The upshot of the tape for the Saints, and for Gregg Williams.
I've said this for the last couple of weeks, and I still believe it: Roger Goodell will give Gregg Williams a path back into the NFL. Goodell likes stories of redemption. He gave Michael Vick a path back, and Vick was as radioactive in his own way back in 2009 as Williams is today. I think if Williams does what the league wants -- and he's already started, by admitting his guilt, saying he is sorry, and not appealing his sanction -- he'll become a spokesman with high schools and colleges for what surely will be the league's anti-bounty and anti-violence push that comes out of this.
Does that mean he'll get another coaching job? That's another question. The Rams are now going to have to think about what keeping Williams will mean to their team. Is it possible for Williams to stand up in front of a group of men, all of whom will know he advocated aiming for knees and wounded heads in fiery speeches, and reach them? What about having Williams on your coaching staff, and going into free agency trying to recruit players? Money talks, yes. But will the presence of Williams be a free agent repellant?
As for the Saints, while some will think the audio tape will isolate Williams as a rogue coach, I feel strongly that's not how Goodell viewed it. Look at Goodell's prior statements and rulings here. He blames Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis for enabling a three-year pattern of this renegade defensive behavior. Goodell heard the tape and I can bet he thought: We warned them, and we told them to make sure this has stopped, and here it is, at the end of the third season, two full years after we were assured this wasn't going on anymore, and here's the defensive coach telling his players to aim for Frank Gore's head and Michael Crabtree's knee. Absolutely, totally unacceptable.
Which is why I cannot see any reduction in the sanctions to Payton and Loomis. Goodell didn't buy Payton's I-didn't-know-this-was-going-on stance six weeks ago, and I doubt sincerely he heard anything from Payton on Thursday to change his mind.
Goodell talked with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith during the week, apparently for quite a lengthy conversation. Whether they'll be on the same page with any player suspension, I doubt. I can't predict how many players will get suspended, but it seems logical to think middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will get the lengthiest one and perhaps three or more defensive leaders will get lesser bans. But that's based on common sense and nothing else. I do know this: Goodell hates bad news occupying front sports pages, particularly when it robs coverage from an event the league loves -- the draft -- and so I believe Goodell will rule on the suspension appeals today or Tuesday at the latest, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't rule on the players this week.
RIP, Coach Joe.
Joe Avezzano was always in search of another coaching gig, or another country song. And if he couldn't find a coaching gig here, he'd go anywhere. That's why he was in Italy when he died of a heart attack while on a treadmill Thursday, preparing to coach the Milano Seamen of the Italian league.
In 1991, I went on a scouting trip prior to the draft with the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. The Cowboys used their coaches to scout. So on this trip, to North Carolina State, Tennessee, Michigan State and Notre Dame, Jimmy Johnson brought some of his key guys along: Norv Turner and Hubbard Alexander on offense, Butch Davis and Dave Wannstedt on defense, and Avezzano, the special teams coach, to look at the punters and kickers. Fascinating trip. That was the draft enriched by the Herschel Walker trade, and others, and the Cowboys picked Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper and Dixon Edwards, among others that year.
But the star of the trip was Avezzano. Boy, did he know how to have a good time. The group went to Tennessee coach Johnny Majors' house (that's how long ago this trip happened -- Majors was the Vol coach) one night, staying long past 12, and Avezzano picked up a guitar and started crooning. "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys'' was first. Avezzano was no phony. The man could sing, and he could play the guitar. Then, to Majors' delight, Avezzano launched into a rousing "Rocky Top'' rendition.
"Rocky Top, you'll always be,
Home sweet home to me.
Good ol' Rocky top,
Rocky Top Tennessee!''
By the end of it, he had everyone doing the chorus. And I thought it was a good thing that Majors didn't have any neighbors close by. They'd have all been woken up by the bad singing.
"Joe,'' Johnson said to him on that trip, "I wish you could just learn to relax a little bit.''
Don't let that give you the wrong impression of the guy. He could coach the kicking game. Three times he was named special teams coach of the year, and he was part of three Super Bowl championship teams in Dallas, where he coached for 13 years. And TV networks loved him, because he was one of the most demonstrative coaches ever. A sideline ranter, with that wild white hair. Other than Johnson, he was easily the most charismatic and well-known of the Dallas coaches on that staff. Just an unforgettable man.
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