JACKSONVILLE — New Jacksonville State wide receivers coach Nick Williams has been incredibly busy as Friday’s season-opener approaches. After all, this is Williams’ first full-time coaching job, No. 8 Michigan State finished second in the nation in total defense last year and, maybe toughest of all, he needs to round up a LOT of tickets for the game.
JSU vs. the Big Ten’s Spartans is homecoming for Williams, who spent the first 12 years of his life in East Lansing while his dad, Bobby, served as an assistant coach for George Perles and Nick Saban and, from 2000-02, was MSU’s head coach.
“It’s a really exciting feeling,” said Williams, who joined John Grass’ first staff after a year as a graduate assistant at Valdosta State. “I haven’t been there in about 12 years. It’s going to be good to see family and friends.”
Williams is a fairly typical coach’s kid, only instead of learning by being the waterboy for dad on some high school patch of grass, he learned from his father’s two stints in the NFL, from his time as a Big Ten head coach and as one of Saban’s top assistants at three stops. The younger Williams also worked for Saban as an intern on the offensive staff following graduation after he played on three national championship teams in Tuscaloosa.
Bobby Williams’ firing after nine games into his third season at Michigan State was a major lesson for his son.
“It was a struggle when things weren’t going well for the Michigan State football team,” Nick Williams said. “You got a lot of negativity from your friends and peers. That was the toughest move I’ve had, leaving Michigan, because that was home to me.
“I remember like it was yesterday. We were all sitting at home and my dad had a very disappointed look on his face — something I haven’t seen a lot. We broke down at the time, but (he said) this is the business of coaching and we’re going to have to move on. Dad’s going to have to find a new job and probably have to leave Michigan. After a year with the (Detroit) Lions, we went to LSU.”
Williams’ father is entering his 15th year coaching for Saban, so obviously the younger Williams has a connection to the Crimson Tide legend unlike most of his former players.
“Coach Saban and I have a really close relationship,” he said. “I grew up knowing Coach Saban. Then, I played for him and that was a really good experience. He didn’t treat me any different from any other player, so I got cussed out just like anybody else would. But, he’s a really good person to talk to one-on-one. When it comes down to it, I know Coach Saban truly cares about my dad and our family.”
Williams said since his freshman year at UA he felt he should be a football coach, but he didn’t pursue it in college as a business management major.
“It really hit me after I graduated, after the last national championship game (in 2012),” he said. “I was going on interviews for regular jobs and nothing was really hitting, but I knew when the fall came, I wanted to be somewhere on that football field. That February I started volunteering at Alabama and I’ve been at it ever since.
“I obviously want to be my own coach and be myself, but I pick everybody’s brains. I talk to my dad about coaching almost every day. I use different styles, but on the field I’m probably more like my dad.”
Williams said his father and Saban are a lot alike in their coaching style.
“This is probably going to be weird to say, but there’s not really a difference between them,” he said. “They are both perfectionists. They are all about doing the right things all the time. You can never tell if they are in a bad mood or a good mood. They are glad to be out there every day pushing us to be all we could be as players. The whole staff was like that.”
The rookie coach said besides seeing family and friends at Friday’s game, he has other reasons to be excited for the 2014 season debut.
“Michigan State’s head coach (Mark) Dantonio was actually my mentor at first. When I was first getting into coaching, I talked to him about the potential opportunity of going to Michigan State. He has been a really good mentor to me. It’s going to be a great experience. I’m really excited mostly for the players and Coach Grass for his first game as a head coach.”
It’s highly likely that all the Gamecocks will be excited to see the Spartans. Perhaps Williams, Grass and the rest of the Gamecocks’ offensive coaches can be a little excited that last year’s No. 2 defense has only five starters returning.