CLEVELAND — Gregg Williams revived his coaching career after shame and suspension.
His next challenge: repairing Cleveland’s leaky defense.
Williams was hired Sunday as the Browns defensive coordinator, replacing Ray Horton, fired by coach Hue Jackson less than a week after Cleveland concluded a 1-15 season.
Williams was banned by the NFL for one season in 2012 for his involvement in New Orleans’ notorious “Bountygate” scandal. He spent the past three seasons with the Rams.
It’s the second time Horton has been dismissed by the Browns after one season, and while he appears to be the one taking the fall for the team’s failure, Jackson said that’s not the case.
Jackson said he “agonized” over the decision and understands that Horton looks like a convenient scapegoat.
“This isn’t just Ray,” Jackson said on a teleconference. “If anybody, the finger is pointed back at me, it’s not pointed at Ray.
“At the end of the day, the whole buck stops with me, so I get it. I know what it looks like and what the perception is, but that’s not what it is and this is my decision.
“This is through my time of thinking through what’s going to be best moving forward for our football team and where I wanted to take it, and what I thought we needed to do to get there.”
Jackson expects there will be other changes on the defensive side as Williams brings in some assistants.
As for Cleveland’s offense, Jackson said he’s “comfortable” that associate head coach Pep Hamilton will stay with the team. Hamilton is considering a position on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan. Hamilton previously worked with Harbaugh at Stanford.
The 58-year-old Williams, who coached Buffalo from 2001 to 2003, will take over a young defense that didn’t make enough big plays in 2016 and finished at the bottom or close to it in every meaningful category.
“He is one of the better coordinators in the National Football League, and I think that is proven,” he said. “The guy has a ton of skins on the wall doing this in a lot of different places with a lot of different players and a lot of different systems.
“I need growth over there as fast as I can get it. I truly believe in his track record and what he has done. … I have to do what I think is right to get us to where we need to be. I think Gregg is that guy.”
Williams had a solid three-year run as defensive coordinator of the Rams, re-establishing him as one of the league’s best defensive minds and helping distance him from the notorious ban in 2012.
The league banned him for his role in New Orleans’ pay-for-performance scandal. Williams apologized for his actions, served his penalty and returned as a defensive assistant with Tennessee before he was hired by Jeff Fisher.
Jackson applauded Williams’ ability to learn from the experience.
“It says that he is a guy who put his head down and went back to work and went back to doing what he is extremely good at, which is coaching defense,” he said.
“It means that someone gave him an opportunity to get back to where he needed to be, and he has shown that he is still a very good defensive mind from before all that.
“I am just glad that we are having an opportunity to have him be a part of our staff and help us get to where we are trying to go.”
Jackson said he has spoken to Williams about the scandal and is confident there will be not be a similar culture in Cleveland.
“I think that is behind him,” Jackson said “That was from years ago. Obviously, he has already paid the price for that. We will not be having a ‘Bountygate’ situation in Cleveland. “