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Friends-Turned-Enemies, Saints Coach Sean Payton and Browns Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams Meet Once Again

It was nearly 2 years ago — November 27th, 2016 to be exact — that former Saints and current Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was coaching on the sidelines at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, against his one-time friend Sean Payton.

For most of the loyally-devoted fans of the New Orleans Saints franchise, that fateful day inside of the Superdome was a very memorable game, in what was otherwise a very forgettable day of the 2016 NFL season.

For Payton, it was probably the highlight of an otherwise disappointing year that saw the Saints finish (7-9) that season and miss out on the NFL Playoffs for a 3rd straight time before they finally made it back to the NFL Playoffs once again last year in 2017.

It was on that day that Sean Payton's Saints offense destroyed the Los Angeles Rams defense, who at that time were still being coached by his now-bitter rival Williams, the man whose role in the infamous Saints Bountygate scandal is well-known in Who Dat Nation lore.

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, New Orleans Times-Picayune

Williams was eventually fired along with the rest of the Rams coaching staff at the end of that same 2016 season, before the Browns hired him early last year.

It's not exactly a secret that the two men don't care for one another; and it was obvious on that day through his surprising displays of emotion that included a rather voracious fist pump and an extended stare across the field at the Rams' sideline after Drew Brees snuck over the top at the goal line for a Saints TD, that the game and a chance to show up Williams was something that meant quite a lot to Payton.

And then just to emphatically make his feelings known: Payton then dipped into his "bag of tricks".

What he then pulled out, was a play in which then-Saints WR Willie Snead (now playing for the Baltimore Ravens) caught a screen pass from Brees behind the line of scrimmage and then took one step back before throwing a 50-yard "flea-flicker" TD pass to then-Saints RB Tim Hightower.

 

Point taken. Message received.

And that message probably was taken with the notion that Payton was implying with the play-call:

"I don't like you and I'm going to rub your face in it — and there's not a damn thing that you can do about it".

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Sean Payton's Saints offense on that day put up 555 yards of total offense, tied for the most yards given up by a Gregg Williams defense in a non-overtime game, per The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

By the time that it was all said and done, the final score that flashed overhead on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome main scoreboard read: Saints 49, Rams 21.

And now as fate would have it, the two men will now meet up with each once again this Sunday afternoon, as the (0-1) Saints host the (0-0-1) Browns in what is already a critical early season game for New Orleans; after their stunning 48-40 Season Opening loss to the NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday.

Williams is now in his 2nd season as the Browns' defensive coordinator; and as ESPN Browns beat writer Pat McManamon notes, the loud and "in-your-face" approach of Williams is a complete contrast to the cerebral approach of former Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton two years ago.

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Given the Browns' notable struggles since that time, it would be fair to say that his abrasive defensive coaching style isn't exactly being welcomed by the Browns players.

As Bleacher Report NFL writer Scott Polacek noted recently: Browns head coach Hue Jackson is a mere (1-31) in two seasons at the helm for the Browns, and Williams was the defensive coordinator last year during an embarrassing (0-16) effort.

Not surprisingly, with the lone exception of Jeff Fisher (who has used Williams twice as his defensive coordinator in previous jobs with the Tennessee Titans and the Rams); Williams once again appears to be on the outs with another head coach, this time around with Jackson.

Polacek reports that Jackosn was not pleased whatsoever after he was told that Williams blamed 2018 1st Round draft pick and Browns CB Denzel Ward's injury on the "stupid" way the rookie tackles.

"Gregg does not get to do just what he wants to do. We will work through all of that. ... We do not need to do all of that stuff in the media," Jackson said, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The comments from the head coach come after Williams pointed to Ward's tackling form as the reason he suffered back spasms during a Pre-Season contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

Wait — so that means that Williams could be "wearing out his welcome" already with another NFL franchise?

Wow, what a surprise (not really).

Williams was already catching flack for his appearances on HBO's "Hard Knocks" Summer cable TV series (which chronicles the lives of NFL players in Training Camp competing for Final Roster spots) a couple of weeks ago; in which he and Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley got into a shouting match during practice over contact with the quarterback, when suddenly the cuss words quickly began to get spewed out between the two coaches.

Photo courtesy of HBO Network

The NFL Films cameras taped every moment of it all, which aired a few days later episode on HBO.

Cabot was there when it happened; and she detailed the verbal exchange between the two men.

It all began when a defender made forbidden contact with Browns rookie Baker Mayfield during a situational drill in the middle of practice.

Haley yelled at the defense, "Don't touch the [expletive] quarterback in practice! Good teams don't do it!''

Williams responded from the sideline, loud enough for most in the crowd to hear, "somebody's gotta f-ing block 'em.''

It went on for another few moments with more f-bombs flying, until Hue Jackson intervened and shut them down.

"Oh, I like a little testy,'' Jackson said after practice. "Testy's good. I'm surprised we're just now getting testy. No, they're fine. I mean, those things happen. We've got men that are competing every day. Both sides are competing. That's part of football.''

Jackson acknowledged to Cabot later on during an one-on-one interview the very next day, that he had to be the peacemaker.

"I get to be headmaster, so they did (settle down),'' he said. "They understand. But I love the fire in both of them. Both of them are very competitive. That's what you want.''

Cabot reported that Williams continued to shout at his defenders, but that's a daily occurrence. It's fine with Jackson, who wants more of an edge to his team this year.

Photo courtesy of cleveland.com

"You have to play this game that way,'' he said. "You better have a fire in your belly to play. This is a hard-driving business. Everybody can't do it. It's tough. I think that's the way football is played and I'm glad both of those guys are here. They do a good job.''

Sure not everyone is cut out to become an NFL defensive coordinator, but most head coaches and League front office executives around the League are far less enthusiastic about Williams' abrasive antics — the very same antics that got him suspended by the NFL for the Bountygate Scandal, and made him a pariah in the city of New Orleans and among fans in the 'Who Dat Nation'.

So what can Saints fans expect to see this Sunday?

In this Sunday’s contest, expect the Browns and Williams to throw “everything but the kitchen sink” at the Saints offense, as they try to disrupt the Saints’ timing and precision of Payton’s offensive scheme, with his typical dose of various blitz packages that he’s used at every coaching stop that he’s ever made.

Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Conversely, you can expect that the Saints WILL try to put up a ton of points on the scoreboard once again (although 40 points still wasn’t good enough to win last week), as these former friends turned bitter enemies, renew old acquaintances.

Get your "popcorn ready", Saints fans — because this Sunday promises to be another game to remember, when these friends-turned-enemies renew old acquaintances. 

As Williams undoubtedly remembers from his previous Superdome experiences: Laissez les bons temps rouler.....

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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