SAN ANTONIO (AP) — On his first day as a college assistant coach, Ricky Williams was already thinking bigger.
Williams was introduced as the running backs coach at the University of the Incarnate Word on Thursday, bringing years of knowledge of the game to the small Catholic school looking to build its program.
Before taking the field for his first practice with the team, Williams was asked if he could see himself eventually becoming a head coach.
“This my first experience coaching, but of course,” he said before flashing a huge grin and laughing. “Even when I was a kid growing up, I liked football players, but the people on the field that I idolized were actually the coaches.”
Williams got a boost in his new career from a pair of coaches who were important in his career in Mack Brown and Nick Saban. They wrote letters of recommendation for Williams when he was looking to land this job.
Their endorsements probably weren’t necessary though, Incarnate Word coach Larry Kennan was thoroughly impressed with Williams from the moment the two first spoke.
“Ricky Williams is one of the biggest names in Texas football,” Kennan said. “To have him join the coaching staff is a huge boost.”
The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner and NFL All-Pro who led the league in rushing in 2002 is looking forward to getting back on the football field a year after his retirement from the NFL. Williams will work with the team part time because he had already accepted a position working for the Longhorn Network during the football season.
He has a simple goal for what he hopes to get out of his new pupils.
“Just that they can be much better than they think they can be,” he said. “What I’d like for everybody that’s associated with this football team is to go beyond whatever we thought we could do. That’s when things for me start to get fun. It’s easy when you know what you can achieve and you go out and do it. But for me that gets boring. When you can go beyond what you thought you could do, that’s when it gets contagious and for me that’s when it starts getting really fun.”
Because of his broadcasting work, he won’t be able to attend many of Incarnate Word’s games, but hopes to spend as much time as possible working with the team during the week. Their first game is on a Thursday, so Williams will make that trip, bonding with the team on a nine-hour bus ride to play Central Arkansas.
The 36-year-old Williams was a first-round pick out of Texas in 1999 after running for 6,279 yards to break the NCAA career rushing record. He went on to gain more than 10,000 yards in an 11-year NFL career with New Orleans, Miami and Baltimore. His success on the field was tempered by failed drug tests and an abrupt retirement from the Miami Dolphins. He doesn’t feel like his past problems should be a detriment to his new job, and believes his varied life experiences will help him be even more valuable as a coach.
“I don’t have anything to prove to these kids,” he said. “I just want to show them that I’m here to help them be as good as they want to be. That’s not just on the football field, that’s also off the football field.”
Kennan isn’t concerned about Williams’ past and said everyone he talked to raved about what a great and unique person he is. Kennan thinks his school, which is making the jump to the Championship Subdivision this season, is lucky to have someone with the experience Williams has.
“He’s a fabulous man and was a great, great football player,” Kennan said. “He’ll be a wonderful mentor for our guys both as a running backs coach and a guy who’s lived a lot of life and has got some wisdom. That’s what we do as coaches; we impart our wisdom to them.”
Williams recalled with amusement how some of the players reacted when he met with the team for the first time last week. Half of them seemed “shocked” and many wouldn’t speak to him at all. The sense of awe continued at his first practice on Thursday when a group of players stood elbowing each other and whispering excitedly when he took the field.
“It might take a day or two or it might take a week, but I’m sure once the guys are around me that all the hoopla will start to die down and I’ll just be a ball coach,” Williams said.
He’ll work to make them comfortable and will be an “open book” with everyone associated with the program. He won’t push his hobbies on the players though, shaking his head when asked if he’ll teach them yoga, since he’s studied the exercise for years.
“I’m not going to offer it to them, but if they come up and say: ‘Coach my hamstring is tight, do you have a stretch for me?’ I’ll have something for them,” he said.