BLACKSBURG, Va. — When the college football season begins later this month and Chase Williams gets his shot as Virginia Tech’s starting middle linebacker, he won’t expect to see his father in the stands behind the home bench at Lane Stadium. Gregg Williams will be in St. Louis preparing for his first regular season as defensive coordinator of the NFL’s Rams.
But the absence will be a reminder of how far father and son have come from when Chase Williams was buried on the Hokies’ depth chart and Gregg Williams found sanctuary from the glare of scandal.
The 2012 campaign, in which Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer finished with his worst record in 20 years (7-6), is nonetheless one of the Williamses’ fondest football memories. Gregg attended every one of his son’s games for the first time, and Chase understood the deeper meaning of his presence.
“It was obvious that was a form of therapy for him, especially being his youngest child and he didn’t get to be at many of my games growing up,” Williams, a fifth-year senior, said recently. “It was great for us as a family to see each other more and for him to recharge his batteries and get ready to go right back into it.”
At the time, Gregg Williams was serving an indefinite suspension levied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his leading role in a bounty system as defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. Williams admitted to creating a slush fund rewarding players for big hits while in New Orleans. Some players and former assistant coaches said he instituted similar programs at previous coaching stops, including as defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins from 2004 to 2007.
His recourse was to seek refuge with his son’s team.
“I sat on the best seat that they had,” Gregg Williams said in an interview in April. “It was very good for he and I to be able to share and talk about things. Not only his own play but other people that were playing different positions.”
The exiled coach would speak to Virginia Tech players who asked for his input and tried to “do things in a supportive way for the coaching staff — and not a negative way — and be able to help Chase and the other guys there, too,” he added. “It was a great experience for me.”
After years as a ballboy or a video runner on the sideline as Gregg worked his way up the NFL coaching ladder, Chase appreciated the X’s and O’s reinforcement his father provided. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who had a longstanding relationship with Gregg Williams after years of offseason visits, said neither Gregg nor Chase ever really talked about the bounty scandal during their frequent conversations that year.
“You could see it definitely kept him involved and allowed him to step back and be proud of all of his children and live vicariously through them,” said older brother Blake Williams, who served as an assistant on NFL defensive staffs helmed by his father in Washington, Jacksonville, New Orleans and St. Louis and is currently the defensive coordinator at Division II William Jewell College in suburban Kansas City, Mo.
Gregg Williams was reinstated by the NFL in August 2013 and spent last season as an assistant with the Tennessee Titans before he was hired by the Rams in February.
Virginia Tech is hopeful some of the knowledge Chase Williams picked up from his coaching family will compensate for the fact he has taken just 114 college snaps on defense since earning first team All-Met honors at Loudoun County High in 2009. Gregg Williams said five years in Virginia Tech’s system has turned Chase into “an extension of Bud Foster that knows as much as the staff.”
“I’m sure there were times he was frustrated, but now it’s his time,” Foster said. “I trust the kid.”
Even as he was hampered by injuries while players such as Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler played ahead of him, Williams said he didn’t consider transferring. Patience, he noted, came from his upbringing and an understanding of what the decision-making process in building a football team had been like for his father.
And despite Gregg’s warnings, Chase said he eventually would like to move into the family business once his playing career is over. This, it seems, came into focus amid the ups and downs he endured in Blacksburg.
“It’s kind of in our blood at this point. Almost every conversation has some kind of football in it,” Chase said of his family. “We’ve lived it our whole lives. There’s some good and the bad that comes with it, and a lot of it comes with the territory.
“But I don’t know. There’s something about this game. It’s hard to walk away from a game that you’ve loved your whole life, you’ve played your whole life and some day someone’s going to tell you you’re not good enough to play anymore and the only way to stay connected to it is to coach. Having a high football IQ and just being around it so long, I feel like it’s kind of calling me.”