ST. LOUIS — Before hiring Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator for the second time, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher cleared it with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Williams was part of Fisher’s first staff with the Rams in 2012, but only for a few weeks before getting suspended for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal.
After a news conference to introduce Williams Thursday, Fisher said he’d been in contact with Goodell throughout the process two years ago and "I wanted to inform him about the direction I was thinking about going."
"He was very excited, and he endorsed it."
Before signing Williams, Fisher said the two spent a few days revisiting the 2012 experience. The suspension left the Rams in a bind and they went without a coordinator in ’12.
Fisher said then that the suspension was "warranted" and asked if he’d consider Williams in the future said he’d "cross that bridge when we come to it." After the 2012 season he fired Williams’ son, defensive line coach Blake Williams.
During his suspension, Williams had no contact with the Rams but said he attended all of the home games. He was a defensive assistant last year at Tennessee and called it a "good stop."
"His handprint was all over the Tennessee defense, it was obvious that he’d gone in there and had a significant impact," Fisher said. "I’d say 60-70 percent of our terminology is his. I just really felt strongly about just pulling together."
Fisher initiated contact a few weeks after the season ended, and believes he’d surprised Williams. He made room by firing Tim Walton after one season, telling Walton he’d done nothing wrong but that Williams had been his first choice.
The 55-year-old Williams was defensive coordinator under Fisher with the Titans from 1997-2000.
"Things are in perspective, things are behind him, his past is his past," Fisher said. "The arrow’s going up with the defense and I just felt like Gregg was the person to make sure that happens."
Williams shed no light on the discussions, saying "Those are things that are between Jeff and I." He deflected a question about how he’s changed as a coach since his suspension, saying every coach must adjust, but thought the familiarity would make this a good fit.
"It’s fun to be back with people who think and believe the same way you are," Williams said. "So now you get a chance to spend more time with the players, because you’re spending less time having to sell or defend yourself with your staff before you ever get with the players."
Fisher said the hire got a big thumbs-up from players, adding "my phone was blowing up." Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who was at Rams Park for a workout, anticipates a more aggressive approach.
The Rams have one of the NFL’s top pass rushes but enter free agency and the draft needy in the secondary.
"Win or lose, I want to know that we’re going to go down swinging," Laurinaitis said. "Everyone I’ve known that has played for him just absolutely loves the guy."
Williams, who grew up in Missouri, said he hoped this was his last coaching stop.
Williams scoffed at a claim from a player who said the coach bragged about using a stolen playbook to help Tennessee beat Jacksonville in the 1999 AFC championship game. Williams called the allegation by former Jaguars defensive end Renaldo Wynn "a joke" and added he had every team’s playbook.
"Every time a free agent walks in a building, he gives you the playbook," Williams said. "We all have everybody’s playbook. When you turn the film on, do you have their playbook?
"How much traction did ‘Omaha’ get when Peyton (Manning) said ‘Omaha’ 46 times one game on TV? What’s that mean? It doesn’t mean anything."
Williams said he’s watched all of the Rams games from last season but declined to discuss specific needs. Fisher wants his new coordinator to concentrate on improving a defense that was ranked 15th overall.
"I told Gregg this time around he’s going to be the mad scientist," Fisher said. "He’s not going to do a lot of player evaluations, I’m not going to take up his time evaluating unrestricted free agents and getting ready for the draft.
"I want him to take this defense and run with it."