One day after his ill-advised, all-out blitz failed to take down the opposing quarterback on the game-deciding play, New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was sacked by coach Adam Gase in a Monday morning meeting that lasted nearly an hour.
"Obviously, I wasn't happy about that call," Gase told reporters, explaining the decision to dismiss Williams with four games remaining. "That was a heartbreaking way for our guys to lose a game. For that to happen in that situation, we just ... we can't have that happen."
Williams was universally criticized for calling a risky, Cover 0 blitz while protecting a four-point lead against the Las Vegas Raiders. The result was a 46-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in the game that gave the Raiders a 31-28 win and dropped the Jets to 0-12.
A somber Gase said he made the decision Sunday night to fire Williams, slept on it and informed ownership and the front office on Monday morning. He said they were in agreement that a change was needed.
"Obviously, he wasn't happy, but it's our profession," Gase said. "We've all been in that situation where we've lost our jobs."
Assistant head coach Frank Bush, who works with the inside linebackers, was named the interim defensive coordinator.
The fiery Williams, perhaps best known as a key figure in the New Orleans Saints' "Bountygate" scandal in 2012, is known for his aggressiveness.
He pushed the limit on a third-down play, protecting a four-point lead. Instead of playing a soft zone, he dialed up a seven-man blitz that left rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson, an undrafted free agent, in man-to-man coverage with no safety help. He was torched by fellow rookie Henry Ruggs III, one of the fastest players in the league.
Safety Marcus Maye, also a captain, openly questioned Williams' strategy in a postgame news conference. Gase said Maye's comments didn't factor into his decision, but Maye wasn't alone. Other players didn't agree with Williams' call for an all-out blitz, sources said.
Gase second-guessed himself for not calling a timeout when he heard the call in the headset. But he noted that he never overruled one of Williams' calls. Gase gave him autonomy to run the defense, saying, "I hired Gregg because I trusted him to make the right calls and run the defense."
Still, Gase admitted, "I wish I would've called timeout, but I didn't."
The ill-fated blitz was a big reason why he fired Williams, but not the only reason. Williams' defense was ranked 29th in yards allowed, blew three fourth-quarter leads and committed a league-high 11 penalties for roughing the passer. Williams also upset people in the organization in October when he took a veiled shot at the offense.
Williams became the first member of Gase's coaching staff to be fired. Gase himself is on the hot seat and likely will be dismissed at the end of the season.
Gase didn't address the move with the team as a whole, saying he spoke individually to a few players. Nose tackle Folorunso Fatukasi said, "Dang, we're all kind of like ... it's hard to explain because we have a ton of respect for Gregg Williams. We know this a tough business, but we have to figure out a way to move on."
Quarterback Sam Darnold declined comment, saying, "[we] didn't know what to think of it. That's something that's above my pay grade, so I'm not going to necessarily sit here and talk about why he was let go."
Gase said he's not planning any other staff changes, which means defensive assistant Blake Williams, Gregg's son, will remain.
Soon after being hired as the Jets' coach in January 2019, Gase added Gregg Williams to his staff, an odd pairing because of their headstrong personalities. Many predicted the marriage would fail, especially when Gase hired his father-in-law, Joe Vitt, to coach the linebackers. Vitt and Williams were cast as enemies in Bountygate, when Vitt testified against Williams in hearings.
Things went relatively smoothly in 2019 with the Jets. Under Williams, the defense overachieved and finished seventh in yards allowed.
Before the 2020 training camp, Williams lost his two best players. All-Pro safety Jamal Adams was traded and former Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out because of COVID-19 concerns. He lost two more starters during the season, as linebacker Avery Williamson and nose tackle Steve McLendon were dealt before the trade deadline.
Playing mostly inexperienced players, Williams' defense struggled almost every week, including six 300-yard passing days.