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Father-son coaching duo aims for pair of rings

In coaching families, there are good holiday seasons and bad holiday seasons. You’re hustling off to a bowl game or you’re packing boxes for the next stop. For the Williams family, this year’s was a decidedly good holiday.

Bobby Williams, Alabama’s tight ends coach and special-teams coordinator, will try to collect his fourth national championship ring in seven years with the Tide this Monday night in Arizona. His son, Nick, will be in the stands at the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, hoping to be wearing a new ring of his own. The younger Williams is the wide receivers coach at Jacksonville State, which plays North Dakota State Saturday afternoon in the FCS Championship Game.

The long break between games gave both father and son a rare chance to be home and happy on Christmas. They traded a couple of in-person notes on getting their teams ready to battle for a championship.

“I told him when I left after Christmas that I’m happy I won’t see him for a while,” Nick said. “Because that means we’d both be at practice for the next few weeks.”

Nick grew up on practice fields at Michigan State, where Bobby coached for 10 years as an assistant and three more as the head man. He was usually the youngest at the team-sponsored football camps each summer and got his picture in the paper a few times in grade school by befriending star running back Sedrick Irvin.

He and his sister, Nataly, who just took a fundraising job at Michigan State two weeks before Dad beat her new employer at the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, were regulars on campus. Nick said he remembers hanging out in the coaches’ office and the way the players’ meeting room would fall silent when his dad came through the door.

“They both were around it every day,” Bobby said. “They had no other choice.”

Plans to follow in the family business, though, didn’t materialize until after college for Nick. He studied business at Alabama and was a walk-on wide receiver during the Tide’s run of three national titles in four seasons. When he graduated, Nick worked as the manager at an IHOP restaurant before deciding he needed more football in his life.

Bobby tried to talk him out of going down the same path. Nick had experienced the downside of the job, too, moving from town to town often and having kids at school ask why your dad’s team is no good.

When living at home for those first few months after finishing school and working at IHOP, Nick would peek over Bobby’s shoulder as he read through long threads of thank you notes from former players who were checking in with their old mentor on Facebook. He was ready to give coaching a try.

“He’d come in late at night smelling like a waffle and have flour all over him,” said Sheila Williams, Nick’s mother. “You better believe he was moving pretty fast to get that first (graduate assistant) job.”

Nick worked at Valdosta State for one year before he joined the staff at Jacksonville State, a convenient two-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Once he had carved out a job on his own, Bobby became an invaluable source of advice.

Father and son talked on the phone three or four times each week during the season. They ran through special-teams issues, ways to motivate players and other normal family conversations. The unique opportunity for both of them to coach championship teams on the same weekend hasn’t come up often.

“We talk not so much about winning a championship, but what it’s going to take,” Bobby said.

It took the elder Williams more than 20 years to get his hands on a championship ring. Nick, who already has three as a college player, has a chance to get his first after only two seasons as a full-time assistant. Bobby makes sure to let him know he needs to cherish the opportunity.

“He was reminding me this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Nick said. “He went through 20-some years as a coach and hadn’t gotten his first championship until 2009. He was a little bit jealous, but I’m sure he’s happy in the situation he’s in right now, about to get his fourth.”

Nick will fly from Frisco, Texas, to Phoenix on Sunday morning to meet up with the rest of the family and Alabama alumni. They’ll celebrate his 25th birthday (which is actually on Jan. 9, game day for Jacksonville State) and prepare for Monday night’s big game. He and the rest of the Williams are hoping it will be another happy family celebration.