FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The first time Gregg Williams stood in front of the Jets' defense after a practice, some of his players were shell-shocked. He was loud. He was harsh. He was brutally honest.
He didn't care if any of his players were embarrassed or hurt. In fact, that was the point.
And nobody was spared.
"I think it's great, the fact that sensitivity is out the window," said Jets coach Adam Gase. "He's not afraid to say anything to anyone. I think guys are hardened to it, and that's a good thing. We all get criticized in this business, we all get picked apart, and you have to have thick skin. And by doing that at least it's holding guys accountable. There are no sacred cows."
"He says what guys need to hear," added linebacker Jordan Jenkins. "He's not going to sugarcoat it. He's not going to baby you. He's not going to belittle you. He's going to treat you like a man, and you have to respond like a man. And that's it."
Well, that's not all of it when it comes to the 61-year-old Williams, the most important and perhaps riskiest addition to Gase's first Jets staff. He may be one of the most brilliant defensive minds in the NFL, but he's a controversial man, an intense personality, and most definitely an acquired taste. He became infamous for the BountyGate scandal in New Orleans, when the NFL suspended him for allegedly running a "bounty" program that paid his players for, among other things, injuring opponents.
But his current players don't need financial incentives to get his direct message. He wants them to play hard, play fast, and do whatever it takes -- even in practice. Everything is a competition. Every day, every moment, needs to be won.
And if not ... well, be prepared to hear about it, loudly. If a player doesn't like it? Too bad. No matter who he is.
"Gregg's not shy about saying anything to anyone," Gase said. "If something occurs on the field that he wants to make the correction, he's not afraid to tell him."
"It's been that way for my whole life -- I say what I mean, and I mean what I say," Williams said. "You can't BS players. You can't BS that. It has to be an everyday thing. And the thing that is easily convinced when you go to a new place is find the best guy there and make him do it. Then everybody else says, 'Uh oh.'
"Yep. 'Uh oh.' Mom and Dad didn't make you do that stuff. Mom and Dad couldn't play either."
Hiring Williams on Jan. 16 was a gutsy move for Gase. There isn't a higher-profile assistant coach in the entire league. Adding to that juice, Williams has a clear desire to be a head coach again -- a position he hasn't held since 2003 in Buffalo. He was the interim head coach in Cleveland last season when Hue Jackson was fired, but he was passed over for the permanent job when Freddie Kitchens was hired instead.
That's an imposing figure to have over a new head coach's shoulder, but Gase knew the risk had a huge reward. Gase is an offensive coach, convinced he can transform the Jets into a high-scoring juggernaut. But he needed someone who could match his expertise from the other side.
There's no doubt, that's exactly what Williams does.
"I told him the first day I met him, 'You're a pain in the ass to game-plan for,'" said Jets offensive line coach Frank Pollack. "So it's nice to have you in the same meeting room.' He's a good coach."
"God, I hate that guy," added new Jets center Ryan Kalil. "I hate Gregg Williams. He's one of those coaches though. Guys on his team love him. But God, I hate playing against Gregg Williams."
Unfortunately for Kalil and Pollack, they do still have to face Williams -- in practice. And since he arrived, the competition at Jets practices has taken on a game-like intensity. The practices are controlled, of course, just not nearly as much as they used to be. Gase and Williams try to out-scheme each other. Players and coaches keep track of who wins and loses each day. They prepare like it's a game day. There's more trash-talking, more celebrating, and even the hits seem a little harder to some.
It's a battle between Gase's offense vs. Williams' defense on the field every day. In the meeting rooms, too.
"It's like the best thing I've ever been a part of, literally," said Jets running back Le'Veon Bell. "I've literally never had anything like it. Coach Williams is a defensive genius, vs. an offensive genius (in Gase). Both of those guys go at it each and every day. It's like, 'The offense won today, the defense will win tomorrow.' Gase is like, 'OK, they want to do this, then I'm going to put this in tomorrow.'"
"That's the way you get ready for the game," said outside linebackers coach Joe Vitt, who coached with Williams in New Orleans (and drew his own six-game suspension in 2012 for his part in the BountyGate scandal). "You have to practice hard and smart with the proper intent. You can't make the same mistakes again."
That's definitely Williams' coaching style. Some coaches spend practices with their heads buried in a play card, huddling with other coaches, calmly speaking instructions into a headset. Williams paces the sidelines, barking instructions at players. He makes sure they're alert. He'll rip into them if they're not. His intensity is never turned off.
"When we have to worry about the intensity of the players, we have the wrong players," Williams said. "When we have to worry about the competition and the lack of competition in practice or games, we have the wrong people -- coaches and players."
So far, Williams believes the Jets have the right kind of people around him.
"There has been a smile on my face since I've walked in here," he said. "These young men want to compete. Whether it's an argument, whether they're playing chess or checkers in the room, where they're (doing) anything, they want to compete. And they just want to know that I'm there to pull them back if they go too far. That's what I'm supposed to be doing. "If they won't do that, we've got the wrong people. You can't win at this level without that kind of competition."
Competition is great, but it's really attitude and accountability that fuels Williams' approach. That's what caught the attention of his players. And that was his message the first time he met them.
"His first three days, all he did was talk about the culture of the defense," said linebacker C.J. Mosley. "How we were going to come on the field, how we were going to play, how we were going to run to the ball. He didn't say anything about the schemes or things like that."
And the "culture" he's trying to build, the attitude he wants every day, is simple, Mosley said.
"We want to come after the offense and not let them dictate what we do," Mosley said. "We're trying to throw the first punch."
That most definitely describes' Williams' approach -- every day, to even the smallest detail. He'll hit first, he'll hit hard, and he won't let up.
"He basically kills a gnat with a sledgehammer," linebackers coach Frank Bush said. "That's his mentality."
"It permeates," Bush added. "Because it's every day with him. It's an attitude. It's a way we go about things. And it spreads throughout the rest of the team. Because they start to see when you're that way and you try to be organized and try to do things at a high level every day, it makes a difference."
Williams doesn't change his approach with his better players, either. He's always looking for ways to spark them, to give them an edge. And he can be harsh with them, too. When he first met Jamal Adams, the Jets' fiery defensive leader, he told him, "I've coached a lot better people than you before."
Harsh? Yes. But Adams loved it.
"He's coaching us hard and he wants the best out of us," Adams said. "And you can run through a wall for a coach like that, you know what I mean?"
That approach, though, is not for every player. The accountability part of Williams' approach can be jarring. He has no problem calling out anyone, no matter their status, in front of the rest of the team. He has no issues with embarrassing a player, or forcing them to explain their mistake -- or transgression -- in front of their peers.
"It's probably something they never experienced," said Jets defensive line coach Andre Carter, who played for Williams in Washington in 2006-07. "It can be a little sensitive. But us as coaches, once we get into our position rooms, we just tell them, 'Look, what is he trying to say? What's the message?' There's content and context. You've got to be smart about 'What is the message' when Gregg is trying to talk to you as an individual and what Gregg is trying to say to the team."
In other words, as Jenkins said: "Don't listen to how he conveys the message. Listen to the message itself."
"He's very hard, very demanding, a yeller," Carter added. "But it's more about what he's trying to say. It's not just words. It's not just fluff. It's all positive. It's energetic, but it's definitely positive. He wants to bring the best out of every individual."
But Williams doesn't just do that by standing in front of a room and yelling. His communication skill does appear to go both ways. One defensive player marveled at how willing Williams was to listen to ideas from his players. They are free to offer their opinions, and often Williams gives their suggestions a try.
"I've never had a coach do that before," the player said.
"Gregg is intense, he's loud and he's an aggressive guy," Jenkins said. "But if you respect Gregg, he respects you."
"He holds people accountable," Vitt added. "But once you've earned his trust, he will listen to you."
That "trust" is big for Williams. He didn't show up at 1 Jets Drive with that sledgehammer, looking for a gnat to kill. He knew he couldn't just scream at his players that his way worked and expect them to instantly match his intensity. They had to learn to trust that he was telling the truth, that his approach would work. He needed them to become believers.
"That's another thing about the respect that you gain from players," Williams said. "They see not only do they earn the trust of each other, but I have to earn the trust of them too. They understand that I've been around for a little while and can do a lot of different things and I've seen a lot of different things."
The regular season will tell the real story of how this experiment works, but for now it seems like players on both sides of the ball have become believers in those "things." The players on defense, after too many years of underachieving, believe they'll thrive under Williams' direct approach. And that's rubbed off on the offensive players, who seem to have loved the competition and intensity during camp.
The result has been an entirely new attitude in the Jets' building. Some of that was expected when they hired Gase as their new head coach. But there's no doubt that the addition of Williams turned everything up a notch.
"You know his personality. We all know his personality," Vitt said. "His record speaks for itself. His production in this league speaks for itself."
"The level of demand from his players as well as his coaching staff is high," Carter said. "There's a whole other level of competition in our meeting rooms and just in general day to day on the field. When you want to become a great defense, that's what you need."