New Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is widely hailed for his ability to turn around struggling defenses. One his former players says it starts with the kind of culture the longtime coach creates when he walks into a building.
"He'd use this term, he'd used to say autograph your performance every day," said ESPN.com writer and former NFL safety Matt Bowen, who played two seasons under Williams with the Washington Redskins. "And I'd say, 'OK what does that mean?' And he'd say every day is an interview. You're interviewing for a job every single day."
Bowen, who played for Williams from 2004-05, outlined Monday what Cleveland might be able to expect from the 26-year NFL veteran during an interview with Cleveland Browns Daily. He also wrote about it back in 2013 before Williams reunited with then-Rams coach Jeff Fisher for the past three years.
In their first defensive meeting in Washington, Bowen said Williams wrote three things on a white board: Be on time, touch all lines and buckle your chinstrap. "He said, 'Those are my three rules and he kind of just moved on," Bowen said. "Over time you start to figure it out, all those things are about accountability."
That's the foundation of a Williams-coached defense on the field.
"It wasn't, you're a first-round pick, you've got to play," Bowen. "No, that didn't fly with Gregg. It was all about accountability."
Everything was constantly evaluated, too. Here's what Bowen wrote about that dynamic:
"In Washington, that meant we were evaluated every day in the meeting room, training room, weight room and on the practice field. With Williams, we would condition before practice. Up-downs, sprints, ladders, etc. Think of a conditioning drill that might make you puke, and I bet we did it.
And they were all filmed.
During training camp, we would watch tape of our entire defense doing up-downs in full gear in the humidity of Virginia. Skip a rep or cheat the drill, and everyone would see it.
Our practices were fast, they were detailed and you were expected to play within the scheme of the defense.
It didn't matter if it was a Wednesday afternoon practice or Saturday morning walk-through. When the film was rolling, you were being graded on stance, alignment and responsibility.
No free passes with Williams."
Williams, who won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2010 and spent the past three seasons with the Rams, inherits a young Browns defense that finished 31st in total yards and points per game.
"He is one of the better coordinators in the National Football League, and I think that is proven," head coach Hue Jackson said Sunday. "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."
Bowen said accountability — whether it's in meetings or on the practice field — is where it all starts.
"Everything is scripted with Gregg," he said, "because he's trying to build that culture of what he wants out of his football players."