Gregg Williams

North Notes: Bengals, Hue, Browns, Pack, Vikes

A return to the Bengals could make sense for recently-fired Browns head coach Hue Jackson, as Mike Garafolo of NFL.com indicates (Twitter link). Jackson is extremely close with Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, and has previously worked in the Queen City on two occasions, first as wide receivers coach from 2004-06 and then in multiple roles (including offensive coordinator) from 2012-15. The Bengals still have to play the Browns twice this season, so adding Jackson with the intent of gaining intel on Cleveland wouldn’t be out of the question, but Cincinnati could be concerned about forcing incumbent play-caller Bill Lazor to look over his shoulder.

Jackson also gave an interview Thursday to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com in which he attempts to explain reports of “internal discord” between he and similarly fired Browns OC Todd Haley. The entire piece is well worth a full read, as Jackson expresses frustration at the prior state of Cleveland’s roster and the Browns passing on quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Carson Wentz in recent drafts.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams isn’t once to mince words, and he didn’t hold back Wednesday when asked about other opportunities he’s had in the NFL. “Since I left Buffalo, I had 11 letters to interview for head coaching jobs,” said Williams (Twitter link via Cabot). “Four of them didn’t even have to interview, just show up and sign the contract.” Williams gave no indication as to what clubs offered him a position, nor do most (if any) teams hand out head coaching gigs without at least a sit-down meeting. Williams, who is retaining his role as Cleveland’s defensive coordinator, also said he had no part in promoting Freddie Kitchens from running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
  • A.J. Green was in a walking boot following the Bengals‘ Week 8 win over the Buccaneers, and he’s still not “out of the woods,” tweets Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s unclear exactly what issue is bothering Green, and initial reports suggested the boot was simply precautionary. But the injury has continued to swell, per Dehner, so Cincinnati is putting its star receiver through further tests. The Bengals are on a bye in Week 9 so Green has plenty of time to recover, but any absence would be a massive blow to Cincinnati’s offense as the club continues its push for a playoff spot.
  • The Packers traded both safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and running back Ty Montgomery following what were perceived as locker room issues, but Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst says neither deal was intended to send a message to Packers players, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. “I think you take everything into consideration when you make these kind of decisions, but performance comes first,” Gutekunst said. “That’s always the major factor in these decisions. Everything’s taken into account, but it’s never usually just one thing.” Clinton-Dix had indicated he didn’t expect to re-sign with Green Bay, while Montgomery reportedly went rogue by taking a late-game kickoff out of the end zone on Sunday.
  • Before signing with the Vikings‘ practice squad earlier this week, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo also had p-squad offers from the Giants and Packers, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Odenigbo, who also worked out for the Saints earlier this week, says he’ll now play only on the edge for Minnesota instead of dabbling at defensive tackle, and interestingly says that designation was actually part of his pact with the Vikings.

Browns Fallout: Jackson, Staff, Mayfield

In firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, the Browns axed the top two voices behind their offense on Monday. This came after reports of friction between the two, accounts that turned out to be very real and ones that could’ve been envisioned for anyone who saw Hard Knocks.

The message today is we’re not going to put up with internal discord,” owner Jimmy Haslam said, via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. “… We had some concerns going into the game, obviously (Sunday’s) performance was disappointing. We had several of our key people involved in this conversations last night and this morning and did what we think’s best for the organization.”

Haslam said he met with John Dorsey on Sunday night, and actions came down Monday morning. Although Jackson went 1-31 in his first two seasons with the team, Haslam opted to give him a third year because the aggressive rebuild — put forth by former GM Sashi Brown — put Jackson in a “difficult spot” (Twitter link via Cabot). Gregg Williams was the only person the Browns considered to be the interim HC, Haslam said (per Nate Ulrich of ohio.com, on Twitter).

Some Browns began to question Jackson’s credibility, as a result of the third-year HC following through on his intent to give Haley autonomy to run the offense, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. After running the offense in 2016 and ’17, Jackson wasn’t nearly as involved this season. Jackson, in turn, was frustrated Haley would “do his own thing,” Breer adds. Jackson’s message grew stale as the losses mounted, per Yahoo’s Terez Paylor. This is obviously not uncommon for teams in losing situations, and that descriptor might not be strong enough to describe the state of the Browns under Haslam. The seventh-year owner’s now fired four head coaches, and the Browns have won more than five games just once under his watch.

Baker Mayfield‘s development shifts to front and center, and Breer notes the Jackson firing probably won’t bother the rookie quarterback much. They didn’t exactly see eye to eye, per Breer. Though, the No. 1 overall pick now has to finish a season without a proven offensive voice in the building and will have to learn a new offense in 2019.

Williams is technically still defensive coordinator, in addition to becoming a first-time head coach at age 60. But some around the league believe he will promote his son, Blake Williams, to that post, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Blake Williams has been Cleveland’s linebackers coach for two seasons.

As far as a possible Jackson/Williams successor, Breer points out Dorsey has “the highest respect” for what Iowa State coach Matt Campbell‘s done. Campbell, 38, is from the Cleveland area (Massillon, Ohio) as well. While Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley may well get a look, since he’d be a natural fit given his mentoring of Mayfield with the Sooners, he doesn’t envision leaving Oklahoma (video link). Gregg Williams will also be a candidate for the full-time job, Haslam said (via Cabot, on Twitter). But such a scenario would be hard to envision.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Promote Gregg Williams To HC

The Browns have named defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as their new interim head coach, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com (on Twitter). Meanwhile, Freddie Kitchens has been promoted from assistant to interim offensive coordinator, as Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets

Williams, 60, has been an NFL coach since joining the Houston Oilers’ staff in 1990. Since then, he has held several defensive coordinator positions, and also served as the Bills’ head coach from 2001-2003. Williams’ Bills teams went 3-13, 8-8, and 6-10 in each of those seasons, resulting in a 17-31 record overall. That .354 mark is far from ideal, but it beats Hue Jackson‘s lifetime 11-44-1 mark (.205).

Kitchens began his coaching career in the college ranks before signing on as the Cowboys’ tight ends coach in 2006. After a ten-year run with the Cardinals, he became the Browns’ running backs coach/associate head coach earlier this year.

On Monday morning, the Browns dropped a pair of bombs on the football world. First, Hue Jackson was told to pack his bags. Moments later, we learned that offensive coordinator Todd Haley was also handed a pink slip. Ultimately, the infighting between the two men left Browns brass with a sour taste and cost both of them their jobs.

We greatly appreciate Hue’s commitment to the Cleveland Browns organization over the last two and a half years,” the Haslams said in a joint statement. “We understand how critical this time period is in the development of our football team, individually and collectively, and believed it was in the organization’s best interest to make the move at this time, in order to maximize our opportunities the rest of this season. We certainly only wish Hue, Michelle, and his family the best moving forward.”

While the Browns have struggled this year, the defense has been largely solid under Williams’ guidance. The Browns lead the league with 22 takeaways this season and Williams will now be charged with injecting some life into the offense as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Notes: 2019 QBs, Browns, Jackson

A possible dearth of quarterback talent in the 2019 draft class may have contributed the first-round aggressiveness of teams in recent years. The Bears, Chiefs, Texans, Jets, Bills and Cardinals traded up to land their hopeful quarterbacks of the future the past two drafts, and Albert Breer of SI.com notes some of the impetus behind these moves may be coming from issues teams have with the crop of passers likely set to populate 2019 big boards.

Not right now, there isn’t one (that would go in the first round as it stands),” an AFC college scouting director told Breer. “The kids at Auburn (Jarrett Stidham), Missouri (Drew Lock) and N.C. State (Ryan Finley), by the end of it, could work their way into the conversation. But on the surface, based on current performance, it’d be a no. Now, if they ascend, which they should, those three guys have a chance to get there.”

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com (Insider link) has both Lock (No. 16) and Oregon’s Justin Herbert (No. 18) in his early top 25 for 2019. Issues with Lock’s completion percentage (57.8 percent is the senior-to-be’s career high) and Herbert’s toughness, per Breer, are early concerns for respective first-round hopefuls. While events of recent years show it’s a good bet a quarterback will be taken in the 2019 first round, Breer compares this crop — at this early juncture — to the 2013 group that saw only E.J. Manuel chosen in Round 1 instead of other recent classes that saw the likes of Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston emerge as obvious down-the-line high draft choices in advance of their final college campaigns.

Here’s more on this year’s draft, courtesy of Breer:

  • Breer reports the Browns “loved both” of the Denzel Ward/Bradley Chubb duo, but the team felt the Ohio State cornerback possessed upside potential the N.C. State defensive end didn’t. Ward started just for one season but sat behind Buckeyes cornerbacks that are now in the NFL. Cleveland brass also didn’t view Chubb as a Myles Garrett– or Jadeveon Clowney-like athletic specimen. Plus, Gregg Williams said the team’s need at corner was greater than the one opposite Garrett. Also noting Ward, who went to Nordonia High School in the Cleveland area, pitched his local ties and desire to help a Browns resurgence, Breer writes the Browns did their homework on this difficult decision and did not make an impulse call on draft night.
  • If the Eagles did not trade their first-round pick to the Ravens, they were going to consider eventual Broncos wideout Courtland Sutton at No. 32, per Breer. Sutton visited the Eagles in early April. Philly has Alshon Jeffery, a player to whom Sutton’s been compared, signed long-term and has Nelson Agholor controlled through 2019. However, the defending Super Bowl champions still signed Mike Wallace and Markus Wheaton, the latter a post-draft addition.
  • Ravens brass needed to hear from John Harbaugh the coaching staff was confident the team could win with Lamar Jackson before trading up to take him, and Breer reports Harbaugh, OC Marty Morhinweg, senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and QBs coach James Urban all developed a plan for the rookie before Ozzie Newsome made the trade with the Eagles. Both Mornhinweg and Urban were in their same positions under Andy Reid on the 2010 Eagles, when Michael Vick resurfaced as a top-flight weapon after previously working intermittently in certain packages. Roman’s work adjusting the 2012 49ers’ offense for Colin Kaepernick also played a role here, Breer writes. The Ravens look to be preparing Jackson sets already.
  • The first four rookies to sign their deals all had offset language built into the contracts, Breer tweets. Da’Ron Payne, Josh Rosen, Marcus Davenport and Quenton Nelson saw their teams include offsets in their deals. Offset language provided one of the sticky points in Joey Bosa‘s 2016 holdout, and the Chargers won out. So far, teams are doing the same with their 2018 top picks.

Coaching Notes: Panthers, Cardinals, Bengals, Bucs

There’s plenty of uncertainty when it comes to the Panthers organization, as owner Jerry Richardson is shopping the team and they’re currently rolling with an interim general manager in Marty Hurney. However, the team is looking to establish some stability by locking up head coach Ron Rivera.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the organization is prioritizing locking up their head coach long term. While talks have just started, the reporter expects negotiations to quickly heat up. Meanwhile, many in the organization are hoping that Hurney is promoted to full-time general manager, although the team will presumably explore their options before committing to the executive.

Rivera last signed a three-year deal worth $19.5MM. That deal would take the head coach through the 2018 season, meaning there isn’t a whole lot of urgency for the organization to lock up their head coach this offseason.

Let’s take a look at some more coaching notes from around the NFL…

  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians hasn’t informed the organization about his future, but Rapoport reports that the team is “more confident than ever” that he’ll return. Still, since there is some uncertainty, the organization is exploring other potential options, and Rapoport notes that one of those candidates is Texans coach Bill O’Brien. If available, the Cardinals have made it clear that O’Brien would be atop their list of targets. Arians is under contract through the 2018 season, but there’s been chatter that the 65-year-old could retire to better focus on his health.
  • Unsurprisingly, there’s some concern that Browns head coach Hue Jackson may have lost his locker room, reports Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. This concern recently came to a head when running back Isaiah Crowell “liked” a series of tweets that were critical of Jackson. Meanwhile, Florio notes that there are whispers that some of the team’s defensive players are upset with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his son, Blake, who is the Browns’ linebackers coach.
  • The Bengals are eyeing Jackson or Jay Gruden for their impending head coaching vacancy, reports Florio. It’d be a homecoming for the pair, as both Jackson and Gruden served as offensive coordinators for Marvin Lewis. The writer notes that Lewis could ultimately be promoted to a front office role.
  • Even if Dirk Koetter sticks around as the Buccaneers head coach, Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders is convinced the organization will require some other coaching changes. Specifically, defensive coordinator Mike Smith could be on the hot seat, and the team could look towards former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as a replacement.

Browns Hire Gregg Williams As DC

SUNDAY, 12:12pm: The Browns have made the hire official, and as Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets, Jackson will allow Williams to bring his own assistants. Therefore, there will be changes on the defensive staff, and Ulrich adds (via Twitter) that Jackson is “not done” evaluating the staff as a whole, so other changes could be on the way. Jackson will, however, retain play-calling duties, as Ulrich tweets.

SATURDAY, 08:22pm: Gregg Williams will replace Ray Horton as the Browns’ defensive coordinator, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). The team recently extended an offer for the veteran DC to come in, and as a result, “wholesale changes” are coming to the Browns’ defense, per La Canfora.

The 58-year-old DC will transition from a Rams defense he helped elevate into one of the more formidable units in the game over the past three years to one that ranked as the No. 31 DVOA group during a horrendous Browns campaign.

Williams was reportedly open to staying in Los Angeles but understood that was unlikely after Jeff Fisher‘s departure. We heard earlier today Williams could bring some Rams assistants to northeast Ohio with him. He also might be bringing a new defense along. The Rams operated as a 4-3 defense during Williams’ years, and the Browns use a 3-4. Although, Cleveland isn’t exactly at the rebuilding stage where it couldn’t retool.

La Canfora confirms Williams plans to bring three or four coaches to with him to Cleveland, adding that Hue Jackson signed off on this change despite being close to Horton. The reporter adds Horton became unpopular on the personnel side of the organization.

Rebounding after the Bountygate scandal forced him off the sidelines for a year, Williams helped the Rams elevate into an upper-echelon defense this season despite one of the league’s worst offenses. The Browns boasted the league’s No. 27 defense in 2015 and 31st-ranked outfit this season, the latter coming after the organization made a change to go with a grass-roots rebuilding operation. That came after several recent rebuilds failed, but the Browns will have a proven DC around which to construct a stoppage corps in the near future.

This will be Williams’ seventh DC gig, with a three-year HC tenure with the Bills coming in between that lengthy run that dates back to running the Tennessee Oilers’ defense in 1997.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Coaching Notes: Broncos, Browns, Jaguars

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is set to interview with the Broncos today, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that the Denver gig is the job that Shanahan “identifies with.” The reporter notes that the coordinator is also intrigued by the Jaguars head coaching position.

In a separate tweet, Rapoport notes that Shanahan will “be picky and patient” as he decides which opportunity he wants to pursue. As our head coaching tracker shows, the 37-year-old is also set to meet with the Rams and 49ers.

Let’s take a look at some other coaching notes coming out of the AFC…

  • Chiefs’ special teams coordinator Dave Toub interviewed for the Broncos head coaching gig this morning, and Mike Klis of Denver7 writes that the coach impressed the organization during the four-hour meeting.
  • Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is considered a favorite for the Broncos head coaching gig. If he ends up getting the position, Albert Breer of MMQB.com tweets that former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy could be an option as Denver’s new offensive coordinator.
  • After firing Ray Horton yesterday, the Browns have started searching for a new defensive coordinator. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com tweets that the organization reached out to former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley regarding the opening. ESPN’s Pat McManamon writes that the team also approached Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
  • We learned yesterday that Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is in “prime position” to get the Browns defensive coordinator gig, and Toni Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com tweets that Williams would bring at least three additional Rams coaches to Cleveland (assuming he gets the job).
  • Fortunately for the Browns, it appears that at least one coach will be staying put. Cabot tweets that running backs coach Kirby Wilson isn’t expected to go elsewhere. The longtime coach is a “longtime friend” of Browns head coach Hue Jackson.

 

Coaching Notes: Browns, Bills, Shanahan, Rex

The Browns’ firing of defensive coordinator Ray Horton is not yet official, but the team is leaning toward making a change, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was among those to report (Twitter link). Should Horton get the ax, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would be in prime position to succeed him in Cleveland. The Browns have given Williams until Monday to accept the job, according to Sporting News’ Alex Marvez (Twitter link).

More coaching-related info:

  • The Bills have requested an interview with Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network. Panthers D-coordinator Sean McDermott‘s Wednesday meeting with the Bills went very well, notes Garafolo (Twitter links).
  • Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan‘s head coaching interviews with the Jaguars and 49ers took place Friday, tweets Jason Cole of Bleacher Report. Shanahan will meet Saturday with the Broncos, relays Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post (Twitter link). The 37-year-old reportedly prefers the Broncos’ job to the other openings around the league.
  • The Redskins, in search of a defensive coordinator, have received the Panthers’ permission to interview assistant head coach/defensive backs coach Steve Wilks, writes Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Rapoport connected Wilks to the Redskins on Thursday, noting the coach’s relationship with ex-Panthers and now-Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.
  • Unsurprisingly, Rex Ryan won’t work anywhere as an assistant next season, reports Chick Hernandez of CSN Washington (Twitter link). The two-time head coach will wait for a third opportunity to come along in 2018; in the meantime, he’s likely to take a job as a television analyst.
  • Check out PFR’s Head Coaching Search Tracker to keep up with all the latest interviews.

Browns To Fire DC Ray Horton

Ray Horton is out as defensive coordinator in Cleveland, according to Alex Marvez of The Sporting News (on Twitter). Already, the search is on for his replacement. Gregg Williams has been offered the job and Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been contacted about the vacancy. Ray Horton (vertical)

The Browns were a dumpster fire on both sides of the ball this year, but head coach Hue Jackson apparently feels that the team will need a philosophical change on defense. This year, the Browns finished next-to-last in defensive DVOA and they would have been dead last if it weren’t for the Lions’ awful ratings.

Williams is currently in the midst of his second stint as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. After coach Jeff Fisher was canned, the Rams informed all assistants that they were free to seek other jobs. Williams, naturally, isn’t just waiting around to see if the next head coach in L.A. wants to keep him on board. However, the Cleveland job might not be the gig he has his eye on. There are better situations out there from a personnel standpoint, including the Redskins gig.

Phillips has enjoyed great success in Denver, but he is on an expiring contract and unlikely to return. Phillips would be a splashy hire for a Browns team desperately seeking advancement in 2017.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Notes: Cardinals, 49ers, Williams

Carson Palmer has attempted to convince Larry Fitzgerald to play for at least one more year, Dan Bickley of the Arizona Daily Republic reports. The 37-year-old quarterback’s having “frequent” conversations with the 33-year-old Cardinals wide receiver regarding his future in the NFL.

This runs counter to what came out of Arizona last week, when neither Palmer nor Arians admitted to making efforts to convince Fitz to return. Fitzgerald said he’s “uncertain” about his future as recently as last week, but he’s put up numbers that indicate he should have some time left as a productive pass-catcher. He’s notched the fourth 100-plus-reception season of his 13-year career and is 20 yards away from his eighth 1,000-yard campaign.

Fitzgerald is under contract through 2017 after signing a preseason extension, one that secured him an $11MM salary for next season. The Cardinals have needed Fitzgerald’s best this season after the other two members in a once-formidable receiving top trio have largely disappointed. Michael Floyd is no longer with the team, and John Brown has often been unavailable due to injuries related to a sickle-cell condition.

Here’s more from the NFC West.

  • A potential Arians retirement has become part of the Cardinals’ news cycle as the team drifted out of contention. But the 64-year-old coach who suffered a health scare earlier this season is not operating like he’s retiring. The fourth-year Arizona leader has begun making offseason plans for the franchise, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reporting Arians is preparing for free agency meetings, the draft and OTAs. A source close to this situation told Florio that everything Arians is saying publicly and privately go against a notion he’s going to step down. Arians himself said last week he’ll be back, and the coach has not been known for mind games since taking the reins in the desert.
  • The 49ers appear to be pulling the plug on the Trent Baalke era after six years, and Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wonders if the team will go after what’s become a successful GM tree started by Ron Wolf. The former Packers executive helped the likes of John Schneider, John Dorsey, Reggie McKenzie and Ted Thompson to their current GM roles. Barrows points to branches beneath these decision-makers as options for the struggling franchise. Barrows names Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard, 31-year-old Eagles scouting director Troy Brown and Seahawks scouting staffer Trent Kirschner as options, along with longtime Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio.
  • Gregg Williams would be open to staying on as Rams DC but doesn’t sound like he thinks that’s going to be in the cards. The 58-year-old defensive boss thanked reporters after Rams practice Friday, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, understanding the new coach will likely want to select his own DC. “I don’t have hobbies. I’m happiest at practice; I’m happiest in games,” Williams said. “The coaches and players get fed up with me in the meetings, so we like to get out here. But, yeah, sure. I’m going to coach for as long as I can.” Los Angeles’ defense ranks 10th in the league in Williams’ fourth year in this position.