Kyle Williams laughed at the question. He said he gets asked it all the time. No, he doesn’t miss playing football. There are times when he misses the camaraderie of an NFL locker room, being part of a team in Buffalo, a community he grew to love.
Physically, he could have kept going when he retired from the Bills after the 2018 season, his 13th in the league. But for Williams, the decision to walk away from the game came down to family, and to some simple calculations he did during his final year.
“I’ve never been a math major,” he said Wednesday while driving to his daughter’s basketball game in Louisiana. “But I sat around one day and did some math in my head. I had been in NFL training camps, just camp, for a year of my life.
“My oldest daughter (Kate) had been alive for all of those training camps except for one. For a year of her life, I had been gone to camp. That didn’t include OTAs, summer, spring. When I broke it down that way, and who I wanted to be for her and my family, the other side of that deal won out.”
So, Williams, who has five children between the ages of 15 and 6, went home to be a family man and, soon enough, a high school football coach in his native Ruston, a city of around 22,000 in northeast Louisiana.
Williams knew in his heart that coaching would be his destiny. In the summer of 2019, he came back to Buffalo to work with the defense for a time during training camp. It was nice, of course, to be able to head back to his family after a short stint as a volunteer.
He had offers to coach in the NFL. But he wanted to be at home. In 2020, Williams took a job as defensive coordinator at Ruston High. He’s still at Ruston, working as a coach and compliance officer at his alma mater, which took a 9-1 record and top seed into the state regional playoffs on Friday against Ouachita Parish, a team they beat handily last month.
Williams played 183 regular-season games for the Bills, the most of any defensive player who spent his entire career in Buffalo. He made six Pro Bowls. He was an integral leader on the 2017 Bills team, which snapped the 17-year playoff drought in Sean McDermott’s first season as head coach.
“I miss the guys,” Williams said. “But I get that with some of our coaching staff and being around our young guys. I still have that camaraderie and team aspect. Once you’re part of a team and it becomes part of you, you miss those things.
“You hear that when you talk to all these guys who are done with the NFL. They say, ‘I don’t necessarily miss Sundays, but I miss the guys and the things leading up to it.’ I’ve kind of filled that hole.”
Williams is living the full dad’s life these days. We spoke by phone as he was driving 45 minutes to Bastrop to watch his second-eldest, Anna Claire, play point guard for her eighth-grade basketball team. Wife Jill, meanwhile, was heading an hour west to see Kate, a Ruston ninth grader, play volleyball at Shreveport.
There’s a lot more time for family these days. And surely, a lot less time at the office than the all-consuming existence of an NFL player. Right, Kyle?
“My wife would probably say that’s not true,” Williams said with a chuckle. “She’d be the first one to tell you I don’t do anything haphazardly. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to dive all the way into it, which I’ve done there.
“I don’t just coach football,” he said. “I work at the school full-time. I’m the compliance director for our school. For all our athletes, I check eligibility. I do all our compliance work with the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
“So, I’ve got a full-time job. I’m at the school five days a week, from 7 a.m. or whatever time I drop my daughters off and walk into the office to sometimes 6, 7, 8-plus o’clock at night during football season.”
What else would you expect from Williams, who arrived in Buffalo as an underestimated fifth-round pick out of LSU in 2006 and worked tirelessly to make himself a star?
In a way, he was ideal for the playoff drought. Oh, he burned to win, to make the playoffs. But more than winning, it was the grind, the journey — what McDermott calls the process — that sustained him.
I remember him telling a story in 2017, how he showed up at One Bills Drive at 6 a.m. one day in 9-degree weather and saw a solitary figure shoveling snow outside the Field House.
“He’s doing that for us,” Williams thought to himself as he stopped to watch the man work. “He’s doing something for me.”
That’s how Kyle saw himself, as part of an organization working together for a common goal. Snow, hard times, changes in coaches, front office and even ownership, he persevered through it all, a leader and resolute player. That’s why McDermott admired him.
He never whined or complained about his misfortune playing for a chronic loser. Williams never left Buffalo. He had offers to leave as a free agent after the ‘17 season. But he felt an obligation to the team and the town.
“Other people were calling,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘I’m not fixing to load myself up to go to California or Texas or Florida for a year or two just to say I made a little more, or did this or that.’ I said, ‘It’s important for me to be here.’ To a fault, I guess.
“I know the people changed. The ownership changed. But it was the organization that gave me an opportunity when I wasn’t this enough or that enough. All I wanted was an opportunity to compete.
“It’s such a special place. To this day, my kids will say, ‘I miss my house in Buffalo!’ I get that on occasion from my crew here at home. It’s in all of us, not just me.”
He’s passing it on to the kids at Ruston High, which has an amazing football tradition for such a small city. It produced such NFL players as Bert Jones, who won a league MVP in 1976; Fred Dean, a Hall of Fame defensive end; and long-time linebacker Michael Brooks.
How many high school teams have two grads who played in the NFL on the coaching staff? Ruston High has Williams as defensive coordinator and Kenny Wright, who played for five NFL teams between 1998 and 2007, coaching the defensive backs.
Williams says Ruston has a lot of good kids, though they can be a chore at times. He said suffering those all those difficult seasons in Buffalo comes in handy as a coach.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’d have drawn it up differently, not just for myself but our (Bills) organization and the city. But it’s good to understand what it takes to compete when it’s not going your way, dealing with adversity — and as I look back now, having an opportunity to be around a multitude of different coaches.”
Ruston is having one of its best years since Williams, 39, was a star there 20 years ago. The Bearcats lost their opener in overtime to Warren Easton, which is No. 1 in the state among private large schools. They’ve rattled off nine wins in a row since then.
Two weeks ago, Ruston beat rival West Monroe for the first time in 32 years, snapping a 33-game losing streak in the rivalry to win the district championship.
Williams was part of a Bills team that lost 14 games in a row to the New England Patriots before breaking through in 2011. He could hardly miss the parallels.
“The similarities are uncanny,” he said. “West Monroe has been the benchmark for success in high school football in Louisiana since the mid-’90s. When I played, they beat us in the semifinals. They beat us in the state championship game and the district games.
“Last week, yes, I talked to our players about having the opportunity to beat a team for the first time in three decades. Really, I could put myself in their shoes from being on the cusp of beating Tom Brady and the Patriots when they were rolling.”
Williams told his players not to be ruled by emotion, but to focus on the task at hand. He said it’s a pleasure to deal with high school kids, to see them grasp football concepts and translate it to the field.
“They’re competitive, they’re tough, they’re excited to learn and to play,” he said, “and they really care about their teammates and being part of a team. When you’ve got that going on, no matter what level you’re at, you’re pretty excited to go in with them every day.
“I think if you’re going to be successful in anything, you need to enjoy the process of getting there, and the process of building something.”
That’s two “processes,” which means Williams hasn’t strayed that far from McDermott or the NFL. You wonder if he might one day coach football at a higher level.
“Well, I had some opportunities in the NFL when I got done,” he said. “A handful of people from around the league presented me with opportunities, as recently as this last spring.
“But at my stage of life, I’ve got a freshman, an eighth-grader, a fifth-grader, a third-grader and a first-grader,” he said. “To run off somewhere coaching NFL or whatever isn’t something I want to do right now.
“I retired because my kids were getting older. My daughter was moving on to middle school and I thought it was time for me to do something a little bit different. I’m still very busy, but I drop my daughter off at school every day. I get to see her in the halls.”
You don’t need to be a math major to know that you can’t put a value on that for a dedicated dad.
“I mean, it’s really what I wanted,” Williams said.