Former USC great Mike Williams savoring role as high school coach

It's minutes before practice at Van Nuys High School in California, and the head football coach is scrambling. Hours of plans have been pushed to the side. So too has game-prep, all in favor of the particular needs, in that exact moment, of the group of 16- and 17-year-olds who surround him.

"How's class going?" he asks one, pulling him from the group.

"Remember, you can't park there," he screams to another. "Go move your car."

From there, the coach tosses a bag of footballs out of a storage shed, as another couple kids pop by with the issues of the day. One has to leave practice early for basketball tryouts. Another will be leaving as well; he's got a sick uncle he wants to visit in the hospital. A third stops by to chat about an ankle injury.

This is the life of a high-school football coach. There aren't support staffers to deal with last-minute detail before practice. Instead, there's the head coach, who isn't just the coach, but also some variation of parking attendant, academic advisor and guidance counselor.

And at Van Nuys it's no different, with one big exception: The Wolves' coach, Mike Williams did play at the highest levels of the sport. Years after emerging as an All-American at USC, and a Top 10 pick of the Lions, he is back to his football roots.

"Once I found out this job was open, I called and said 'I want this job,'" Williams said during a recent interview.

For Williams' it's the latest chapter in his football life, one that took him from USC, to completely out of football during his junior year, after he, Maurice Clarett and a handful of others challenged the NFL's draft rules. He then played in the NFL, first with the Lions, then with the Raiders and Titans, before leaving the sport for two years and bouncing back with the Seahawks in 2010.

Five years after retiring for good, he's also in his fifth year in coach. It's an odyssey that has taken him to the posh suburbs of Brentwood, California, to Locke High School in one of Los Angeles' toughest neighborhoods. Now he's at Van Nuys, a school which is better known for producing actors like Marilyn Monroe and Robert Redford than football talent. The school's most notable gridiron alum is Bob Waterfield, a former LA Ram, who last played professional football in 1952. He's been dead for more than 30 years.

It's also what's made the challenge of building a program at a non-traditional power so much fun for Williams. It isn't about winning games and conference titles, but building better young men as well. Most won't earn D1 scholarships, and it's unlikely any will make the NFL.

That doesn't mean Williams' impact can't be felt, however.

"Confidence is something every kid doesn't wake up with," Williams said. "The best-looking kid, the coolest kid, they still might lack it in one way or the other. And I think that's where I try to come in the mix. That's the part I care about the most. [I hope] kids will become the leaders of their little groups away from school or away from football."

For Williams, it's a bit of an ironic statement, considering he himself often clashed with coaches and front-office personnel, something he readily admits. This is what allows him to connect with his players. Not by acting like an adult, father-figure in their lives. But instead, an older brother trying to impart wisdom on a younger generation.

"Its story-telling," Williams said, when asked how he builds trust in his players. "That's where I really think I get across to them, is that I tell a lot of stories about me, about my early years, about being stubborn to certain things. I think that's really where I get their attention."

For now though, the attention is on football, where Van Nuys opens its season Thursday. Coming off a 2-9 year, expectations aren't high. That won't deter the uber-competitive Williams from dreaming big.

"I expect to win the league," Williams said, pointing to a recent scrimmage against one of the state's Top 20 schools as a positive sign. "After we had our scrimmage it's kind of got their attention."

Ultimately, time will tell whether Williams' team can reach his lofty goals in year one. This isn't just about the wins on the field. It is also about the impact that will be made off it.

"It's just cool, helping young people," Williams said. "Forget the football stuff, it goes away in no time. But in a few years, these kids will have their own kids, and they'll be like 'I remember when Coach Mike you used to be on me?'

"And that's how you live forever."

Aaron Torres covers college football for Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or e-mail at