By Raul Dominguez, Jr.
University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) football fans, there is great news. The Cardinals’ backfield is blessed with players who are more athletically gifted than Ricky Williams.
The Ricky Williams who won the 1998 Heisman Trophy to cap a stellar four-year career at the University of Texas and rushed for 10,000 yards in 11 seasons in the NFL? Yes, that Ricky Williams. Senior fullback Matt Bass and freshman tailbacks John Oglesby, Junior Sessions and Broderick Reeves are superior athletes than Williams ever was, at least according to Williams himself.
“I assure you he’s lying,” Bass said, chuckling at the comment. “He was a great athlete. Obviously his study of the game and knowledge of the game made him a better player, but he was a great athlete.”
But that is what Williams truly believes. Now it’s his job to ensure that potential comes to fruition for the Cardinals.
Williams is working with UIW’s backfield in his first season as an assistant coach with the team.
“I actually think the running backs that I’m coaching are better athletes,” Williams said. “They haven’t played as much football as I have, and so the real teacher is experience. I’m just kind of a guide to show them how to learn from their experience and just to facilitate the process.”
Cardinals Head Coach Larry Kennan quickly added the former two-time All-American to his staff after a mutual friend informed him of Williams’ desire to coach.
The hiring reverberated throughout the football world. Few knew Williams held coaching aspirations and, given his impressive credentials, many more were surprised his entry came at a college program only in its fifth year.
“First thing that came to mind was disbelief,” Bass said. “To have someone that well-known coaching for my team and especially my position … I was shocked.” It shouldn’t be too surprising. Williams has always seen himself as just another humble soul walking the Earth, which is evident in how he genuinely enjoys retreating to a UIW dorm room after working with the Cardinals instead of living in a luxurious townhome or condo.
A mercurial spirit forever seeking greater understanding, Williams’ entry into coaching was born of boredom. It was tough to keep the 5-foot-11, 240-pound running back down on the football field, and it’s even tougher still to keep him off it.
“I’ve always been such a creative person, that if I’m not creating something or doing something I think, ‘What am I doing?’” Williams said. “I’m so much happier when I’m productive.”
That has resulted in a week-long schedule, which brings a smile to the boyish-looking Williams.
He is with the Cardinals from Sunday through Thursday afternoon, when he drives to Austin to prepare for his other job as an analyst for the Longhorns network. That doesn’t leave much down time, but Williams said being at UIW is how he relaxes. “With what’s going on in Austin right now, it’s not very relaxing to go up there,” Williams said of the Longhorns, who opened the season with two losses. “It’s funny; the last two weeks have been real rough losses for the Longhorns and real big victories for the Cardinals. It’s nice on Sundays or Mondays to come down here and be around winners.”
The running game is a big reason why UIW is winning this season.
Through the first four games, the Cardinals have 10 rushing touchdowns, surpassing last season’s total of seven. UIW is averaging 159.8 yards rushing compared to 116.3 last year, which has enabled the Cardinals to double their scoring output from 16.2 points to 30.2 this season.
Bass had five touchdowns through four games, and he credited Williams’ patience with helping him read defenses better and improved footwork.
“I see a lot of coaches get frustrated with the coaching aspect, but I’m in no hurry,” Williams said. “I enjoy it. You see that the guys get it when they get it. It’s so much about repetition. Because the first time the guys hear what I say, a lot of times it’s the first time they have ever heard anything like it. So it might take them, five, six, 25 times before it really starts to sink in.”
Williams also speaks of a greater work ethic, but he doesn’t scream about it or force his players to do as he did. Williams always responded when coaches allowed him to make mistakes and learn from them, so he is giving UIW’s backfield the same leeway. That understanding is critical given how young the Cardinals are.
“Working with three freshmen, I see the big picture,” Williams said. “I’m excited to see how they work, how they improve and what changes I’ve seen in just about a month. It’s really amazing, and it gets me excited about the rest of this season and definitely about the future.”
That’s right, Williams is thinking about a future at UIW. He speaks excitedly about helping the Cardinals with their offseason workouts and is looking forward to a greater role in recruiting. Williams believes he will be a better coach than a player. For a humble sort such as Williams, that’s quite a statement.