Two years ago, the Saints’ season became derailed by the cartoonish comments and conduct of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who brought to the Bayou a so-called bounty program that he reportedly used with other NFL teams. In lieu of venturing down the proverbial rabbit hole, the NFL plugged it with cement, threw the book at the Saints, and moved on.
Williams moved on, serving a one-year suspension before landing with the Titans in 2013 and now with the Rams, in the same job he held when the suspensions was issued. Tonight, Williams and the Saints will have one of the more awkward reunions in NFL history.
“It’s not a big topic,” Saints coach Sean Payton recently told reporters. “Our players are playing a preseason game. We are trying to get the right guys evaluated. It is not even a big deal at all. What’s important is just getting our guys ready to know what they’re doing, putting their best foot forward and playing well. It’s about the players and us preparing. I don’t see it being a big deal.”
That’s fine, but it is a big deal. Or perhaps more accurately, it could end up being a big deal. And Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune suggests that the Saints would be wise to sit all starters against the St. Louis starting defense.
For good reason. During the hearing conducted regarding player discipline, Saints linebacker coach and assistant head coach Joe Vitt blasted Williams, in multiple ways.
“Gregg Williams had a program, a bounty program in to try to hurt opposing coaches on the sideline,” Vitt said, for example. “In other words, when you miss a play on the sideline of a tackle, you would get a bonus for knocking the coach down and knocking out his knee.”
While it’s only a preseason game, Williams and the Saints welcomed 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to the job during the 2011 preseason by blitzing the San Francisco starting offense into oblivion. The 49ers later would get their revenge, beating the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs, the day after Williams’ over-the-top rant about injuring San Francisco offensive players was recorded and eventually given to the media.
That game was the last one Williams coached for the Saints. Tonight, he’ll encounter them again for the first time since. It’ll be the closest thing to must-see TV that ever happens in any preseason.