Colts have coach, slot will travel

June 03, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Don Matthews gave Byron Williams a job in the Canadian Football League seven years ago. Then he gave Williams a nickname.

The nickname stuck, the job didn't.

Four jobs later, they're together again. This time, it's in Baltimore, where Matthews is putting together the CFL Colts, and Williams -- B. K. now -- is a mercurial slot back who can stretch a defense beyond its elasticity.

Theirs is a unique relationship. Some have likened it to father-son. At the least, there is a mutual and lasting respect.

One way or another, wherever Matthews goes as a coach, Williams is almost certain to follow. The two have been on the same team five times, from the British Columbia Lions through the Edmonton Eskimos, Orlando Thunder, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Colts.

"I joke I ought to claim him on my income tax," Matthews said.

Said Williams: "I can go to him and talk about anything. He's like a father figure in a way. We're real compatible. [But] if I wasn't the type athlete he wanted, I wouldn't be on any team with him."

Williams, a native of Texarkana, Texas, took the long road to Canada to find Matthews. He was a world-class athlete at the University of Texas-Arlington in the early 1980s. He passed briefly through the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles before winning a wide receiver job with the New York Giants late in 1983.

Williams -- Byron then -- was a deep threat on the juggernaut Bill Parcells was assembling. In three years with the Giants, he averaged 18.6 yards a catch.

But by 1986, he had a falling-out over a contract. Williams thought he had an agreement for a base salary of $200,000. The Giants wanted to pay him $125,000. Williams sat out the year -- and missed the Giants' first Super Bowl title -- over $75,000.

"I got bitter about that," Williams said of the contract dispute. "Looking back, I was kind of hot-headed. I sat out all of '86. They called three times to ask if I'd come back. Being dumb, I brushed them off."

On deck, Canada. The connection to Matthews was made through a college teammate, Roy Dewalt, who played in the CFL. Williams joined Matthews in 1987 at British Columbia and averaged 17 yards a catch. Armed with a big-play weapon, Matthews wanted an appropriate nickname.

"Don said, 'We've got to call you something else,' " Williams said. "I said I signed my checks Byron K. Williams. He said, 'That's it -- B. K.' The name stuck."

Matthews was fired after the 1987 season when a new general manager took control of the Lions. Williams played four more games at British Columbia, then joined his father figure in Edmonton a year later, where Matthews was defensive coordinator. He was traded to Ottawa in training camp.

Next, Williams and Matthews hooked up in Orlando with the World League in 1991. Playing in the slot instead of lined up wide, Williams led the league with 11 touchdown catches.

And when Matthews took the head coaching job in Saskatchewan in the middle of the 1991 season, one of his first moves was -- what else? -- to recruit his favorite receiver.

"He's always been productive with me," Matthews said. "I like his speed. I tell him to run fast, catch the ball or go home. That's the bottom line with everybody."

Even at age 33, Williams has maintained blazing speed. He said he ran a 4.38 on artificial turf before camp and once ran a 4.23. He has a lean, muscular build and stays in shape year-round.

As fate would have it, Williams had an escape clause in his contract this year that allowed him to leave Saskatchewan and rejoin Matthews. Matthews' plan is to move Williams to a slot position and get him the ball more often.

Even though they have a unique relationship, Williams says he does not receive preferential treatment.

"Don doesn't cut me any slack," he said. "In fact, he's harder on me than anybody else. He fined me once $99 -- the biggest fine he ever gave anybody -- for missing a walk-through. He uses me as an example."

It's a relationship that has stood the test of time.

"I guess he likes my work habits," Williams said, "and I like his coaching style."

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