ST. LOUIS (AP) Gregg Williams is returning to the Rams as defensive coordinator, the first time he will lead a defense since he lost his job in New Orleans amid the fallout from the team’s bounty scandal.
The Rams announced the hiring Wednesday and a news conference introducing Williams was scheduled for Thursday. He will replace Tim Walton, who was fired in January after just one season.
Williams has led five top-five defenses. He was defensive coordinator for the Saints when he was suspended for the entire 2012 season for the scandal. He was reinstated by the NFL in February 2013 and served as a defensive assistant for the Titans last season.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher originally hired Williams in January 2012, but dropped him after the scandal broke.
”I am excited about coaching this defense,” Williams said in a statement released by the Rams. ”I would like to thank Jeff Fisher and the Rams organization for this opportunity and I am looking forward to getting to work and helping our defense become one of the best in football.”
St. Louis ranked 15th in total defense and 13th in scoring defense in 2013.
Williams and Fisher go back many years. Williams was on Fisher’s staff for six seasons, first with the Houston Oilers, then with the Titans when the team moved to Tennessee. He spent four of those seasons as defensive coordinator.
”As I’ve stated before, I believe Gregg is an outstanding football coach and is capable of taking our defense to the next level,” Fisher said.
Williams, 55, is a Missouri native who played both baseball and football at Northeast Missouri State, now known as Truman State. He was defensive coordinator of the Titans from 1997 to 2000, before serving as Buffalo’s head coach in 2001 to 2003, going 17-26 in that span.
He then served as defensive coordinator for the Redskins from 2004 to 2007, the Jaguars in 2008, and the Saints from 2009 to 2011, developing the defense that helped the Saints beat Peyton Manning and the Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl.
In March 2012, the NFL handed down unprecedented punishment to the Saints for a cash bounty system that paid for targeting opposing players. Coach Sean Payton was suspended for one season and Williams was suspended indefinitely. Williams admitted to running the program, and apologized. Fisher had hired away his old friend after being named St. Louis’ coach, but opted not to keep him rather than wait out the suspension.
After Williams’ suspension was lifted, Tennessee’s coach Mike Munchak hired him as a special assistant last year, and the move paid off. Tennessee ranked 16th in points per game after finishing last in 2012. The Titans were 14th in total defense, up from 27th the previous year.
Walton spent just one season in St. Louis. After Williams was fired, the Rams played without a defensive coordinator in 2012 with Fisher and other defensive coaches sharing the responsibilities.
Williams inherits a defense that already shares his aggressive style. The Rams were third in the NFL with 53 sacks in 2013, led by defensive end Robert Quinn, who set a franchise record with 19.
But getting better won’t be easy. St. Louis plays in what was unquestionably the NFL’s toughest division in 2013. The NFC West is home to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, NFC runner-up San Francisco and the Arizona Cardinals, who narrowly missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record. St. Louis was 7-9 but just 1-5 against division opponents.