Football / Sports

Gregg Williams returns to Rams as defensive coordinator

NEW YORK -- When hired in January 2012, Gregg Williams said a "culture change" was coming to the St. Louis Rams' defense. He said everyone on that side of the ball would be "interviewing" for a position -- that there were no guarantees.

He promised to be aggressive in his play-calling, and aggressive by nature.

"What you'll see is that everywhere I've gone, I've been able to get a top five defense during the time I'm there," Williams said.

Two years later, we finally get to see if Williams can back up those words.

On the day the Rams announced that defensive coordinator Tim Walton was not being retained, multiple sources told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that Williams is heading back to the Gateway City as the team's new coordinator.

The hiring of Williams -- or is it re-hiring? -- is expected to become official within a week and probably sooner. His first stint in St. Louis was short-lived and controversial to say the least.

Hired by head coach Jeff Fisher two years ago this month, Williams never made it on the practice field in St. Louis. After about six weeks on the job with the Rams, he was implicated as the ringleader of the "Bountygate" pay-for-performance as coordinator in New Orleans.

He received an indefinite suspension in March 2012 that kept him out of the game for a year. That left Fisher in a tough spot, because once the suspension came down it was past the cut-off point to request interviews with assistant coaches on other NFL staffs.

With next to no options available, the Rams decided to go with a coordinator-by-committee approach, with Williams' son Blake -- who had been hired as linebackers coach -- calling the plays on game day. Blake rubbed some people on the coaching staff the wrong way and he was fired at the end of the 2012 season.

All of which frayed the long-term relationship between Fisher and Gregg Williams, who had worked together for seven seasons for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. Williams was Fisher's coordinator in Tennessee for four of those seasons (1997-2000) which included the team's Super Bowl XXXIV loss to St. Louis.

After his suspension, Williams spent the 2013 season as a senior defensive assistant in Tennessee, but he was on a one-year contract and was not retained when the Titans fired head coach Mike Munchak and replaced Munchak with Ken Whisenhunt 21/2 weeks ago.

Fisher and Williams had a couple of heart-to-heart talks over the past several weeks, and here we are. When it comes to coaching staff changes, be they hirings or firings, Fisher is about as deliberate as they come. He puts a lot of thought into such matters.

Those familiar with Fisher said the only way he would've fired Walton one month after the end of the regular season was to re-hire Williams. After all, if Fisher was that dissatisfied with Walton why not fire him as soon as the season ended?

With an experienced hand in Williams, one with whom Fisher has had great success as a head coach, the thinking is that the Rams have a chance to make a good defense a great defense. Based on his track record, Williams promises to bring a more aggressive approach, including more blitzing.

Working with Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray this past season, Williams helped the Titans improve to 14th in total defense and 19th in scoring defense after finishing 27th and 32nd respectively in those categories in 2012.

The hiring of Williams and dismissal of Walton may signal a sense of urgency for Fisher as he prepares for his third season coaching the Rams in the ultra-competitve NFC West.

Previously an assistant in Detroit, Walton was in his first season as an NFL coordinator at age 42. He was a stickler for detail and had an all-business approach in the meeting room or on the practice field.

He had a reputation of being a straight-shooter with the players. Make a mistake on the field, and as Walton called it, you will get "notified." His defensive motto was "Stay ready," which meant having the ability to deal with any circumstance, at any time, under all conditions.

So Walton's stay with St. Louis lasted just one year, a year in which the team improved over the second half of the season but still fell short of expectations. Walton's unit finish near the middle of the pack at 15th in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. Walton still has a year left on his contract, which the Rams must pay.

There were plenty of rough moments early in the year, with the team getting gashed in the running game and giving up too many easy touchdowns in the passing game.

There were rumors late in the season that Fisher had taken over the play-calling of the defense, which Fisher denied -- as did others at Rams Park. But Walton did go from being on the field during games to being in the coaches' box around midseason. And there was no doubt Fisher was taking a greater role in the defense.

"I would like to thank Tim for his hard work and contributions to our defense," Fisher said in a statement released by the team. "I wish him well in the future."

Neither Walton nor Williams responded to text or phone messages by the Post-Dispatch.

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