- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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If Gregg Williams indeed becomes the Tennessee Titans' new assistant head coach after a year off the NFL map, he’ll face a load of questions. Many will be about players trusting him after the way he spoke with the league about some guys on the New Orleans Saints while cooperating with the commissioner's investigation into what Roger Goodell determined was a pay-for-injury program.
But he’ll have one major thing going for him in Nashville that may lead Titans fans to quickly look beyond all that: He’s not Jerry Gray.
Gray might be the most unpopular guy in Music City sports. Many were baffled as to how he held on to his post as defensive coordinator after the Titans' offensive coordinator was fired with five games remaining in the season and four other veteran coaches were either let go or saw their contracts not renewed.
If Williams joins the team with the assistant head coach title Adam Schefter reports he would carry, Williams would rank as more powerful than Gray. If Gray is as overmatched as it appeared last season, he’ll have someone to lean on -- and perhaps someone to lean on him.
Williams’ relationship with Gray goes way back.
The two were assistants on Jeff Fisher’s Oilers and Titans staff from 1997-2000, and when Williams left after the 2000 season to take the head job in Buffalo, he took Gray with him as his defensive coordinator. Later, Williams brought Gray to Washington.
In Gray’s second incarnation with the Titans, he has hardly looked like a disciple of the aggressive Williams, who ran Fisher’s 46 defense, loved to blitz and carried elements of that to Buffalo, Washington, Jacksonville (where he really ran what Jack Del Rio wanted on defense) and New Orleans.
The 2012 Titans played their cornerbacks way off, suggesting fear in a season when the franchise yielded the most points in the NFL and an Oilers/Titans franchise record. They were destroyed by top quarterbacks and top teams.
It seems that Gray, a former NFL defensive back, too often thinks like a passive defensive back as a coordinator when it’s a lot healthier to think like an aggressive lineman. If, in working together, Gray and Williams meet somewhere in the middle -- as a position coach for Fisher, Williams worked with linebackers before becoming coordinator -- Tennessee could face a philosophical upgrade.
Of course, it won't matter if the personnel upgrade to match doesn't arrive.
Three other thoughts on the idea of Williams re-emerging as part of the Titans staff if it happens:
Respect of the room: Much has been made of the idea that he won’t command the respect of players because they will see him as a guy who sold out some of their brethren when coming clean about what went on with the Saints.
To that, I say the Titans should come to terms with it quickly. I imagine Williams would address it early on in some fashion. Head coach Mike Munchak should too, and he should put it in these simple terms: “I don’t particularly care what you think of him. I think he helps us. Follow him or I’ll find someone who will.”
If players don’t respect Williams, they will do so at the risk of their job security. He might have softened in a year away, but he won’t stand for not being listened to.
Ego: Williams is a good football coach whose ego can be an issue. It’s part of what made him work, but it’s also part of what led to his downfall. He simply has to strike a better balance at this stop.
He’s a good coach with a good mind, and he can be a wonderful guy. But it would be healthy for him to acknowledge that there are plenty of good coaches with good minds around the league and to be that wonderful guy more regularly.
Part of that can come with a separation from his son, Blake, who worked with his father in three previous stops and was in line to work with him in St. Louis last season. While Gregg Williams was suspended, Blake took on a great deal of power for the Rams defense, which was particularly surprising considering he turned 28 in December. When the season ended, Fisher ended things with Blake Williams quickly and word came out via Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports that the Rams were completely put off by Blake Williams’ “brusque, tactless style.”
A dad’s going to be a dad, but Gregg Williams has to concede that some of his negative personality qualities rubbed off on his offspring and that the rest of the NFL world doesn’t necessarily fall in line with his opinion of his son as a coach.
If Munchak somehow hires Blake Williams, I’ll have a major issue -- and so should any players who would be coached by the younger Williams, whose résumé is more about his parent that his achievement.
Munchak doing it his way: Munchak has two years left under contract, but if the Titans don’t make the playoffs in 2013, it would take something extraordinary for him to stay in the job for a fourth season.
Many of his moves since his second season ended suggest that if he’s going down, he’s going down his way.
Munchak knows Williams well from their time together as Fisher assistants. Williams would be the second guy from that time frame to return to the Titans staff this year, joining tight ends coach George Henshaw.
If the Titans don’t make huge gains from 6-10, Munchak and Williams will likely both be looking for work.
Williams will really have to have done solid work and reputation restoration to be appealing to someone who isn’t an old friend.