AUBURN — When Auburn football interim head coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams stepped to the podium after losing the Iron Bowl on Saturday, the first words out of his mouth embodied what his tenure on the Plains has been all about.
Williams could've talked about the difficulties of the last four weeks after Bryan Harsin was fired Oct. 31. He could've talked about his journey from playing in the Iron Bowl as a player in the early 2000s to coaching in it two decades later. He could've talked about being the first Black head coach to participate in the rivalry.
He eventually touched on all of those things, but not without first making it about the players.
"First of all, I'm proud of these seniors, 24 seniors," Williams said. "(For) a lot of these guys it's the last time to ever put on the pads. Whether it's college or professional, I personally know how tough that could be. It's going to be tough for them."
That's what made Williams' time as the interim coach special. When he took over on Halloween, the Tigers were 3-5 on the heels of a demoralizing loss against Arkansas. The team had no momentum, and the deflated feeling permeated through Jordan-Hare Stadium by the time the Razorbacks finished off a 41-27 win.
Fast forward a month, though, and dark clouds no longer loom. Williams gave the Tigers a fresh start, a clean reset heading into the offseason with an extremely important hire to be made. There's been no official word about who the next coach will be, but reports surfaced Saturday morning indicating Liberty's Hugh Freeze is the leading candidate with Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin out of the mix.
Absent from any of the reports was Williams' name.
"I don't know (who the next coach will be)," Williams said after a win over Western Kentucky on Nov. 19. "I really don't care. My seat don't dictate my service. I mean, Auburn is special, and those kids are special. A lot of people took a chance on me, poured into my life and gave me hope when I was hopeless. So again, my seat don't dictate ... how much I serve. I'm going to make it about these players."
There goes Williams again, putting the players at the forefront.
The former Auburn running back went 2-2 as the interim coach, dropping contests to Mississippi State and Alabama — both teams ended the regular season ranked in the AP poll — and picking up wins at home against Texas A&M and Western Kentucky.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment Williams can hang his hat on is how he brought the Auburn faithful back together. Jordan-Hare was sold out for the game against the Aggies, a matchup between 3-6 teams that had no relevance or post-season implications.
That support meant everything to him.
"I'm already forever indebted to (Auburn) because it gave me an opportunity to accomplish my dreams in life," Williams said. "To take care of my mom. I met my wife here. Brought up two boys. So, to think that Auburn can do more, you're like, 'Uh, it can't do more.'
"But these last couple weeks? Oh my. I mean, from the Auburn family, just the people — there's a reason two decades ago that I chose Auburn, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And these past four weeks have been special. I'm talking about absolutely special the way they've done poured into my life, the support, the way they got behind this team. Whew."
Williams didn't let the attention stay on himself for too long, though, as he quickly pivoted and brought the focus back to the senior class after he allowed himself a moment to take it all in.
"Auburn is in a better place because of these seniors and the Auburn family," he said. "(The) future is bright, very bright."
Richard Silva is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @rich_silva18.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: How Cadillac Williams got Auburn football back on track