to hurt the guy. We weren’t trying to maim people out there but we wanted to get them out of the game. Even in this day in age — as a defensive lineman — you’re trying to get him out of the game. . . . [But] when he starts talking about ACLs and concussions, especially in this age, I understand. The Commissioner is totally validated for what he did.”
The real question going forward is whether the longstanding desire to find a way to get the opposing quarterback out of the game will revert to being unspoken, or whether the broader goal will be to instill a completely different way of thinking when it comes to the potential consequences of a big hit or a hard tackle. If it’s the latter, it may take a generation or longer before players stop linking the concept of knocking a player out of a game with having a greater chance of winning the game.
Or, perhaps more realistically, it’s part of the culture that can’t be changed unless and until all forceful physical contact is removed from the sport.