Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified that he tried to shut down the team’s bounty system when the NFL began investigating but was overruled by interim Saints head coach Joe Vitt, according to transcripts from appeals hearings obtained by The Associated Press.
According to the transcripts, Williams said that then-assistant Vitt responded to a suggestion that the pay-for-pain setup be abandoned with an obscenity-filled speech about how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “wasn’t going to … tell us to … stop doing what won us the Super Bowl. This has been going on in the … National Football League forever, and it will go on here forever, when they run (me) out of there, it will still go on.”
Williams and Vitt were among a number of witnesses whose testimony was heard by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who on Tuesday overturned four player suspensions in the case. Tagliabue was appointed by Goodell to handle the final round of appeals. The AP obtained transcripts of Tagliabue’s closed-door hearings through a person with a role in the case.
Vitt was a Saints assistant who was banned for six games for his part in the scandal but now is filling in for head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire season. Williams was suspended indefinitely by Goodell. Others who testified included former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, the initial whistleblower and considered a key NFL witness.
Transcripts portray the former coaching colleagues, all part of the Saints' 2010 Super Bowl championship, as bitterly disagreeing with one another and occasionally contradicting how the NFL depicted the bounty system.
Vitt, Williams and Cerullo appeared separately before Tagliabue and were questioned by lawyers for the NFL and lawyers representing the players originally suspended by Goodell: Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.
The transcripts, which could be entered as evidence in Vilma’s pending defamation case against Goodell, include numerous testy, and sometimes humorous, exchanges between witnesses and attorneys _ and between Tagliabue and the attorneys.
Offering to take a lie detector test, Vitt challenged versions given by Williams and Cerullo. Vitt vowed to sue Cerullo and described Williams as “narcissistic.” He referred to both as disgruntled former employees who were fired, even though, publicly, the Saints said Williams‘ departure for St. Louis was by mutual agreement. Vitt depicted Cerullo as incompetent and said he missed work numerous times and offered bizarre, fabricated excuses for his absences.
Vitt was asked whether he oversaw Cerullo’s attempts to destroy evidence related to bounties, which the NFL determined the Saints sanctioned from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars offered for hits that injured opponents and knocked them out of games.
Williams referred to the case as “somewhat of a witch hunt.” He said he wants to coach in the NFL again, “took responsibility so that nobody else had to,” and that Vilma has “been made a scapegoat.”
Williams stood by his earlier sworn statement that Vilma pledged a $10,000 bounty on quarterback Brett Favre in the Saints' game against the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship. But Williams also said that the performance pool he ran was aimed at team bonding, not bounties, and that he saw a difference between asking players to hit hard legally, which he said he did, and asking them to purposely injure an opponent, which he said no one in the organization condoned.
“The game is about a mental toughness on top of a physical toughness,” Williams testified at one point. “You know, it’s not golf.”
Williams, however, acknowledged he suggested Favre should be knocked out of the game.