Williams, Fisher finally join forces
February, 13, 2014
By Nick Wagoner | ESPN.com
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams' and coach Jeff Fisher's decision to hire Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator should serve as a compelling reminder that speaking in absolutes when it comes to the NFL is the quickest path to being wrong.
On Thursday afternoon, Fisher and Williams stood before a large crowd of media and Rams employees smiling from ear-to-ear and basking in a moment that was two years in the making. It was a moment that didn't seem possible as recently as a month ago, let alone over the course of the past 24 months.
When Fisher stepped to the podium on Thursday, nobody was quite certain what he was going to say or how he was going to address the elephant in the room. So much had happened in the past two years that it was hard to envision Williams and Fisher rekindling a once close friendship.
But Fisher wasted no time acknowledging this wasn't a decision he came to lightly. In fact, he answered about five questions in his opening statement.
"I reached out to Gregg in late January and we spent several days together, discussing the past, putting the past behind us, discussing the present and the future and direction of where we wanted to go with our defense," Fisher said. "I also had a conversation with the commissioner (Roger Goodell), who not only endorsed Gregg but felt Gregg would be a good move for this organization. Gregg and I came to terms with a lot of things. We worked out an agreement."
At this time of year, most agreements center on signing bonuses, performance incentives and guaranteed money. This one had nothing to do with any of that.
This was about two old friends getting back to where they once were, to rebuilding trust that had once yielded one of the league's most dominant defenses and a whole lot of victories.
When Fisher initially tabbed Williams to be his defensive coordinator in 2012, he was taken aback soon after when the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints. The news made the difficult process of hiring a coaching staff that much tougher. Williams was not allowed to have contact with the coaching staff and Fisher was left short-handed.
It would be understandable if Fisher was still bitter about finding himself without any strong coordinator options in his first year on the job. He already had enough on his plate trying to re-shape the franchise.
By Fisher's own admission, he rarely spoke to Williams after his suspension and even last year when Williams was in Tennessee.
"I had very little discussion with Gregg when he left," Fisher said.
With Williams out of the picture, his son Blake became the sort of de facto coordinator, calling the plays for the defense with Fisher's guidance. The younger Williams was regarded by players as a bright football mind who struggled with his bedside manner. On the Rams' experienced and veteran coaching staff, Blake Williams wasn't a fit and Fisher let him go at the end of the 2012 season.
The Rams moved on and named Tim Walton as coordinator for 2013. Meanwhile, the relationship between Fisher and Williams didn't seem to improve. In the week leading up to the Rams' meeting with Tennessee on Nov. 3, Fisher shed little light on the situation.
"[We last spoke] probably sometime last fall," Fisher said that week. "We were prohibited to have contact with him but we got permission from the commissioner and we had a conversation or two."
Fisher said he'd probably speak to Williams before the game but that was about all he had to say about Williams. Tennessee beat the Rams 28-21 that week and Fisher noticed traces of Williams' influence all over Tennessee's defense and in watching the film before the game.
With the Rams' defense failing to take the next step to becoming a top-10 group and Tennessee enjoying a major turnaround from being one of the worst defensive units in the league, Fisher began his postseason evaluations. He kept coming back to the original blueprint he brought with him to St. Louis. He even knew that reaching out to Williams had potential to be awkward.
"I just felt really strongly about just pulling it together," Fisher said. "I think I caught him by surprise by initiating the conversation and the contact but again like I said, we spent a couple days together and at that point I was convinced it was going to work."
Undoubtedly, Williams wasn't the only one caught by the surprise of his potential return to St. Louis. During the course of his comments Thursday afternoon, Williams hit on the heart of the matter.
"We’re in the winning-games business," Williams said. "This is a great game. It’s a production business."
Above all else, the chance to win cures all; even friendships that once seemed beyond repair.