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Williams more than just a coach

Williams more than just a coach By MICHAEL A. LOUGH mlough@macon.comDecember 7, 2013 2013-12-08T04:05:19Z By MICHAEL A. LOUGHThe_Telegraph BEAU CABELL/THE TELEGRAPHGMC head coach Bert Williams, center, who has won 113 games with the Bulldogs, will lead his team into Sunday’s NJCAA championship game in Biloxi, Miss., against East Mississippi. BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com |Buy Photo Buy Photo' data-type="image" data-headline="Macon.com"> Buy Photo' data-type="image" data-headline="Macon.com"> Williams has extra duties as he prepares his team for the NJCAA championship game MILLEDGEVILLE -- Bert Williams isn’t sure when it happened. Back in the late 1990s, he was the offensive coordinator at Union College, an NAIA program at a school of fewer than 900 undergrads in Barbourville, Ky. “We just had our oldest son,” Williams said of his wife Cathy and son Parker. “We were up in Kentucky, southeastern hills of Kentucky, in a town of 3,000, which was not easy for an Atlanta girl.” GMC football head coach Robert Nunn had an opening and called Williams, who consulted with his wife. “I told her, ‘You know, it’s a chance for us to get back close to home, kind of renew contacts I had when I was at Georgia, make new contacts,’ and all that,” Williams said. “Probably in a couple of years, we’ll kind of move around, start moving on the coaching carousel.” That was the plan, one that never came to fruition, and 16 years and a national hall of fame induction later, Williams is leading GMC into its fourth national championship game since he took over. The top-ranked Bulldogs travel to Biloxi, Miss., to face No. 2 East Mississippi at 3 p.m. on Sunday in the Mississippi Bowl, which this year doubles as the NJCAA title contest. At some point -- again, it’s a struggle to pinpoint the moment -- Williams morphed from being a normal ears-open/resume ready football coach to the rarity in his profession: somebody who stays in a job tougher and different than most. That carousel hardly got a chance to get revved up. “Three years, a lot of ­success,” said Williams, named to succeed Nunn -- now with the New York Giants -- in February of 2000. “Had the chance to be the head coach, national championship the second year, playing for it again (in) the third.” The city of Milledgeville grew on him and his family, as did the college itself and the job at hand. It might be as simple as that. “Things started going,” Williams said. “And it has become home, a place that we love to be.” Success helps, but Williams’ job is mighty different than that of his colleagues, especially at junior colleges. About 250 of GMC’s students at the main campus are cadets who adhere to a regimented schedule and substantially firmer rules than the non-cadet students, of which there are about 1,300. All of the football players are cadets, and they aren’t at GMC because of plans for a military career. Williams’ official titles are that of head coach and athletics director, but throw in guidance counselor, academic advisor, mentor, career consultant, confidant and life coach, as well as roster manager for programs throughout the nation. When a four-year program, especially in the Southeast, has a player with issues -- be they personal, academic or legal -- Williams often gets the call to see if GMC can take that player and basically straighten him out, wake him up. So Williams knows any player discussed with him has physical talent. But what’s upstairs and inside -- and the potential in both areas -- is more important. “I gotta tell ya, I’m kind of a hopeless cause in that I tend to think every one of them can be saved,” he said. “And probably my greatest weakness is giving more chances than are deserved. I don’t know if that’s a weakness or what, but I feel sometimes maybe it is.” As long as a player understands the discipline, accepts the punishment and makes attempts at progress, Williams will fight for him. Too many won’t and don’t. “It truly pains me when we have a failure,” he said. “And a failure is somebody to me that has to leave here before it’s time, whether it be academically or whether it be through behavior and not following the rules and getting dismissed.” There are those he gambles on and loses. Chris Sanders was a touted defensive back at Georgia who was dismissed in January of 2012 -- along with Nick Marshall and Sanford Seay -- for allegedly stealing from teammates. Sanders didn’t make it to preseason camp. Williams dismissed him that July for ostensibly a similar infraction. Other players have come to GMC and taken care of business while in Milledgeville, only to digress after leaving. Sophomore linebacker Jekevin Jackson of Tift County doesn’t plan to be among that group. His main reason for going to GMC was for grades, but he admitted that wasn’t the lone reason. “When I first got here, I had a couple discipline issues,” he said. “Coach Williams, with all the military stuff, you got to abide by the rules. If you don’t abide by the rules, and the military rules, you can’t play football.” While teammates can find a way to smile through the memories of the structure and offer many positives to the experience, Jackson is ready to move on. “I had no choice but to suck it up and do it,” he said. “I ain’t liking it, but I had to do it.” And yet throughout a 10-minute conversation, Jackson -- headed to Western Michigan -- effortlessly and almost automatically answers inquiries with “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Does he like it yet? “No sir,” he said, with the chuckle of a man anxiously awaiting graduation this spring. “No, sir. No, sir.” Is he a different person? “Yes, sir,” Jackson said quickly. “Discipline. Yes, sir.” Ty Flournoy-Smith was a sophomore tight end at Georgia who was arrested last spring for filing a false police report regarding stolen books. He decided to transfer, in part as a pre-emptive move, and chose Milledgeville for a year. “When I first got here, it was like, ‘whoa’ and ‘yeah,’ ” the personable Colquitt County grad said with a laugh. “I had to get into the rhythm of it. But once I got into the rhythm ...” There was an adjustment, but Flournoy-Smith accepted it because, as Williams likes to see, he understood his situation. “I got ahead of myself,” he said. “I made a mistake. Maybe God wanted me to go through this to humble myself, slow myself down. “Since I’ve been here, I can say that GMC has helped me through all that.” He enters Sunday’s game with only six catches -- thanks to an ankle injury -- but five going for touchdowns. He’s not sure where he’ll play after this season, but is ready. “To be honest, I think this was actually kind of needed, yes sir,” he said. “I definitely have something to prove.” Williams reported that Flournoy-Smith has taken care of business and appears on track to be yet another success story. “I think our program, our school and the way we run our program, teaches our kids to appreciate the opportunity they get when they’re done here,” Williams said. “I think they take a lot of that for granted. “A lot of these kids come from big high schools, and the things and the extras. And again, is it well-spent money or just money spent? We take care of our guys, I think, very well. But we also, we’re not just tossing money around. There’s a reason for what we spend.” Williams, again, is not talking like a football coach. While he has bouts of coachspeak, his view is of a much broader picture, like what he says are exorbitant amounts of money spent in his profession on the bigger stage. “I feel like we spend our dollars wisely, and we spend them in a way that makes a difference,” he said. “I think most people would say there’s a lot of dollars spent in athletics that aren’t necessarily spent wisely. I think when we spend it, we make an impact with how we spend it and what we spend it on.” Williams has to suppress outright laughing at the latest trend in major college football: hiring several “high school personnel coordinators” to scout prep players. “Everybody went through the hiring of the seven to eight recruiting coaches, for each position coach, at 60-100 grand a pop,” he said. “Really? You’ve got people that are dropping a million bucks into hiring seven or eight guys, office supplies, all the video stuff. “Just officially to crunch film.” He smiles a shaking-his-head smile. Williams is 113-36 entering Sunday’s national championship game, with three full-time coaches and four paid-hourly coaches, a stadium he shares with GMC’s high school namesake, and with higher academic standards than his colleagues and the big names that make up his cell phone list. “It ain’t that hard,” he said. “It ain’t that hard. It really isn’t. They’ll tell you it is, but it ain’t that hard.” Williams went from being just a football coach to take on all of those unofficial duties at some point, and can’t change the mind set and make his life less complicated. He doesn’t want to. Thus, he stays put at GMC. “I would have a hard time working somewhere where the only goal, you know, whether said or unsaid, was to get Ws,” he said. “I’m not a process guy, like (Alabama head) Coach (Nick) Saban is, at least to the level that he is. “But I think there’s a lot of truth in that, in that if you focus on the things that are important, most of the larger-picture things will take care of themselves. We work on those things here, we try to work on getting better each day, work on being a better person, taking advantage of the teachable moment.” Neither he nor his wife are far from home, his school has a mission he believes in and that he can fulfill, and things aren’t going too badly on the football field with the program’s fourth national championship game under Williams set to kick off Sunday. “It’s a great town, too, to raise kids and a family,” he said. “It may sound kind of trite or hokey, but this really is a great school, and we work real hard here to do good things for all our students. “You come to work and you feel like you’re making a difference with the people you’re trying to teach and coach, and be a part of their lives. There’s a lot of job satisfaction in that.” Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2013/12/07/2819879/williams-more-than-just-a-coach.html#storylink=cpy