For five years, the Ohio sideline inside Peden Stadium served as defensive line coach Jesse Williams’ workspace. It’s where he educated Tarell Basham, whom Williams helped mold into the 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year and a third-round NFL Draft Pick.
Saturday, though, Williams will find himself on the opposite boundary of the field, instructing other potential pros on what they need to do to help Kansas defeat his former boss, Frank Solich.
“It comes with the job,” Williams, a first-year assistant on David Beaty’s KU staff, said of the strange circumstances that await him (11 a.m. kickoff, ESPNU).
In fact, Williams experienced a similar scene with the Bobcats five years ago, on the same field where the Jayhawks will try to score an upset road victory. He had just joined Solich’s staff and the second game on the schedule came against his previous employer, New Mexico State.
“You coach long enough, you’ll go through these scenarios at least once or twice,” Williams said, with a laugh.
The D-line coach downplayed his return to Athens, Ohio, calling it “a business trip.” His professional calling meant Williams spent much of the days leading up to it providing his understanding of the Bobcats’ roster with Jayhawks hoping to defeat them.
On this episode of the KU Sports Hour, hosted by KU football beat writer Benton Smith, the KUsports.com staff discusses KU football's 45-27 loss to Central Michigan. Topics include: Is KU better than last year? (0:55-17:30), are lineup changes coming? (17:30-27:40), the KUsports.com football mailbag — coaches on the hot ...
“He has friends on that staff,” KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “He has players he has relationships with. But it is what it is. So, yeah, obviously we’ve got a good report from him on what their players are capable of doing.”
The man Williams answers to now, third-year Kansas head coach David Beaty, said his assistant’s grasp of Ohio’s program doesn’t necessarily provide a competitive advantage.
“Well, one way it hurts us is he recruited way too well on that D-line. They got some dudes over there. He did a good job,” Beaty said, alluding to a defensive front featuring four senior starters, in ends Kevin Robbins and Trent Smart, defensive tackle Tony Porter and nose tackle Cleon Aloese. “They left him some guys and they lost some guys that were pretty good. You got to feel like, you know, his experience, with his familiarity, probably can help you a little bit.”
However, Beaty added, it’s not as if Williams’ presence should be a deciding factor.
“But at the end of the day I've always said I think you can pretty much yell across the field and it's still going to come down to who executes better. Tell them exactly what you're running, or exactly what you're in defensively, and it really still is going to come down to those one-on-one battles, and who does it the best,” KU’s head coach said.
Williams’ comprehension of Ohio’s schemes, though, isn’t what made him a popular source of knowledge around Anderson Family Football Complex the past several days. Bowen said the D-line coach proved valuable with his personnel assessments, which are more concrete than week-to-week game plans.
“He knows the kids,” Bowen said. “Who’s fast, who’s slow, who struggles with different things. You know things like that, but in terms of the offensive scheme and how they call plays, what they check off of? Like, I couldn’t tell you what (KU offensive coordinator Doug) Meacham does with his stuff. You know what I mean?”
KU junior defensive tackle Daniel Wise anticipated Williams’ insight coming in handy.
“Obviously he coached there before, so we’ll pick his brain and hopefully we can see what we’re going up against,” Wise said, “because obviously he went up against it almost every day in practice.”
Another new Williams pupil, junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., said the details their coach provides even builds up the confidence of the D-linemen.
“He’s going to want us to play physical and aggressive against those guys, just because he knows how they are,” Armstrong said. “He tells us about them, what we can do to dominate them. He’s ahead of his game so far.”
Williams’ wife, Felicia, will be watching from the stands in her first trip back to Ohio since the family relocated to Lawrence, but the coach of 20-plus years didn’t anticipate it being emotional for either of them.
“The good thing about it is football comes down to blocking, tackling, getting off blocks,” Williams said, “and I’m not going to do any of those.”