As an assistant with the Houston Oilers, Gregg Williams got a double dose of Clay Matthews every year during the first half of the 1990s.
What he saw was a hard-hitting, versatile linebacker who had all the credentials necessary to land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“That whole family, I am just so respectful to that. Clay was a dominant player that you had to, offensively, take note of at all times,” Williams said Thursday. “His ability to violently, and I mean violently, crush the pocket when he rushed the passer. There are some really good examples of some good cut ups of him, too, of how he was on taking the ball away in the pocket and some of the plays that he did.
“But then, he could play pass coverage. Did some really good things with his hand skills in pass coverage on making quarterbacks think that he was in (pass) rush, but he wasn’t, he was dropping.
“I really do believe that he has those types of credentials, yes.”
Matthews, who haunted offenses as a member of Cleveland’s linebacking corps from 1978-93, was named last month as one of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2019 class. It's the third time Matthews has been a semifinalist, the most recent being in 2017. The list will be trimmed to 15 in early January before it is discussed with the selection committee during Super Bowl weekend.
Matthews played in 278 games — the 17th most in NFL history — and amassed 1,561 tackles over that span, finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons from 1994-96. Williams said he tried to recruit to the Oilers in 1994, and there was a moment when he thought he’d be playing on his defense.
“We were recruiting the heck out of him and I got a call from a Clay Matthews. I am home that night and I am thinking, ‘We got him. We are getting him,’” Williams said. “And it was Clay Matthews, the postman, that dropped something off at the post office and I was supposed to go pick it up. It was not the Clay Matthews that I really wanted to talk to.”
Matthews was a three-time All-Pro and received four Pro Bowl nods. His brother, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. Matthews’ son, Clay Matthews III, is an All-Pro linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.
Williams smiled as he told a story about a trip he made to Cleveland in late 2000, when he was the defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. On a frigid day in Cleveland with wind chills at minus-10, Bruce went out for the coin toss and stood opposite of Clay, who was in short sleeves.
“Bruce was on our team acting like he was freezing to death,” Williams said. “His older brother Clay came out there saying, ‘Hey, toughen up younger brother.’”