BEREA, Ohio — The Gregg Williams seen on “Hard Knocks” was cursing about lozenges and cursing at players in a colorful display of old-school coaching.
The Gregg Williams heard on tapes in the past was talking about an over-the-edge style of play that might or might not have had something to do with him serving a one-year suspension in 2012.
The Gregg Williams who is the interim coach of the Cleveland Browns?
A model of reserve. Calm, cool and collected. Almost dignified.
Has the man who raged so often on camera and in the past changed? Probably not. Williams has been around too long to lose his persona. What has changed with Williams is his seat; he now represents the team on a daily basis when he speaks to the media. The other factor: He has a team that might not need the robust style.
“Everything I do,” Williams said Thursday, “is premeditated.”
Williams is 15 years, five teams and that one suspension removed from his last head-coaching job in Buffalo. At 60, any flickering chance to revive his chances to be a head coach might depend on the way he handles the interim opportunity in Cleveland. His age and history make the chance an uphill climb, but Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has said that if Williams is interested in the job, the team might consider him.
That’s assuming, of course, that the bottom doesn’t drop out these final seven games the way it has so often in previous Browns seasons.
Williams guides a team that has lost four in a row. It has an Atlanta team coming to Cleveland pinning its revived playoff hopes on beating the Browns. Williams is trying to end a downward spiral with a young team, a rookie quarterback, receiver, running back and left tackle, several defensive injuries and a psyche that could easily splinter.
How does Williams change the direction?
“The only way that I know is to treat every day like it is the most important day and do not deface or denounce or underutilize each and every day,” he said. “There is somebody wanting to sit in your seat as a player and as a coach in this league. That just is what you do. As we prepare, we have to prepare better, prepare smarter, practice better, practice smarter and then really do the fundamental things.”
That sounds on one level like coach-speak. But he continued.
“Do not make the game too complicated,” he said. “Do the fundamental things. Have to tackle. Have to catch it. Have to run it. Have to block it. Have to do those things, even to the point where you do not put as much emphasis on the opponent as is on you and on what you and we have to do.
“Getting back to the basics on a few things, especially with a young team. Getting back to the basics and do not forget how important that is with guys that need as much time on task at this fast level of football with not a lot of experience.”
The approach is specific to the team Williams is coaching. He has been around long enough to know when screaming helps and when it doesn’t. And he said he’s usually caught with voice raised because he had to explain something several times.
He will willingly relate that he has seen just about everything there is to see. He might be the same coach he always has been in closed practice and meetings, but publicly he seems to have decided that this team needs a different way.
“Then there is a difference from being the warden inside the penitentiary of the defensive room in there to being the head coach,” Williams said.
In the week and first game after Williams moved to the interim spot, players talked about the same things usually heard when a coaching change is made. The practices were better. There was more attention to detail. There was better communication.
After the game, players said Williams’ emphasis was on blocking out the outside noise, playing hard, playing smart and playing proud.
Go back a few years, and the same things were no doubt said of Hue Jackson, Mike Pettine, Rob Chudzinski and all the other coaches on the Browns’ lengthy list. It’s simply what is said when a new coach takes over.
What happens on the field matters more.
In the game against Kansas City, the Browns had a logical plan. Against the high-scoring Chiefs, they were focused on trying to score as many points as possible, so Williams went for it on fourth down four times. He also went for two every time they scored. Converting fourth downs served two purposes: It kept the Chiefs’ offense off the field and gave the Browns’ offense a chance to score.
The Browns lost but went to halftime down only five.
Defensively, Williams has always stressed taking away the big play; it’s why his single safeties line up well out of the TV cameras’ range. The Browns forced long drives, but the Chiefs’ offense was just too good; it scored on five drives longer than 75 yards.
Another emphasis: penalties. The Browns entered the game with 81, or 10 per game, one of the highest rates in the league; on Sunday, they had four. Whether it was Williams or a one-game thing will play out, but as he said for that game, “that was a positive.”
“I’ve got to morph to help these guys,” he said. “We all have to. Each person out there, each player, each coach — me first, I’ve got to to do whatever is best to help the guys that are here. I’m trying to do that the best that I can.”
Williams’ overall emphasis is on one of his coaching fundamentals: No excuses.
He said it earlier this year about officiating. He said it Monday when he said injuries are “never an excuse.”
With that attitude, he hopes with patient leadership and a plan, a young and struggling team can stand up to what it faces. He liked what he saw in his first game.
“I never saw them blink,” Williams said. “That is good. That is what we are supposed to do as professionals. Young team, old team, I do not care. That was good.”