On Monday, Vince Williams appeared on The Arthur Moats Experience With Deke Podcast and for the first time since retiring last year, the former Steelers inside linebacker revealed why he stepped away from the game and moved on with his life’s work.
Williams retired on the eve of training camp, but that wasn’t the only unusual development. He did so after signing a one-year deal to return to the Steelers after spending nearly a month as a free agent following his release on March 16.
“Essentially, I became a cap casualty, so I got cut,” Williams said. “I explored some free-agent options. I looked around and I was like I really don’t want to play anywhere besides (the) Pittsburgh Steelers. So, I came back, but then when I was there, it was just different. I was a little older, you know it was harder. You get a little up in age, your body starts hurting. I had torn my quad muscle earlier that season. In the second Browns game, I tore my quad and I played with a torn quad in the playoff game. So, I was still really trying to recover from that.”
Williams’ one-year deal was worth $1,075,000, a far cry from his $4 million base salary in 2020.
“You know taking a huge pay cut like that really took all the air out of my sails,” Williams said. “It really just felt like I was obsolete, so when I came back into the building, I just didn’t see where I fit, I didn’t see where I belonged. I really felt like the organization wanted to move forward with Robert Spillane and Devin Bush, which they should. You know, those guys are young guys, I was happy for those guys. I never wanted to be one of those spiteful vets that would sit around and be bitter and talk about what I could do or how I could contribute, so you know I just left. I was like like, it’s better for me to just leave this way. I’ll retire, I wasn’t going to milk it out and try to stay on the team, collect the money and retire during the season. I just thought that’s what would be best for me and my family to just step away from the game of football.”
Moats got the perception that it was an easy decision for Williams to retire, but that wasn’t the case at all.
“I am not going to lie to you Moats, I fell into a deep depression, bro,” Williams said. “Mostly because I honestly felt like I was still the most talented and productive linebacker, middle linebacker on the team. You know, I’m pretty sure every guy feels that way. So I don’t think I’m unique in that capacity at all, I just felt that I was still the most productive, most talented linebacker that we had on the team. I had this sense of uselessness, like I’m not useful no more. My entire life I’ve been a football player, I’ve had a role for me but now there’s no role for me. I was kind of lost. You kind of go through kind of like a little ego death, you have a slight insecurity in there. Now what am I going to do? Am I a rotational guy?”
Williams mentioned that he tried to get on special teams, but special teams coordinator Danny Smith told him he was too valuable to be a special teams player.
“So, I was stuck in this limbo role,” Williams said. “What do I do? I don’t see my value here. When you start feeling like that, you can’t produce. It’s harder to wake up in the morning when you don’t have any sense of direction, you don’t know what to do. You’ve been doing something your whole life. So, I was like I need to take this time and just focus on me.”
Deke followed by asking Williams what helped him get out of depression.
“Just a lot of prayer, a lot of meditating,” Williams responded. “Honest to God, I wouldn’t sit here and tell you guys that I’m out of it. I don’t think you get out of it. I don’t think that’s something that you get over with. Some days I still have like identity crisis. I’m the linebacker formerly known as Vince Williams. … I’m not that guy.”
Since retiring, Williams has gotten into coaching and is now a linebackers coach at Pine-Richland High School, a setting where he feels like he’s found a new purpose.
“Coaching my kids, my kids play for the Pine-Richland Little Rams, and I met a coach named Mike Guffey and we started talking about ball, and he was like, ‘Hey man, you’re not doing anything, you’re retired, you should come help out,'” Williams explained. “And I went out there and I fell in love with it. So, I met a new group of guys. You go from one group chat to another group chat, and life just starts progressing and moving on.”