Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Rams' return to Williams would make sense
By Nick Wagoner
ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Rams announced Wednesday that they fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton, the easy reaction wasn't necessarily to wonder why he was fired but why the Rams waited so long to do it.
It took all of about 10 minutes to understand. The Rams already had their replacement lined up, and technically, the replacement is the replacement's replacement. Got that?
ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that the Rams will hire Gregg Williams to be their new (old?) defensive coordinator only moments after the team sent out a release announcing it was parting ways with Walton.
What a long, strange trip it's been for Williams and the Rams.
A brief history: Soon after the team named Jeff Fisher as head coach in January 2012, Fisher hired Williams as his defensive coordinator. Fisher and Williams were best friends and had worked together in Tennessee, where the Titans were regularly among the league's best defenses.
Not long after that, the Rams and Williams were forced to part ways because the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the bounty scandal in New Orleans. The Rams allowed Williams' son, Blake, to serve as a de facto coordinator in addition to his role coaching the team's linebackers.
Gregg Williams will be hired as the Rams' defensive coordinator, reuniting with Jeff Fisher, sources said.
The Rams' defense was middle of the pack in 2012, but the younger Williams struggled to mesh with the coaching staff and was let go after the season. St. Louis hired Walton from Detroit, where he worked with Fisher disciple Jim Schwartz, because of his familiarity with Fisher's defense.
Walton's defense struggled mightily early in the season, especially against Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco. Rumors persisted that Fisher took on a larger role in calling the defense around midseason, and the group finished in the middle of the pack once again.
But Walton's contributions were questionable as the secondary struggled with passive coverage schemes and the defense allowed a completion rate of 68.1 percent, tied for worst in the league.
Despite those struggles, Walton was in his first year as a coordinator and Fisher said he didn't anticipate making any changes to the coaching staff this offseason.
Perhaps Fisher didn't anticipate the Titans making wholesale changes to their coaching staff, where Williams served as a defensive consultant in 2013.
Which brings us to Wednesday and the report that Williams and Fisher are set to reunite. Given the way things ended between the two sides the first time around, it was fair to wonder if the bridge had been burned and reconciliation was even possible.
Fisher said in 2012 that he wouldn't rule out bringing Williams back at some point, but it seemed plenty had changed since. When the Rams and Titans played in November, Fisher didn't exactly offer up warm fuzzies when asked whether he talked to Williams much.
“I really never talked to him during the season anyway,” Fisher said then. “I'm sure I'll see him on Sunday.”
From Williams' side, one had to wonder whether his son's firing would create a wedge between the two sides.
Apparently, none of that was enough to damage the long and close friendship forged by Fisher and Williams.
From a pure football perspective, the move makes sense. Williams and Fisher built the attacking, aggressive defensive scheme favored by both coaches and will continue to deploy it in St. Louis.
Williams' involvement in the bounty scandal is sure to bring questions, but there's no denying his positive impact on Tennessee's defense in 2013. The Titans finished 14th in total yards allowed and 16th in scoring defense with Williams helping out after finishing 27th in total yards and last in scoring defense in 2012.
With Williams back on board, it's safe to expect the Rams to take on the personality that Fisher wanted to see from the get-go -- less of the soft zone, huge cushion coverage calls paired with relentless pressure from the front four and exotic blitz packages.
Those are all calling cards of a Williams defense and will almost certainly be staples of the Rams' scheme in St. Louis.
Given the state of the NFC West, where elite defenses are the rule, the Rams' middle-of-the-pack finish in the first two seasons under Fisher simply hasn't been good enough. While the unit didn't take any steps back in 2013, it also didn't make the leap forward to the top-10 group many hoped it would become.
To reach that level, Fisher appears poised to bring back the man he wanted all along.