Several members of Gregg Williams' Buffalo Bills squad are disputing claims by former teammates that the head coach instituted a bounty system for injuring opponents during his tenure. Former Bills safety Coy Wire was vocal this weekend that such a system was in place in 2002, his first year in the league.
Wall of Famer Phil Hansen played his final NFL season under Williams in 2001, and is the most respected player to weigh in on a bounty system in Buffalo. He admitted that players during the Marv Levy era would run a pot of money for big plays, but denied any knowledge of a system designed to injure others players under Williams. His published comments didn't even focus on his 2001 season.
"We'd do fun things," Hansen told Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News. "The six guys that rushed the passer would pool some money and say, $100 for the first sack or something like that. That wasn't a bounty. That was incentive amongst ourselves to be the first one to get a sack. ... These guys are making million-dollar salaries, but I'll tell you what, if there's five guys in the pot, that $500 meant more than your salary that week. It was encouragement. But there was nothing dirty about any of it. That definitely wasn't the mentality with Marv."
Chidi Ahanotu, who spent 12 seasons in the league including 2002 with Buffalo, also disputed the report and stood up for Williams, who he called a "good person."
"I've been around a lot of coaches," he said. "I believe Gregg cares for his players. He's genuine. I liked him. Even though I played with him for just a year, I would stand up and say this was a great coach. He's a good person. Maybe he crossed the line on this one (in New Orleans), but don't indict him and make him into a villain."
Gaughan notes that the Bills were not a highly-penalized team during the Williams era, and knocked the opposing quarterback from the game just three times in three seasons.
"I understand we need to protect quarterbacks," Ahanotu said. "But as a defensive lineman, I was told my job was to go get that guy [the quarterback] and hit him as hard as I can. If he gets hurt, then I did my job. You ask any defensive linemen, that's how we were taught, that's our mentality."
Former GM Tom Donahoe, who hired Williams to coach the Bills, also came to the coach's defense from his home in Pennsylvania early this week.
"I consistently sat in on team meetings, defensive meetings and special teams meetings," Donahoe told Gaughan. "I never heard any discussion of any of that. Gregg was a model employee. We didn't win enough games, and that's as much my fault as his fault. But there really were never any issues with Gregg on how he handled the players or what he said to the players.
"I can't speak about what allegedly happened in New Orleans or Washington," Donahoe continued. "But I know from my perspective, there was never any indication Gregg was doing something he should not have been doing in Buffalo."
Williams met with NFL officials on Monday in New York City. It is still unknown whether the league will punish the Bills for infractions that may have occurred nine years ago.