Cadillac’s career makes a turn with the Birmingham Iron

Former Auburn and NFL standout Carnell Williams pads resume in infant stages of his coaching career.

Carnell Williams, a 36-year-old who knows a thing or two about running the football, was recently hired as running backs coach for the Birmingham Iron of the new Alliance of American Football. The new pro league begins play in February, and the Iron can only hope it finds someone to tote the rock as well as “Cadillac” did in his prime.

Former Birmingham sportscaster MIke Raita dubbed Williams “Cadillac” as he smoothly raced his way to Alabama’s Mr. Football honors in 2000 and made the Parade All-America team to boot. He would go on to set Auburn’s all-time touchdowns record with 46, help lead the Tigers to an unbeaten season in 2004 and enjoy a seven-year NFL career.

But first, he was quite a prep sensation. A fleet-footed, 5-foot-11, 218–pound athlete, Williams was fast and tough. Earlier this year AL.com named Williams the top high school running back in Alabama in the past 25 years. At Etowah County High School, he led the Blue Devils to the Class 5A state championship as a junior. And during his high school career he ran for 6,543 yards and 92 touchdowns.

Funny thing is, Williams never thought he’d play for Auburn. He said he felt obligated to visit because it was in-state, but he was mainly considering Tennessee and Alabama. He even committed to Vols coach Phillip Fulmer and told Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville he wouldn’t be visiting.

“Tuberville, not so easily discouraged, convinced Williams and his parents to let him come to their home to visit the following day,” wrote Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com. “Tuberville didn’t go alone. He took his entire coaching staff.”

Williams said he was overwhelmed when he actually visited Auburn’s campus the next weekend and decided quickly he wanted to attend school there. You can imagine that, arriving at Auburn with a nickname in tow and multiple honors, he had quite a lot to live up to.

But he did it.

Williams ran for 3,831 yards during a four-year career at Auburn. He broke his collarbone against Alabama as a freshman in 2001 but prior to that he managed 614 rushing yards as his playing time increased in the latter part of the season. In 2002, as a sophomore, Williams broke his left fibula against Florida in the seventh game of the season but still ran for 745 yards.

Williams shedding a tackler | Photo courtesy Auburn Athletics


Williams’ breakout came as a junior. He ran for 1,307 yards and 17 touchdowns, earning All-SEC honors.

After that season, Williams was inclined to return Auburn and put off the NFL for one more year, but fellow running back Ronnie Brown wasn’t sure he’d get enough playing time from Tuberville to do the same. So, Williams asked Tuberville to play them together in the same backfield. “We both want to come back, and we both want the opportunity to shine, too,” Williams told AL.com.

Wasn’t a bad plan, was it? In 2004, Williams played under Al Borges, his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. Borges utilized both Williams (1,165 yards, 12 TDs) and Brown (913 yards, 8 TDs) on the ground. By the time it ended, the duo, along with senior quarterback Jason Campbell (2,700 passing yards) and a staunch defense had led Auburn to a perfect 13-0 season. That included a 38-28 win over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game and a 16-13 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

The following spring the duo of Williams and Brown made NFL history. Williams and Brown became the first running back tandem from the same team to go among the Top 5 picks in the NFL Draft. Williams went fifth to the Buccaneers, while Brown went second to the Dolphins.

Once again, Williams proved that his hype was indeed called for. In January 2006, the Associated Press gave Williams its NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award after he ran for 1,178 yards and 6 touchdowns for Tampa Bay.

Courtesy Tampa Bay Buccaneers


He would never reach the 1,000-yard mark again, as injuries plagued his career and poor offenses didn’t help either. He spent six seasons in Tampa and one in St. Louis and ran for 4,038 yards and had 1,002 receiving yards. His final season in 2011 was spent as Steven Jackson’s backup with the Rams. And Williams went out in style — during the final game of the season, his last in the NFL, Williams scored his 21st and final professional touchdown against the 49ers.

The idea to coach came from his wife, Williams said. Though he was running an insurance company in Florida, Evan Christina Williams would tell her husband that he talked about football all day, so why not get back into it? Williams called the NFL Players Association, which has a program to help former players find a coaching internship if they’re interested in the profession. He went back to Auburn, got his degree in 2014 and took the NFLPA up on its offer.

So, Williams interned in 2015 at Henderson State, a Division II university in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Later he took a graduate coaching job at Division II West Georgia in 2016. While working there, he took a trip to visit powerhouse high school program IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for a football camp. He met IMG head coach Kevin Wright, who later offered him a full-time position as running backs coach on his staff.

And what an experience Williams got at IMG the past two seasons. He coached America’s best high school running back tandem in Trey Sanders and Noah Cain. If that sounds like a movie that perhaps Williams has already starred in, well, that’s because it kind of was. “It’s almost like God sent me here,” Williams told Saturday Down South.

Think of the advice Williams shares: dealing with recruiting, learning to share the carries with another talented back, how to get ready for the NFL. This is a guy who had experienced all of it.

Talk about paying it forward. H&A


Steve Kirk

Steve Kirk

A sports writer and editor for 25-plus years, Steve’s career includes stints at The Birmingham News, Florida Times-Union, The (Columbia, S.C.) State and Birmingham Post-Herald. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, he lives in the Atlanta area.
Steve Kirk

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