Full circle for Jeff Fisher, new D-boss
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- From the moment he accepted the job as St. Louis Rams coach in 2012, Jeff Fisher wanted Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator.
A series of stops and starts prevented that from happening until Thursday afternoon, when the Rams formally introduced Williams, two weeks after Fisher decided to fire Tim Walton.
According to Fisher, the surprise move was a simple matter of putting in place the coach he wanted all along.
"Gregg was my first choice and Tim was my second," Fisher said. "And I had a chance to go get my first choice. That was it. It had nothing to do with Tim. When you sit in my seat at the end of the hall, oftentimes there are some very difficult decisions that need to be made, and that was one of the more difficult decisions that I've made."
Their reunion took 14 years, with plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.
It was an alliance that nearly came to fruition in 2012, when Fisher took over in St. Louis and hired Williams to run the defense. That was quickly aborted when the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal.
Even after that, Williams maintained the hope that he could one day take the job he briefly had in 2012.
"I've always thought that this was a possibility," Williams said. "I've always thought that this was a great place to be."
The long road to Thursday's news conference was marked by a changing relationship between close friends Fisher and Williams. Before it was even possible, Fisher first had to make the decision to part ways with Walton.
As is his custom, Fisher and his staff took some time away from Rams Park immediately after the season ended. When Fisher returned in mid-January, he sat down to evaluate the season, going back through the games in hopes of making a decision devoid of emotion.
"I gave a lot of thought to the future and direction of our defense and I have to say I was a little bit uncomfortable," Fisher said.
Fisher promptly reached out to Williams, knowing full well that some fences would need mending before he could bring Williams aboard. During the two years apart, Fisher and Williams rarely spoke, and Fisher had fired Williams' son, Blake, the linebackers coach, after the 2012 season.
"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. "Gregg and I came to terms with a lot of things."
Those conversations set in motion a chain of events that led to Williams' return. Fisher also reached out to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, informing him that he was thinking of bringing Williams back.
"I just felt Roger and I have a relationship with respect to this and I wanted to inform him of the direction I was thinking about going," Fisher said. "At that point, he was very excited and he endorsed it."
Williams declined to offer further detail on his conversations with Fisher, stating plainly that those talks were between the two of them.
In 2012, Williams spent his suspension year as a Rams season-ticket holder, watching every game in the stands and rooting for his son and the team.
Along the way, Williams said he was able to see the game from a different perspective and get a better grasp on how other teams around the league were evolving outside the microscope of a one-week game-planning session.
In 2013, Williams returned to the Tennessee Titans as a senior defensive assistant. He helped the team finish 14th in the league in total yards allowed and 16th in scoring defense -- after finishing 27th in total yards and last in scoring defense in 2012.
The Rams' defense, meanwhile, failed to live up to lofty expectations, and finished in the middle of the pack again. By the end of the season, the Rams ranked 15th in yards allowed per game and 13th in points allowed.
Although those numbers weren't awful, they fell short of what was taking place with the other three NFC West Division defenses.
As word trickled out that the Rams were bringing Williams back, Fisher said his phone began to light up with players excited about working with him. Fisher made his way down to the weight room to tell middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Unfazed by any lingering bounty scandal fallout, Laurinaitis joined his teammates and Fisher in welcoming Williams back.
"I think that's a thing of the past," Laurinaitis said. "I think Gregg has learned from it and changed. Everyone I have heard from that has played for him absolutely loves the guy. He's one of those coaches where you are going to buy into his program and he's going to have your back."