Gregg Williams' NFL career was already endangered before audio recordings proved he ordered players to inflict specific injuries on specific San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs last season. He's likely finished now. If this doesn't finish him, what will it take?
Before considering the effect of these revelations, let's absorb what Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, told New Orleans players regarding the 49ers when he was the Saints' defensive coordinator.
On running back Frank Gore: "We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head. We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways."
On running back Kendall Hunter: "Little 32, we're going to knock the f--- out of him."
On quarterback Alex Smith: "Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head."
On receiver Kyle Williams: "We need to find out in the first two series of the game, that little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion. We need to f---ing put a lick on him right now. He needs to decide. He needs to f---ing decide."
On receiver Michael Crabtree: "We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake-ass prima donna, or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find out. He becomes human when we f---ing take out that outside ACL."
On tight end Vernon Davis: "We need to decide how many times we can bull rush and we can f---ing put Vernon Davis' ankles over the pile."
Listening to Williams speak so casually about injuring opponents leaves the strong impression that these sorts of orders were routine for him. He made the comments with a documentary film crew present. Williams was not giving these orders secretly. He was not hiding his activities from his bosses. To the contrary, he was reveling in them, repeatedly saying the Saints should never apologize for how they play.
Williams is now sorry, of course -- sorry for getting caught.
Pro football is a tough, brutal sport. We're deluding ourselves if we suggest coaches and players have never said horrible things about the damage they plan to inflict upon opponents. But to hear a defensive coordinator calmly hand down such specific orders, even rubbing his fingers together while saying he'd pay players for inflicting injuries, affirms the darkest suspicions about Williams' true intentions.
Williams is not without enablers. His comments represented the take-no-prisoners approach that made him beloved among players and coveted as a coordinator within the culture NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is now trying to dismantle in the long-term interests of the game. Williams defined himself by that culture.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher previously said the team never would have hired Williams if Fisher known his longtime friend would be facing an indefinite suspension. How can he take back Williams now that the world has heard these tapes? The NFL, armed with these recordings, should think harder about allowing Williams to return.
It's implausible to think Williams suddenly stumbled upon these tactics days before playing the 49ers. He's been coaching in the NFL for two decades. We can assume Williams made similar comments during previous coaching stops. What did Fisher know about the pregame speeches Williams gave when the two were together in Tennessee and Houston? Williams and his enablers have lost the benefit of the doubt. They must account for what they knew.
"There’s a great deal of information out there that we will never know, so I can’t really comment on the specifics of that and place blame on anybody," Fisher said last month. "This was a very extensive investigation and there’s a lot out there that, I would assume, would not be disclosed. So I have to reserve comment on that because I know that, never at any time, as far as I’ve been with him, has he disrespected this game from the standpoint of you try to hurt somebody on purpose. He has a passion for this game and a passion for playing hard-nosed, aggressive defense. I think there’s a lot out there that will probably be locked up in a drawer some place."
That drawer has been unlocked. What else is in there?
If Williams ever did rejoin the Rams, we could anticipate 49ers coaches playing those tapes for their players heading into twice-annual division games against St. Louis. NFC West matchups became rough-and-tumble affairs last season as San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona fielded increasingly physical defenses. The Rams thought Williams could give them a needed edge. That seems ridiculous now that the bounty scandal has forced contrition upon a figure whose entire NFL identity relied upon an unapologetic nature.
"Another thing we always say in this room is, never apologize for the way we compete," Williams told Saints players on the recordings. "If you're in this room, you understand that we do not apologize."
Williams is apologizing now because his career depends upon it. He has no choice. But he's lost all credibility in the process. Three months after the 49ers knocked the Saints from the playoffs, Williams appears down for the count.