Richard Williamson was old school.
Those two words invariably come up when anyone talks about Williamson, an assistant coach for 15 years with the Carolina Panthers from the team’s inaugural season in 1995 until his retirement following the 2009 season.
Williamson died Monday night in Charlotte after a brief illness. He was 74.
I always enjoyed talking with Williamson, and I still remember the first time I ever did. It was January 1995. The Panthers hadn’t played a real game yet. Dom Capers was days from being hired as their first coach but had not been.
Nevertheless, Panthers general manager Bill Polian thought so much of Williamson and offensive line coach Jim McNally that he hired them both soon after they were fired in Cincinnati. Williamson was the team’s first wide receivers coach, a position he held for 13 of his 15 seasons with the Panthers.
I called Williamson that day in 1995 and asked him what he wanted in his new crop of Panthers receivers.
“I want some who will run fast, catch everything and make people miss,” Williamson said. “I want a mixture. I want some big strong guys who catch balls in traffic and some guys who can really run.”
He ended up getting all of that. Williamson coaxed 1,000-yard seasons not only from Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad – his two best-known Carolina receivers – but also from Patrick Jeffers, Rocket Ismail and Mark Carrier.
Williamson was so valuable as an assistant that he worked for the first three Panthers head coaches full-time. He even consulted a little for the fourth, Ron Rivera, helping one of his former pupils, Ricky Proehl, set up shop as the new wide receivers coach.
With a craggy face, a loud voice and an ever-present visor that he would angrily fire into the ground in Spurrier-esque fashion, Williamson rarely smiled on the field. Tight end Wesley Walls fondly called the coach a “fire and brimstone guy” and said Williamson could have been a great preacher.
But Williamson was quite funny off the field and had a warehouse of stories. He played for and coached with Bear Bryant at Alabama. He was a teammate of Joe Namath. As an assistant, he helped recruit Danny Ford to Alabama.
“He was definitely old school,” Panthers center Ryan Kalil said of Williamson. “His guys respected him a lot. He had been around the league a long time, and he was a hard-nosed coach. But you respected him because of his experience. Off the field, he was a really funny character with a lot of personality.”
Williamson was a head coach twice – with Memphis State from 1975 through ’80 and with Tampa Bay for three games in the 1990 season and throughout the 1991 season. He was 4-15 as the Tampa Bay head coach.
With the Panthers, Williamson was temporarily elevated to offensive coordinator in 2000 when Bill Musgrave got fed up and quit on George Seifert four games into the season.
Williamson continued as offensive coordinator for Seifert in 2001 and returned as receivers coach in 2002 under John Fox. He was a key part of the Panthers’ Super Bowl staff in 2003 and continued to make his home in Charlotte after his retirement. He will be greatly missed.