Jets fire Gregg Williams after call on defense costs 1st win
Adam Gase thought through the final agonizing moments of the New York Jets' stunning loss and tried to not make a rash decision.
The coach got a little bit of sleep before he headed to the team's facility Monday morning — with the same conclusion he had Sunday night: defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had to go.
"I just felt like that was the best thing for our team moving forward," Gase said during a conference call. "Organizationally, we had a discussion this morning and we felt like this was the best move to make."
Williams was fired after he inexplicably called for an all-out blitz against Las Vegas on Sunday with the Jets seconds away from their first victory. Derek Carr heaved a perfectly placed 46-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III — who was in man-to-man, or Cover Zero, coverage with rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson — with 5 seconds left to lift the Raiders to a 31-28 win.
The decision was highly criticized by fans, media and even his own players. It left the Jets players, who only moments earlier were celebrating what appeared to be a win, in shock on the sideline.
The team announced it had "parted ways" with Williams and assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Frank Bush would serve as the interim defensive coordinator.
"I obviously wasn't happy about that call," a somber-sounding Gase said. "That was a heartbreaking way for our guys to lose a game. For that to happen in that situation, it's just ... we can't have that happen."
Gase said he spoke with CEO Christopher Johnson, general manager Joe Douglas and team president Hymie Elhai about what he thought should be done — and they agreed it was right to move on. Gase then told Williams about the decision during a nearly hour-long discussion.
"Obviously, he wasn't happy," Gase said. "But, that's our profession."
Team captain Marcus Maye took an uncharacteristic swipe at Williams after the game, saying that the defense should have been in a better call in that situation. Gase insisted Maye's comments didn't play a role in his decision.
Gase was surprised to hear the play call by Williams, and acknowledged he has authority to overrule the defensive coordinator — but did not.
"I wish I would've," Gase said. "Sometimes during a game, you're talking through a bunch of situations and that comes up. I wish I would've called timeout, but I didn't."
The 62-year-old Williams had been the Jets' defensive coordinator the past two seasons under Gase. The two had a minor clash earlier this season when Williams said the Jets' scoring average on defense wasn't just all on his unit — implying Gase's struggling offense was also to blame.
Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams seemed to take exception to the defensive coordinator's firing, using five facepalm emojis in a quote tweet of ESPN's tweet announcing the move.
Williams has had several stops through the NFL during a 30-year career, including with New Orleans, where he was suspended a year by the league in 2012 for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.
The no-nonsense Williams has made a career of being an aggressive play caller on defense, but the Jets have struggled this year while ranking 29th in total defense and 30th in scoring defense. Williams had to deal with star safety Jamal Adams being traded to Seattle during the summer, linebacker C.J. Mosley opting out because of COVID-19 concerns, and linebacker Avery Williamson dealt to Pittsburgh in the middle of the season.
There were several injuries to contend with, and other veterans such as cornerback Pierre Desir and Quincy Wilson not playing well. But the Jets' defense had mostly done its job Sunday, including a fourth-down stop with 1:37 left. But after the offense went three-and-out with a chance to seal it, the defense took the field again — and Williams' call cost New York.
While it was a suspect decision by Williams, it wasn't totally out of character. He has been known for taking risks on defense, daring offenses to beat his blitzes in key moments. This time, though, it had dire consequences for a team that was so close to finally getting a victory.
"We just played the call that the coaches called," Maye said after the game. "We've got to execute, but you've got to help us out at the same time and be in a better call at that spot."
Williams is the first coach on Gase's staff to be fired, and the head coach said he wasn't making any other changes — including keeping Williams' son Blake on as a defensive assistant.
But, this won't be the last coaching move the Jets make. They are expected to also fire Gase after this season, setting up what should be a busy offseason that will include a coaching search and likely having the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in April.
The Jets, who are 0-12 and are four losses from joining the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns — where Williams was the defensive coordinator — as the NFL's only 0-16 teams.