CLEVELAND — Gregg Williams may not be out of work for long.
The former Cleveland Browns interim coach/defensive coordinator is reportedly in talks with coach Adam Gase to become the new defensive coordinator of the New York Jets. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport first reported the news Friday afternoon.
Williams was the first candidate interviewed for the Browns’ full-time head coach opening, but after a nine-day search, the committee went in a different direction with the hiring of interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.
Shortly after Kitchens’ impending hiring was reported, ESPN’s Pat McManamon said that the interim coach/defensive coordinator “is no longer with the Browns and will not return.”
At 2-5-1 following a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28 and in the middle of an unprecedented midseason coaching staff upheaval following the dismissals of Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley with eight games left to play, the 2018 Browns looked to be anything but a team capable of the greatest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history.
But a 5-3 record over the second half of the season and a three-game winning streak in December secured the Browns’ greatest turnaround in team history, as they finished plus-7.5 in wins over last year’s winless campaign.
With a 26-18 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, the Browns finished off their first regular-season sweep of an AFC North Division opponent since 2002.
In addition to breaking a 16-year drought of two wins in the same season against the Bengals, the Browns finished the home portion of the schedule without a loss against an AFC North Division opponent for the first time ever.
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett reacts to a play against the New York Jets in the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio on October 8, 2017.
Williams found plenty of success leading a talented Browns defense in 2018.
Fully healthy coming into his second NFL season, Garrett emerged as a leader for the Browns’ defense and registered 44 total tackles, including 35 solo stops, while playing in all 16 games for the team who selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Of those 44 tackles, 13.5 were sacks on opposing quarterbacks for 75.5 lost yards.
With 20.5 sacks, Garrett registered the most by a Brown in the first 27 games of a career, as well as the most by a Cleveland defender in his first two professional seasons. This season, Garrett ranked sixth in the NFL with the 13.5 sacks and fourth in the AFC with four forced fumbles.
Garrett was the Browns’ first front seven defender to reach All-Pro status since linebacker Jamir Miller in 2001 and first defensive lineman since Michael Dean Perry made the AP All-Pro Team in 1994.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) blocks a field goal in the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio on October 7, 2018.
A two-time Pepsi Rookie of the Week (Weeks 1 and 5) and one-time AFC Special Teams Player of the Week (Week 5) honoree, Ward is among the AFC leaders with three interceptions.
The No. 4 overall pick of the Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft out of The Ohio State University, Ward ranked tied for second in interceptions and passes defended, tied for third in forced fumbles and tied for first with two fumble recoveries among first-year players.
In his 13 games with the Browns this season, Ward registered 53 total tackles, 41 solo stops and 12 assists along with three interceptions, which he returned for 26 yards, 14 passes defended, one forced fumble and two recoveries.
The Browns will face the Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey during the 2019 regular season.