Former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams faces a serious image problem right now. When you lead a bounty program that promotes and awards injuring your opponents, people are obviously not going to be very happy with you. Of course, as the old saying goes, “Time heals all wounds,” right? In the case of countless celebrities and athletes, you’re damn right it does. Look at Tiger Woods. He went from an O-zone-piercing high to a burrowing earth worm low. Of course, like so many before him, Tiger rebounded from his version of rock bottom and salvaged his career. With that said, I think Gregg Williams faces an even steeper uphill battle than Tiger faced. The reason? Gifts. Not monetary gifts, as I don’t think that would have changed Tiger’s public perception for the better, but emotional gifts – memories. Do Saints fans associate the fond memories of the 2009-2011 teams with Williams, or do they associate it with the players? Gifts are why Tiger Woods was sure to get a second chance, and the same reason why it’s going to be tough for Gregg Williams to ever get that chance.
In this day and age, a character issue is not even close to a career-killer for athletes. Even instances of cheating in some cases can be forgiven if the player admits to his or her mistake and learns from it. (Come clean, Roger Clemens.) The reason is that athletes (in a very raw sense) are products that bring millions of people happiness. Tiger Woods fits the mold perfectly.
Tiger Woods cheated on his wife Elin hundreds (if not thousands) of times, and he upset a ton of people who looked up to him, myself included. With that said, he’s the single biggest reason I took up the game of golf as an adolescent. Sure, I lived in a golf-happy town with great deals for kids wanting to learn, but ultimately it was Tiger that made me want to play – his fire, passion and intensity made golf fun to play and watch, even at age 8. I distinctly remember watching the final round of the 1997 Masters, and I remember multiple occasions where I took my pitching wedge into the yard in the middle of 90+ degree summer afternoons in Myrtle Beach wearing black pants, a red polo and a black Nike cap. He was, and still is, awesome. He gave me so many gifts – so many fond memories from my childhood. After the details of his unfaithful personal life became public in late 2009, I wasn’t happy at all, but I knew I would get over it. It has been a little over two years since the scandal broke. Sure enough, I’m completely over it and extremely stoked to watch Tiger face off against Rory McIlroy this week at The Masters.
It’s rare for a coach to have that kind of connection with the general public, although it isn’t unheard of – just look at Joe Paterno. Did the late Joe Pa make mistakes in regards to reporting the child sexual abuse scandal involving his longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky? Of course. Do I think his inaction will hurt his legacy in the long term? Absolutely not, and it’s because of all the wisdom he gave over the years to his players, fans of Penn State and the general public. Like I said, though, coaches like Joe Pa are scarce, and I don’t think Gregg Williams has ever had the likability of a Joe Pa.
Arguably the biggest play of Super Bowl XLIV came late in the fourth quarter when Saints defender Tracy Porter intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown, essentially sealing the Super Bowl for the Saints. When Saints fans think of that play, do they think of the incredible play call by Gregg Williams, or do they think of Porter snatching the future Hall of Famer’s pass and sprinting untouched to the end zone for the game-clinching score? My guess is the latter, not the former, and that is essentially the problem that will make it much tougher for Williams to repair his image than any of the Saints defenders that played under him.