Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely effective immediately by the NFL for his part in a “bounty” program, the league announced Wednesday afternoon.
Williams’ suspension was part of a bigger announcement from the league concerning a program that took place while Williams was in New Orleans in which players were paid extra cash for injuring opposing players, among other illegal incentives.
According to the league’s extensive investigation, the programs were in place for the past three seasons, beginning in 2009.
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised.
“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious. When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”
Williams’ indefinite suspension will encompass at minimum the 2012 season according to the league. At that point, Williams will become eligible for reinstatement so long as he has met the requirements of the league and Goodell.
“I’d like to again apologize wholeheartedly to the NFL, Coach Fisher, the entire Rams organization and all football fans for my actions,” Williams said in a statement. “Furthermore, I apologize to the players of the NFL for my involvement as it is not a true reflection of my values as a father or coach, nor is it reflective of the great respect I have for this game and its core principle of sportsmanship.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions. I highly value the 23 years that I’ve spent in the NFL. I will continue to cooperate fully with the league and its investigation and I will focus my energies on serving as an advocate for both player safety and sportsmanship. I will do everything possible to re-earn the respect of my colleagues, the NFL and its players in hopes of returning to coaching in the future.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon, saying that no immediate replacement will be made and emphasized that the Rams will cooperate fully with the league’s punishment.
“First and foremost, our organization, Mr. Kroenke and the entire organization supports and respects the decision the commissioner has made,” Fisher said. “It was a very difficult decision but there were some things that took place that warranted a decision like this.”
Fisher and Williams coached together for a number of years in Tennessee and Williams was a slam dunk hire for the Rams as coordinator after Fisher was named head coach in mid-January.
At the time of the hiring, Fisher said neither he nor anyone involved in the Rams organization was aware that Williams and the Saints were under investigation.
For Williams’ part, Fisher said he was unaware that it was an ongoing issue that would come up again from further discussions.
“I also want to note that this organization including myself had no idea when we hired Coach Williams that there was the potential for this to happen,” Fisher said. “I have often been asked behind the scenes ‘Had you known about it, would you have hired him?’ Of course not, you don’t go out and hire somebody that is going to potentially be suspended for an entire year. However, I love Gregg and I know him well. Gregg would not have put this organization in this position and accepted this job only to be suspended and put us behind the 8 ball if you would. This is the National Football League, sometimes you have to adjust and our staff is prepared to adjust.”
That adjustment process has been continuing for several weeks after the league announced initial findings in the first stage of the investigation on March 2. At that time, Williams issued a statement that he would fully cooperate with the league on further investigations and wait for his punishment to be handed down by the league.
“This does not come as a complete surprise,” Fisher said. “We have had some contact with some officials in the league office and was anticipating a suspension to come down the past couple days. The severity of the suspension does not surprise us as well. As best we can, we had been preparing for that.”
Since that time, the Rams and Williams began bracing themselves for any number of possible punishments and started the procedure of putting backup plans in place.
Fisher was informed of the suspension Wednesday morning and delivered the news to Williams personally. As part of Williams’ suspension, he can have no contact with the Rams until he is reinstated and he was required to leave the Russell Training Center after a short period that allowed for some logistical discussions before his departure.
With Williams on staff for about five weeks before any mention of the investigation was released, Fisher said the Rams staff was able to get a head start on putting the defense in place.
Without Williams, Fisher said he doesn’t anticipate naming a defensive coordinator, per se. Instead, the Rams will coordinate the defense by committee, namely using the experience of assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, secondary coach Chuck Cecil and Fisher himself, all of whom have served in a defensive coordinator role at some point in their careers.
“We have got three former coordinators in the building,” Fisher said. “I met with the staff today and informed the stuff when we got the news and told them we would make the appropriate adjustments and then move on. I’m not going to name a defensive coordinator. It will be a collective effort.”
Because that experience is already in place, Fisher is confident that the defense will be ready to go by the time the season opens.
“I have got Dave McGinnis on staff, Chuck Cecil on staff and I’ll remind you that the playbook that Gregg has originated in my office,” Fisher said. “So I have a pretty good feel for the defense. I don’t have liberty to say who is going to make the calls and the decisions but it will get done and it will get done effectively.”
While the Rams begin working on solutions to step in for Williams through next season, Fisher said Williams expressed remorse for what happened and believes Williams will take all of the necessary steps to get back to coaching when the time comes.
Fisher said any decision on Williams’ long term future will be a bridge that’s crossed when that time comes.
In the meantime, Fisher emphasized there simply isn’t enough time for he and his staff to sit around feeling sorry for themselves.
“We have to move on,” Fisher said. “I don’t mean to be insensitive to this but we have to move on. Our job is to win games and Gregg has got to learn from his mistakes and is paying dearly for it. I know him, it’s going to be very difficult for him but for him what’s most important is his family. He’s going to do his best to do whatever it takes to get reinstated.”