Jerrol Williams, Steelers Linebacker, 1989-1992
First, can you let readers know what you are up to these days?
I’m living in Las Vegas now taking care of my three kids. I coached a little semi-pro ball and some youth ball, but that’s really the extent of it.
I’m not working now due to injuries I got playing. I hurt my shoulder in San Diego – and a few other injuries along the way too. I was on disability for a while through the NFL and am re-applying. I was approved the first time and am trying now for permanent and total disability. because of all the craziness over the Summer everything was backlogged so I’m getting all my paperwork together now.
What coaching and playing lessons in Pittsburgh do you find yourself falling back on now?
Without a doubt I learned a lot of lessons. When I got there they re-emphasized everything i learned growing up and in college. Hard work, perseverance, repittion…That all helps me even now – even with my kids. I see the hard work – the trophies they get.
How are the kids doing?
My biggest one is playing football – he’s a senior and is in the recruiting process now. We’re looking for the best thing for him. My other two are twins – fourteen years old.
You were drafted in round four in ’89- how much pressure did you feel being a high round pick to perform and how did you deal with it?
For me, it wasn’t that hard. The road I traveled to get drafted was difficult. I left college after my senior season and got into a bad car accident with a buddy of mine. I couldn’t work out at the combine – I just took the physical. By the time I got better I could really only work out for a couple of teams – it was close to the draft by then.
It was a shock to get drafted. A blessing. There’s was no pressure for me because I didn’t think I’d even get drafted.
Why do you think you were taken in the fourth?
I’m not sure – the information process wasn’t good then like it is now. I had good numbers in college and did well in my bowl game.
How difficult was it adapting to a new position as a 3-4 outside linebacker and to a new scheme?
I welcomed the adjustment. I played in a 4-3 in college and really enjoyed the 3-4 my first year in Pittsburgh. The scheme was more complicated than the position. After I learned the scheme I was a much better player.
How did you adjust to the 3-4?
Rod Rust was the first person to tell more about watching film and studying film. He told me to visualize the game even when I’m not out there. In college then, there was no film really.
The 3-4 was much more aggressive and that fit me better.I was really versatile too. I was one of the first 3-4 guys that could rush the passer, cover and play on the open side. I could do it all - even special teams – and prided myself on that.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie – who took you under their wing and helped you adjust both on the field and off?
Rod Woodson and I came out of Purdue together. Ray Wallace and Rodney Carter were Purdue guys to. So I had guys I could recognize. They played different positions than me- but just knowing someone helps you mentally. You aren’t alone. Remember, I wasn’t in a football atmosphere after college so they really helped me mentally to get back into it.
On the field, Hardy Nickerson helped. I gravitated to people who played the same position as me. Hinkle too. I watched a lot from them and absorbed a lot. If one of those guys ahead of me messed up, you don’t make that same mistake. It behooves you not to make the same mistakes they did (laughing). They helped me by screwing up sometimes, you could say.
Mean Joe was someone I always looked up to – especially with the transition as a rush end from college, he was really helpful. I never went up against tackles before and he helped me with some different techniques.
Later on, Marvin Lewis helped me to get used to playing every down versus just on passing downs. That was a hard transition and he helped me to have the right temperament. It’s totally different playing every down. before I had just one job – getting to the quarterback. Just one mindset. On a play-by-play basis you don’t know what’s coming at you.
Dick LeBeau was the secondary coach then but he had some small things to say from the back of the film room to help me too. We had so many older players and coaches on those teams – I was like the younger brother then. Just them acknowledging you helped so much.
Your first few seasons you had the experience of playing for Coach Noll. What was that like for you and was there any indication it was his last season in ’91?
I enjoyed playing for Coach Noll. I liked his no-nonsense approach. You had a job to do and you do it if you are a professional. If he had to tell you what to do you didn’t need to be there.
I had no clue he was leaving. He wasn’t a big talker…
One thing I admired and learned from him was how he knew about every aspect of the game. Every position. We didn’t need a position coach – he knew it all. He has a subtle approach – subtle suggestions – he didn’t blast you in front of the team, which I liked.
He was just really impressive. I never had a coach like him.
You played for Coach Cowher for his first season in Pittsburgh in ’92. What specific changes did he implement on the team and how easy or hard was it for the team to adjust to this young coach whose style was so different from Noll’s?
I liked both Cowher and Noll. Sometimes I needed a kick in the ass to get me going. You can’t give me slack. Cowher was like that. He was an energy dude and liked to get fired up. He was new school – put the fastest guys in and let them make plays.
He gave me an opportunitiy to play full-time. He flew me in after he got there and said it was my job to lose. I wasn’t starting then but was making plays as a third down pass rusher.
In the old school system under Coach Noll. if you didn’t know all the plays chapter and verse you didn’t start. So I couldn’t move up with Bryan Hinkle there. Cowher said the main thing for me was to show the intensity every down that I did as a third down pass rusher.
The Steelers had some up and down years in those four years you were there – how did the players and coaches handle those and keep an even keel?
We had one season of no playoffs when I was there – my second year. I was in great shape in Pittsburgh (laughing). In Purdue our best season was six wins. Pittsburgh was lovely! My body never really got healthy after the accident until that second season. It was all a blessing to me and we were all accountable for our own motivation.
Who were the locker room leaders on those Steelers teams – and how much did humor play a part? Any examples?
There were lots of the older guys still there when I got there. I had a different approach. I was a mind my own business type of guy.
Terry Long was a character. You never knew what you would get from him. His interchanges with Ralph Berlin were comical. They would just go at it. Ralph was a character too.
They were all leaders in their own way. My rookie year mot rookies made the team. We knew our place. I just wasn’t a starry-eyed person. Terry Long was the guy who stood out to me the most. He was 5’10″, 290 pounds. You just don’t see that a lot in the NFL. And he had a constant motor – he showed no love in practice.
Oh and how can I forget Tyrone Stowe! He kept the locker room loose by constantly cracking jokes. And he took it as well as he gave it out (laughing). He facilitated the jokes in the sauna, training room, locker room….he made it his job. I used to hang out with him a lot as we were both linebackers and in the same groups a lot.
You left the Steelers after that ’92 season and played for San Diego. What brought on the change and how hard was that for you?
It was the first year of free agency – it was very hard to leave. I didn’t know a lot about the business of football and listened to my agent. I never wanted to leave. It looked like it was about money to some, but really I just listened to my agent. I wasn’t from a football background and my agent said Pittsburgh didn’t make an offer close to San Diego’s.
They had Neil O’Donnell to take care of. I really should have been more hands-on. I could have worked out a deal with Pittsburgh. I just didn’t understand the business – I just wanted to play football. I should have communicated with Coach Cowher at least. San Diego was closer to home and there were other factors, But yeah, I should have stayed.
How did those Steelers teams differ from the other teams you played for?
Those other teams were much easier. The expectations there were not as high – even in practice. In San Diego, camp was by the ocean. It was too laid back. I’m high strung and they just didn’t get after it there. That was an adjustment in itself.
Pittsburgh is very different from California too. There were a lot of distractions in California you didn’t have in Pittsburgh. In Latrobe, it’s just football.
What are your best memories as a Steeler?
The playoff battles against Houston….and I had a good lick on John Elway my rookie year. I hit him right in the ribs – I still have a picture of the hit (laughing).
Oh – and that I always wore a sleeve on just one arm. I remember Myron Cope compared me to Jackie Joyner-Kersee. But it just came to me. I’d rush from the right side and the offensive tackles used to hold me and rip the sleeve off. So I just started cutting it off before they ripped it off and it became my style. The Post-Gazette wrote an article on it (laughing). I’m simple like that – just little things like that are what I’m about!
Any last thoughts for readers?
It’s been a blessing – something I never thought I could do. Injuries and surgeries aside, learning from the game and meeting the people I never thought I would meet has been a blessing. I came from a family of twelve and was the first to go to college. I never graduated college, and I know education is so important now in these economic conditions. You can get sidelined with the athletics, but you are always one injury away from not playing.
I know people have heard it a million times, but get the education. If you get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play then go for it too. I;m just thankful I had the chance to play football. I had a blast!
The fans in Pittsburgh were cool – all the time. before and after the games in the parking lots…all the time. The showed me so much love. It was amazing to me and I just want to say thank you!