They won a Super Bowl together with Sean Payton in New Orleans before Bountygate derailed their careers, their reputations and even their personal relationship.
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Now they are the NFL’s Odd Couple, two grizzled football pit bulls thrust together by Adam Gase to try to end the Jets’ 50-plus year championship drought.
It will either prove to be a master stroke by Gase that will light a fire under his Gang Green defense or leave the operation riddled with gangrene if defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and senior assistant/outside linebackers coach Joe Vitt struggle with letting bygones be bygones when the inevitable adversity strikes.
Some background music, please:
Vitt called Williams a liar, and also nuts and narcissistic during his Bountygate testimony seven years after they’d been busted for their respective roles in the Saints’ pay-for-performance scandal. And Vitt mentioned how Saints players didn’t respect Williams’ “false bravado” or “shtick.”
In other words, this is no reunion between any Sleepy Joe or Low-Energy Gregg.
Oh, and Vitt happens to be Gase’s father-in-law.
“[Gase is] on offense, I’m on defense,” Vitt said.
All in the Family, and it won’t be the Brady Bunch if they don’t win.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Payton for the 2012 season, reinstated Williams after 11 months and suspended Vitt for the first six games of the 2012 season.
So there was Williams in the press room Thursday, self-confident and personable and engaging … until a question about Vitt was asked.
“Next question,” he snapped. “He’s a great friend of mine. He’ll always be a great friend, I don’t care what you’ve written — go ahead, somebody else.”
At which point he looked around the room for a friendlier question.
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After practice now, inside the field house, Vitt was his passionate, knowledgeable self … until a question about his thoughts on reuniting with Williams given their history.
“This is a National Enquirer question or what?” Vitt barked. “I like Gregg. Me and him are friends. Next question.”
Apparently, there is no I in STEAM.
Williams and Vitt are back in good standing with the league and although they may be kinder and gentler with cart-offs and knockouts prohibited, they will demand relentless players who live on the edge with them.
“When you guys see maybe the voice, the loudness and stuff, that’s premeditated,” Williams said. “How do we, Monday through Saturday, Monday through Friday, make sure that these guys can block out the white noise on Sunday? When you have slow-motion practices, then you’re shocked on a fast-paced Sunday. So, try to put as much external pressures on them as we can, from distractions, voice, from fake anger, that type of stuff to try to get ready to play on Sundays. You’ll see a lot calmer me on Sundays.”
The defensive players have found Williams to be a howling breath of fresh air. They buy what he is selling because they know he cares and they know he knows his stuff.
“Players can smell and feel and know whether you’re conning ’em faster than coaches do, because they see the personal side,” Williams said. “So, yeah, I push, prod, and attitude does come first. And I tell ’em attitude is everything, pick a good one today.”
Vitt is walking, breathing attitude himself.
“It’s the No. 1 priority,” he said. “If you’re trying to win a world championship, which we’re trying to do right here, attitude takes precedence. The ability to come to work every day and be accountable to what you’re doing, to have great passion for what you’re doing, to have trust in your teammates, and you get 53 players walking as one to get a job done — you do that, you’re pretty damn good in this league. So culture comes first, attitude comes first, and you certainly want to surround yourself with those type of people.”
“The reason I keep getting hired is culture,” Williams said. “Culture beats strategy any day of the week. It’s about how you find ways yourself to be tougher. How you find ways to play harder, play smarter, for longer, than any opponent you go against.”
Then it is find ball, see ball, get ball.
“Gregg and I have a lot of history,” Vitt said. “When we won a world championship in New Orleans, we got pressure on the quarterback, we affected the quarterback and we didn’t have Von Miller there either.”
It will be compelling theater if they can make history together again, considering their history.