From the Marine Corps to the Gridiron: A Team USA Q&A with Bill Williams

By Eric Moreno | Posted 1/2/2020

During his time serving his country as a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Holdenville High School Head Coach – and current assistant coach with the United States National Football Team – Bill Williams toured the world and gained invaluable information that would help him in his career on the football field.

A veteran of the Gulf War and Somalia, Williams freely admits that the military brought added discipline to his life at an age when he truly needed it. After leaving the Corps, Williams went back to school, tried his hand at being a rodeo star, and virtually stumbled into coaching.

From the first night he took the sidelines, he knew he’d found his life’s calling. Williams took some time recently to reflect on his career in the Marines, its impact on his coaching style, and what being a part of Team USA has meant to him.

EM: Let’s go back a little bit and talk about playing football. When did you first start playing organized ball? Do you remember why you wanted to play originally?

BW: I started playing football as a little kid. I wasn’t from an athletic family, but I lost my father when I was young and football kind of saved my life.

I played through high school and I was kind of a little wild as a teen and my coach said ‘You know, you have a lot of offers here to play college football, but I really think you ought to go into the military.’ He said I needed the discipline. So, that’s what I did.

EM: How did you decide to enlist in the Marine Corps?

BW: My stepdad was a Marine and I just got sold on the Marines being the toughest. That’s kind of always been my mindset. If you’re going be one, be the best, be the toughest. I was just sold on the Marines because of the tradition and the toughness. You know, esprit de corps and camaraderie, the Marines take a lot of pride in that stuff. 

EM: Would you say that having football as part of your background helped you in the Marine Corps at all? Maybe with the physicality or the structure of life in the Corps?

BW: There is a correlation. Football and the military are a lot alike except with football you get to go home! [laughs] I was always athletic, and I thought getting paid to be in shape sounded like a good deal.

The thing about the military is that it’s like a whole other level. When I got out of the Marine Corps, I played college football. I was 22 years old and I was immediately more disciplined. Everything about the military correlated with football. Both sides, coming in and going out.

Especially the leadership part. Coaches tell you all the time be a leader, be a leader, be a leader. Well, all the Marine Corps was four years of intense physical training and you’re in an environment that cultivates leadership 24-7, 365. So, the things you don’t understand as a kid from a coach, that all came together after being in the military.

EM: So, how would you say that being in the military has influenced you as a coach? What would be the best example of this that you could point to?

BW: When I got into coaching, I thought I was so far behind everybody else with x’s and o’s, but I was ready to be a head coach right out of the military. On the leadership side, I was ready. To me, there was no doubt.

You go through four years of intense leadership training and [I just happened] to go through a war and a conflict. Now, you’re put into a real-life situation – football is serious, but it isn’t life and death. I would say I would be nowhere as good of a coach as I am if I had not gone through the military.

EM: With having served your country in the Marines, does it mean anything more to you to now be a coach with Team USA?

BW: It means a lot to me because of my military background. Being a part of Team USA, we’re representing football and at the same time we’re representing our country, it means a lot to me and it probably shows up in my duties with Team USA.

We got this thing we love, football, and everybody can identify with that on some level. Now, you get to do the one thing that you love to do and represent your country doing it.

EM: Last thing for you Coach. What would you say has been your favorite part of the Team USA experience?

To me, [as an example,] football brings everybody together in a small town. Like it brings the band together, the cheerleaders together, the players, the parents, the alumni and it is kind of a signature for your town. Hey, we’re from Holdenville, this is us.

Now, at this level for Team USA, we’re coming together for our country. When you go out there and play for your town on the front of your jersey, it’s a big deal. Now, go out there with your country on the front of your jersey or go out there and coach with your country on the sleeve of your shirt, it’s a whole other level.

It’s a bigger honor, to me than playing in the NFL. I’m not out there playing for a town; I’m playing for the United States of America and I think the kids are really buying into that.

The photo was courtesy of Coach Bill Williams.