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Travis Williams isn’t afraid of being himself. More to the point, he embraces it.
UCF’s new defensive coordinator has quickly ingratiated himself to his new players with his infectious enthusiasm and high-energy personality. You would expect no less from Williams, who is known affectionately by those around him as Coach T-Will.
“I’ve been around so many coaches that they don’t like to be themselves,” said Williams. “I’m very comfortable being Travis Williams. I’m very comfortable being myself.”
A few weeks into his new job, Williams and the rest of his defensive staff spent an afternoon riding around the UCF campus on electric scooters, meeting students and sharing their experience on social media. A few days later, Williams and some of his staff were in the Bounce House, tossing the football around.
“I don’t get why coaches put walls up. I like being myself,” added Williams, 38. “Guess what? I ride on scooters. So, we’re going to ride scooters and have fun. We’re going to go into the stadium and throw the ball around. That’s just what I do and what we do. We enjoy ourselves. We enjoy each other as coaches.”
The players have adopted their new coaches’ enthusiasm and zeal.
“Coach T-Will, I love his energy,” sophomore linebacker Tatum Bethune said. “He acts like he’s one of us on the field. He runs with us and does everything with us.”
Added redshirt junior defensive tackle Anthony Montalvo, “He seems like a younger guy and he fits in with the players. You get like older coaches that stand out but he seems like a player himself. He comes in ready to roll.”
Williams’ passion for the game of football and his zest for life has served him well.
He was a two-time, All-SEC linebacker at Auburn from 2001-05, where he played for coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
“He was our middle linebacker at 208 pounds and he was first-team, All-SEC and he became that because he worked at it. He loved the game and the game meant everything to him,” Chizik recalled of Williams. “He put in so much that he became great at his trade and then got a shot to play in the NFL and was able to accomplish that dream too.
“That being said, he’s doing that same thing as a coach. He loves the game, he loves the kids and he’s going to be one of the best recruiters on the staff. This is his first shot at being a coordinator. They’ll be some learning curve to it, but I fully expect him to be great at it.”
UCF co-defensive coordinator David Gibbs was Williams’ defensive coordinator his final season with the Tigers.
“My boss was my starting middle linebacker at Auburn in 2005 and if he was 200 pounds soaking wet … hard-nosed, tough,” said Gibbs, who also coaches the secondary for the Knights. “I said middle linebacker – he’s not one of those guys that’s walking out on the edge or out in space. He was a middle linebacker in the SEC. That right there tells you of his tenacity and smarts just to be able to get away with that.”
Williams spent several seasons working as a graduate assistant under Chizik, who became the head coach of Auburn in 2009.
“He doesn’t try to be somebody that he’s not,” Chizik said. “He tries to be uniquely him.
“His love of music, his love of people and he is a great man who has a huge faith to him. He’s the complete package all the way around. There is no pretentiousness. What you see is what you get.”
After a stint at Northern Iowa and then at the high school ranks, Williams returned to The Plains, where he joined Gus Malzahn’s coaching staff, first as an analyst and then a linebackers coach before rising to the role of co-defensive coordinator in 2019.
“He was our linebacker coach at Auburn and he was probably the best position coach that I had on my staff,” Malzahn said. “He was also our co-defensive coordinator and deserves a lot of the credit. One thing I can guarantee is that our players are going to play extremely hard, they’re going to tackle and they’re going to get after people. That’s kind of who he is.”
During that stretch under Williams, the Tigers produced three all-conference linebackers in Tre Williams (2017), Deshaun Davis (2018) and K.J. Britt (2019).
Auburn allowed just 22 points and 369 yards per game during the two years that Williams was the team’s co-defensive coordinator. The Tigers also were among the team leaders in the SEC in red zone defense the past two seasons, allowing teams to score on just 74% of their possessions.
“One thing I’ll tell you is that we’re going to tackle,” Malzahn said of Williams’ vision for the defense. “That starts with him and his philosophy and who he is as a coach.”
Williams said “you can’t play defense if you can’t tackle.“
“With so many offenses spread out, you have to be able to tackle in space,” he added. “We have to be a really good tackling team. That’s just the defensive player in myself, we have to tackle people and get to the ball with bad intentions.”
Williams’ ability to make connections with his players is another reason he’s been successful during his career, according to Malzahn.
“He’s a great relationship guy,” Malzahn said. “He’s honest but he’s demanding. He’s going to get the best out of them.”
The ability to connect with people has made Williams an impressive recruiter. While at Auburn, he helped sign more than a dozen 4-star recruits, players such as defensive back Smoke Monday, linebackers Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain and cornerback Christian Tutt.
But those relationships extend far beyond the players as well.
“One of the most genuine people that you’ll ever meet,” UCF defensive ends coach Kenny Ingram said. “Football is deep-rooted between him and I, but it’s personal between him and I. He’s a friend of mine. We talk beyond football. We talk about life.”
Defensive tackles coach Kenny Martin made things personal as well, vowing to help elevate Williams to among the best in college football.
“He’s going to be something special and I told him when I got the job, we’ll make sure you become one of the best defensive coordinators in the country,” Martin said. “I told him I’m going to do everything I can to make that get going.”
And along the way, Williams will just keep being Williams.
”This is Travis Williams every day,” Williams said. “I’m high-energy, listening to music and I enjoy being myself. Everybody else is taken.”