Williams is new football head coach

John Williams took the Mercer Island High School football team’s head coaching job after former coach Bill Heglar abruptly resigned. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
John Williams took the Mercer Island High School football team’s head coaching job after former coach Bill Heglar abruptly resigned.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Less than a month before the Mercer Island High School football team plays its first game of the 2008 season, interim head coach John Williams is still trying to put names with faces.

“[In meetings} I’ll say what about so and so and give the other coaches their practice jersey number and then they have to think about who that is,” said Williams laughing. “It’s a challenge. I am lucky to have such a good coaching staff that has been here for a while.”

But the challenges for Williams will go far beyond learning players’ names this season as he takes over a team that went 1-7 in league play and 2-8 overall last year. Williams joined the coaching staff last spring as an assistant coach with aspirations of applying for the head job in a few years.

“I planned on being an assistant until Bill [Heglar] retired and then I might have thrown my hat in,” said Williams. “Things happen and you have to be prepared. Right now, I am focused on the task at hand, which is getting ready for the season.”

Williams was moved into the head coaching role when his predecessor, Heglar, abruptly resigned sighting the lack of the teaching position at the high school two weeks ago.

Williams’ head coaching experience is minimal with just one season under his belt with Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle.

“That was not a good mesh,” said Williams. “I enjoy the kids at MI. They have dedication and they want to play football. Chief Sealth was not my type of environment.”

But Williams’ football knowledge and experience is impressive. The 47-year-old was a co-captain and tailback at the University of Wisconsin and went on to play in the National Football League for three years with the Cowboys, Colts, New Orleans and Seahawks. He also played in the United States Football League and the Canadian Football League.

“When I was in the NFL, I got to see a lot of different systems and really learned to understand how they work,” said Williams, who is the third coach in as many years for the Islanders. “Having different coaches doesn’t change things if you are focused.”

Williams’ focus on football began in Michigan, where he grew up and his love for the game has pushed him toward being a student of the game.

“I don’t watch the NFL anymore ‘cause it is all the same,” said Williams. “I like high school and college football because you see different styles of play.”

Williams said that one of the coaches he liked to watch was Lou Holtz, the legend from Notre Dame, a Midwestern rival of Williams’ alma mater.

With Williams’ background as a tailback, most might think he is mainly an offensive-minded head coach. But Williams has grown an affinity for the defensive side of the ballgame.

“After I started getting into coaching, the defensive side of the ball, I started getting more into it,” said Williams, who last played defense in high school. “My heart is now more on the defensive side of the ball.”

As for the team, Williams said that they are prepared for the season.

“Kelly [John-Lewis] did a great job of getting them ready for the season in the weight room,” said Williams. “I love the opportunity to prepare all week and give all you have to win a game.

“This will be a new product and we’re going to have fun.”

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