HOUSTON — Ricky Williams can’t change the past and wouldn’t want to even if he could.
He has decided to be a coach and dares anyone to tell him why his prior transgressions should preclude him from molding the next generation of football talent.
“If you took slices of my life and you pushed pause, yeah, it would look bad,” Williams said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But if you push play and see my whole movie, it’s actually a very inspiring story.”
The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner and NFL All-Pro who led the league in rushing in 2002 is set to take a job coaching running backs at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. The small Catholic school, which is moving to Division I this season, is in the process of finalizing the hire.
His football skills and knowledge are undeniable. But a past that includes failed drug tests and an abrupt retirement from the Miami Dolphins cast a pall on the stellar career of a hard-running player who piled up more than 10,000 yards rushing in his NFL career.
Williams has always refused to be what people expect him to be or conform to societal norms. His constant search for fulfillment has led him to travel the world studying and teaching yoga and to seek solace in those who appreciate him for more than just his football prowess.
“If your idea for young people or kids is to show them a pretend ideal of what perfection is supposed to be, to me that’s not a good role model,” he said. “A good role model is someone who keeps on moving and keeps on creating their lives no matter what happens.”
The 36-year-old Williams retired for good from the NFL after the 2011 season. He believes a past of incomparable success followed by a very public downfall and subsequent redemption make him more than qualified to guide young people searching for their paths. He’s maintained the youthful exuberance of someone half his age, and his words spill out quickly, as if he’s worried a thought might disappear if he doesn’t rush to share it.
“Everyone deals with some kind of adversity and some kind of difficulty whether it’s self-imposed or not,” he said. “To me, the mark of a role model or a good influence is someone who can make it through anything. And not just make it through anything but who can thrive in any situation, and that’s one thing that I think I have shown to the world is that nothing I do or was done is ever going to stop me. I’m always going to keep going.”
The idea sprang from his work as a life coach and spurred the former University of Texas star to become curious if the profession could be a natural fit for him. But it wasn’t a completely new idea. During his retirement from the Dolphins in 2004, he realized he could have a more profound impact on people in ways other than as a football player.
“Looking at my skill set and what I was good at, one of them was football obviously and the other one was that anytime I was around people, people’s lives usually got better and that I usually gave them a different way to look at things,” he said. “So I applied those two things and it naturally came out to coach.”
Incarnate Word is thrilled.
“I think it is a good fit,” Incarnate Word coach Larry Kennan said in a release. “His experience will be a big help to our staff and players and I think he will have a positive effect on our recruiting efforts.”
The campus is a short 80-mile drive down Interstate 35 from Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin. It was there that Williams solidified his legacy as one of the best running backs to play in the Lone Star State by setting an NCAA record with 6,279 career yards rushing.
In an odd twist, Williams will help coach a team which plays in Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium. Tom Benson, who owns the New Orleans Saints — where Williams began his NFL career after he was drafted fifth overall in 1999 — is a major benefactor of the university.
What kind of coach will Williams be? He points to former Texas coach John Mackovic, who recruited him to play for the Longhorns.
“He genuinely cared about his players as men and as people,” Williams said. “He didn’t just teach us football but he also shared life lessons with us. He shared himself with us and he also encouraged me to be me, which was a huge gift and really allowed me to develop.”
Williams also enjoyed his time playing for Nick Saban because “he demanded a lot of us, but he didn’t demand us to be what he wanted us to be, he just demanded us to be more of what we were.”
His coaching gig will be more like a part-time job; he had already accepted a position working for the Longhorn Network during the football season. They haven’t worked out all the details yet, but he’s been told he could handle his coaching duties on his days off from broadcasting.
The schedule will make for a busy fall, but his personality is such that boredom sets in quickly if he’s doing just one thing. “Even if it’s professional football,” he said with a chuckle.
Williams said a recent conversation with a friend during a cross-country drive prompted thoughts about who he was and led him to the realization that he no longer wanted to identify himself as a football player.
“My dream of being a football player had already been fulfilled and now it was time to ask myself what I wanted to do now,” he said. “Coaching is one of the things that I think I can do. But if I were only doing coaching it wouldn’t be enough for me. I’ve also found that the more things I can do I’m much more productive and I’m much happier.”