By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts statistical bounty hunter


Critics have long-lamented the good ole boy network among NFL coaches.
 
You know the story: the NFL is filled with retread coaches who habitually land plum gigs because they’re friends with the right guys.  
 
Gregg Williams, at the center of an explosive pay-for-performance controversy, is now Exhibit 1A of the NFL’s good ole boy network. Enter Gregg’s Country Bunker of coaching and you'll find his teams play both kinds of defenses: mediocre and bad.
 
The truth is that Williams has always been J-A-C – Just Another Coach. It’s time to expose the consistently underwhelming performances of his defenses under the unrelenting Cold, Hard Football Facts spotlight in the wake of the bounty scandal that broke this weekend.
 
The bounty system, we learned, was consistently at play in the New Orleans locker room, where Williams spent the last three years as defensive coordinator. The scandal has now spread to other cities where this good ole boy has consistently landed jobs despite a thin statistical resume.
 
Bounties or not, the fact of the matter is that Williams, in his 15 years as defensive coordinator or head coach, rarely  produced elite defenses – the kind that you would expect from a coach who’s consistently on the short list of potential hires.
 
Hell, new St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher hired Williams away from New Orleans this off-season, under the delusion that putting the old band back together will somehow turn around the team. St. Louis is the NFL’s very own version of St. Helens of the Blessed Shroud, a bankrupt orphanage of a franchise in need of new blood and a miracle, not a retread coach we've seen before.
 
The details on Williams’ track record are below. The statistical headlines are here. Williams’ defenses, on average, have ranked:
  • 14th in scoring D
  • 14th in total D
  • 17th in Defensive Passer Rating
Williams is, by any measure, an average coach. We’re not here to judge Williams based on the bounty scandal. Anyone feigning shock or outrage is being disingenuous. The NFL is a combustible mix of violence, money and testosterone. Hell, those are the reasons why, if we had emotions, we'd love the NFL.

The bounty scandal is unacceptable for the sanctity of the sport, of course. Gridiron Godfather Roger Goodell has to act. But, you know, you plant a seed in a soil with water, don't be surprised when it sprouts.
 
So we’re not here to judge that natural outgrowth of a violent sport filthy with money. We are here, though, to question why Williams consistently lands gigs when there must be better, if less well known, options out there.
 
The Good Ole Boy Network
At best, the good ole boy network is just the way any business works: you hire those folks you know well and like to work with. Nothing wrong with that.
 
There is probably nobody among us who hasn’t benefitted from their own version of the good ole boy network at one point in their life, whether landing a job, fixing a ticket or making a business connection. We all leverage our personal network.
 
At worst, of course, the good ole boy network is a vestige of lingering old cultural wounds that kept certain segments of society from pursuing certain opportunities in life. Blacks, as we all know, have long filled NFL rosters on the field but found few opportunities on NFL sidelines. The NFL tacitly laid blame upon the good ole boy network for this disparity when it instituted the Rooney Rule.
 
Somewhere in the middle is the way it usually comes across in the NFL: mediocre coaches land one gig after another despite mediocre performances of their teams and units on the field.
 
In this scenario, that retread defensive coordinator that your team just hired (hellooooo St. Louis!) prevents your team from taking the next step to success when some younger, better more talented coach outside the good ol’ boy network might have been a better option.
 
In other words, your team has probably put itself at a competitive disadvantage at several points in your life by turning to the good ole boy network and hiring the same retread.  
 
Bounty system or not, Williams is one of those retreads. In the wake of the scandal, we looked up the history of his defenses, from his first year as a defensive coordinator with the old Oilers to his most recent year as DC in New Orleans. We measured those teams in total defense, scoring defense and Defensive Passer Rating (the most important measure of a defense outside of scoring).

Performance of Gregg Williams Defenses in the NFL
Year Team Position Record Total D Rank Scoring D Rank DPR Rank
1997 Oilers DC 8-8 326.9 22 19.4 12 83.4 22
1998 Oilers DC 8-8 320.1 16 20.0 12 90.0 28
1999 Titans DC 13-3 327.8 17 20.2 15 82.3 19
2000 Titans DC 13-3 238.3 1 11.9 2 62.0 2
2001 Bills HC 3-13 330.8 21 26.2 29 92.2 29
2002 Bills HC 8-8 324.3 15 24.8 27 84.7 23
2003 Bills HC 6-10 269.6 2 17.4 5 76.5 14
2004 Redskins DC 6-10 267.6 3 16.6 5 72.2 5
2005 Redskins DC 10-6 297.9 9 18.3 9 70.1 3
2006 Redskins DC 5-11 355.5 31 23.5 27 97.8 32
2007 Redskins DC 9-7 305.3 8 19.4 11 77.1 10
2008 Jaguars DC 5-11 330.9 17 22.9 21 95.4 28
2009 Saints DC 13-3 357.8 25 21.3 20 68.6 3
2010 Saints DC 11-5 306.3 4 19.2 7 83.2 15
2011 Saints DC 13-3 368.4 24 21.2 13 86.4 22
  Totals   131-109 315.2 14.3 20.2 14.3 81.5 17
 
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are not pretty, folks: Williams has fielded some nice defenses. But he’s also fielded plenty of bad defenses. At the end of the day, he is what his team’s performances say he is: an average coach of average defenses.
 
In fact, he might have been below average before joining Drew Brees and Sean Payton in New Orleans. Before that 2009 season, teams went 94-98 with Williams on the sideline as head coach or defensive coordinator.
 
The Saints are the only team that has consistently won with Williams on the sideline: 37-11 in the regular season, plus a Super Bowl title in 2009. But the Cold, Hard Football Facts are pretty clear: those teams did not win because of their defenses. The Saints surrendered more than 344 yards per game in Williams' three seasons as DC.
 
To his credit, Williams' 2009 unit, No. 3 in Defensive Passer Rating, was a big reason the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. But, as we’ve noted several times, safety Darren Sharper never got the credit he deserved for his role in lifting that pass defense. He tied for the NFL lead in INTs that year (9) and was the biggest reason for the sudden success of the unit, among the league-leaders in INTs in 2009. That pass defense was awful before Sharper arrived on the scene and it’s been bad again since he last played regularly in that 2009 season. Hell, the last time we saw a Williams defense on the field, it was twice shredded in the final moments by Alex Smith and the ground-and-pound San Francisco offense in the divisional playoffs.
 
The Exception That Proves the Rule
Williams has fielded only one great defense, with the 2000 Titans. His team that year ranked first in total defense and second in scoring defense, surrendering just 11.9 PPG, one of the better defenses of the Live Ball Era.
 
But the performance of that defense is a clear statistical outlier on the Williams resume. And it’s a long-held Cold, Hard Football Facts maxim that when you see a statistical outlier in the NFL, there are usually extenuating circumstances that explain the situation.
 
The 2000 Titans defense is no exception.
 
The Titans that year played in the old six-team AFC Central. They had the great fortune of playing a quarter of their schedule against two of the worst offenses in modern history: the Bengals scored 11.6 PPG on 2000; the Browns were even worse, they scored 10.1 PPG.
 
Not so coincidentally, another famous AFC Central defense benefitted from that soft schedule. You may have heard of the 2000 Ravens? They surrendered just 10.3 PPG that year – the best scoring defense of the Live Ball Era. No coincidence that they, too, faced the same soft schedule of offenses. The math is pretty easy:

Great defenses vs. historically bad offenses =  statistical outliers 
 
Listen, both the Titans and Ravens had great defenses in 2000. No doubt about it. But the Cold, Hard Football Fact of the matter is that both are statistical outliers because circumstances – a terrible offensive division – played in their favor. No shame in it. Just a fact.
 
In the case of Gregg Williams, he’s ridden that early rep into one plum gig after another – not because his defenses have consistently sparkled (they haven’t) but because he’s consistently known the right people. He’s consistent been hooked into the good ole boy network.
 
The NFL at the end of the day is like any other line of work: it's a people business. Relationships matter. Personal interactions matter. Your bank likes to tell you that you’re a person with them, not just a number. That’s how the good ole boy network operates in the NFL and in any other walk of life: you’re a person, not a number.

Nothing wrong with that in general. 
 
But the Cold, Hard Football Facts have little use for human connections. To us, you’re NOT a person. You are in fact a number. And in the case of good ole boy Gregg Williams, those numbers tell us he’s Just Another Coach. And now he’s just another coach with a huge scandal hanging over his head.