If Rob Ryan had spent any more time in St. Louis late last January, he might have had to pay taxes. He attended a Blues hockey game. He was given a key to the building at Rams Park. He attended at least one staff meeting involving Rams coaches.
And then he backed out. Call him the defensive coordinator who never was. The official release from Rams Park gave the impression it was a mutual parting of the ways, that it was simply not a good fit. But that wasn't the case. This was Ryan's decision, plain and simple.
"Well, he made a commitment to us, but he didn't sign a contract or anything," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Wednesday. "But he made a commitment to us."
Like a high school football star making an oral commitment to one college, then signing elsewhere, Ryan changed his mind on the Rams. Less than two weeks later, he joined Sean Payton's staff in New Orleans, Sunday's opponent at 3:25 p.m. in the Edward Jones Dome.
Almost 11 months later, Fisher took the high road when quizzed on the subject. If there were any hard feelings about being ditched at the altar, Fisher wasn't telling.
"People sometimes in life change their mind, and I was fine with that," Fisher said. "I had no problem. If he wanted to go there (to New Orleans), that's fine. If he wanted to stay here, that's great. We were obviously talking and had a couple of things together and he had a change of heart."
Ryan's change of heart came just a few days after Payton was reinstated by the NFL following his nearly year-long "Bountygate" suspension. And it came just a couple of days after Payton fired Steve Spagnuolo -- the former Rams head coach -- as his defensive coordinator.
Payton said Wednesday on a conference call with St. Louis reporters that he didn't feel like he had to recruit Ryan.
"For me, it wasn't that as much as just in a short period of time doing the research," Payton said. "Trying to call and find out from other people that maybe he's worked with, find out more about him as a coach. And then ultimately, when he came in for an interview to find out more about whether or not he fit for our program. So it was about finding the right fit as much as anything else."
Thirteen games into his first season in New Orleans, it certainly looks like a good fit. The Saints have made an amazing defensive turnaround from the 2012 season, when they set an NFL record for most yards allowed (7,042). After allowing 440 yards a game a year ago, the Saints are allowing only 313.
They have gone from last to sixth in total defense. And gone from 31st to fifth in scoring defense, allowing only 18.8 points a game compared to last year's 28.4.
"He has done a great job," Fisher said. "He is an outstanding coach. He has them playing well, and he has the pieces now. There are no holes in the defense. Everyone is playing well together."
Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar spent his first four seasons with the Saints before joining the Rams as a free agent in 2012 and still knows many of the Saints' defenders.
"Speaking to the guys that I still know -- Malcolm (Jenkins) and 'JV' (Jonathan Vilma), and those guys -- they love the defense. They love Rob Ryan. They love how aggressive it is, how fast and physical it is. How much he just lets 'em loose a little bit."
Once Ryan turned down the Rams, Fisher interviewed Dick Jauron, Mike Singletary and Tim Walton for the coordinator's job, ultimately going with Walton. But while the Saints' defense has been revived under Ryan, the Rams' defense has underachieved to date under Walton.
But Fisher stood by his staff.
"We have quality coaches on our staff," Fisher said. "We have a lot of young players."
There was some speculation that Ryan shied away from the Rams' job in part because he was walking into an established coaching staff and couldn't bring in any hires of his own. In addition, it was a staff teeming with former coordinators (Dave McGinnis, Frank Bush and Chuck Cecil).
Ryan speaks to the New Orleans media on Fridays, but it's doubtful he'll have a ton to say about the job that might have been in St. Louis. And on the scale of "reunion" games, facing the Rams is a mere bronze medalist for Ryan. He faced twin brother Rex and the New York Jets on Nov. 3. One week later, it was Jerry Jones and the team that fired him last season -- Dallas.
But for the St. Louis offense, players and coaches alike, this game is about nothing more than trying to end a two-week scoring lull against yet another top 10 defense.
"They're talented everywhere," quarterback Kellen Clemens said. "They get after the quarterback. Rob does a nice job of mixing coverages and pressures, and he does a really good job of making them look the same.
"So, sometimes it looks like they're pressuring and they bail into coverage. Or it looks like they're going to cover and they bring a lot of pressure. They don't necessarily have a headliner, but they're talented across the board. It's going to be a great matchup for us."
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