LINCOLN — Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams pleaded no contest Wednesday to third-offense DUI, but the third-year coach may not have to spend a day in jail.
A Lancaster County judge sentenced Williams to three years’ probation, a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail after Williams agreed to a plea deal that stemmed from a drunken-driving arrest in August 2016, when Williams rear-ended an Uber driver in downtown Lincoln after a night of drinking in the Haymarket district. A second charge of reckless driving was dropped by prosecutors.
Judge Thomas Zimmerman allowed Williams to apply for house arrest, which means Williams could serve his sentence at home and be allowed daily to work at Nebraska. Williams has to apply for house arrest by March 3 — one day before NU kicks off spring camp — but Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly said, so long as the judge allows it, Williams should be able to leave his house for work.
Kelly said the penalty levied by Zimmerman on Wednesday was “not unusual” for the jurisdiction. Once a judge decides to sentence a person convicted of misdemeanor third-offense DUI to probation, the 30 days in jail is standard. Williams will also have his license revoked for five years, but, after 45 days, he can apply for an interlock ignition device on his vehicle.
Williams’ previous DUI convictions were in 2004 and 2009. Since the August 2016 arrest, Williams has sought counseling and treatment and, according to Williams’ lawyer, John Ball, shown commitment to change and educate others about drinking and driving.
“It’s not just a matter of going through the motions, it’s not just a matter of completing the testing and diagnostics, it’s the level of commitment that Mr. Williams has shown to that,” Ball said during the hearing. “And perhaps even more important than that was what he was able to do in this terrible situation for himself and turn it into a positive teaching moment for himself, for his children, for his players. He really took this and made everyone aware of the dangers of the situation and how to get through it.”
Said Zimmerman of his decision to give Williams probation: “For yourself, your family, your players and everybody else who looks up to you, I’m convinced that’s in everyone’s best interest. The allegations are serious — I’m not here to discount the allegations — but I’m also not here to lecture you. I’m here to encourage you to do well on probation.”
After the hearing, Ball said Williams was treated as any other person who had done all of the things Williams had done since the arrest would be. Nebraska retained Williams as a coach — Williams read a statement to media roughly six days after the arrest — but suspended him from all coaching activities during part of preseason practice, then suspended Williams from coaching in games for a month. Williams spent three home games watching in his office. On the road at Northwestern, Williams watched the game on a tablet at the airport.
Williams, in a brief statement during the hearing, said he’d learned from the arrest and wanted to make it “a teaching moment for myself and my family.” He did not comment after sentencing.
The Nebraska athletic department released a statement Wednesday saying it was aware of Williams’ sentencing and that since his arrest “Keith has accepted responsibility for and acknowledged the seriousness of his actions, and we will continue to support him.”
Nebraska coach Mike Riley, out of the country this week, was not available for comment. He’ll next talk to the media March 1 at his pre-spring football camp press conference.
Near the end of the hearing, Zimmerman praised Williams’ role as a coach and mentor.
“Mr. Williams, you’ve really taken this town by storm,” Zimmerman said.