ST. LOUIS — If there was ever any doubt about why Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams chose to bring back Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator, Williams left none Thursday morning.
After Williams was introduced by his old and new friend Fisher, he walked to the podium amid applause from Rams staff in the back of the auditorium and fiddled with a folder.
Williams’ "script" spoke of his being back in his home state and in one of the greatest sports towns in the United States, about sitting next to his grandmother in her rocking chair while listening to the Cardinals and talking about his boyhood idols Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and Mike Shannon.
Now that he’s back, Williams said the ultimate goal is to help this organization win another championship.
It was the first of five times that Williams mentioned winning, in some form, in his prepared opening statement. Yes, five. That’s what this is all about.
That’s why Fisher, admittedly uncomfortable with the direction of this Rams defense after the 2013 season, was willing to bury the hatchet with his old friend, the one he wanted to run the D when he was hired in St. Louis, before "bounty" became a buzzword for NFL fans from coast to coast.
"I felt, in the best interest of this organization, that Gregg was the guy for the job," Fisher said. "As you know, we have a past together. We’ve won a lot of games together. He’s coached a lot of very good defenses."
And with that the head coach turned over the mic to his new assistant.
"We’re in the winning-games business," Williams said. "This is a great game. It’s a production business. There’s no better place for me to live than right now in St. Louis. I’m blessed to be here and I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work.
"I know this week as we’ve started meeting as a staff, that they’re probably great and they’re enjoying the fact there’s a little bit of a break in the staff meetings downstairs and I’m here with you instead of with them because we have a lot of work to do. We started early this week and we’ll be working hard and doing that knowing that you all want a winner."
There was no applause after those words from Williams.
There might have been some relief.
The Rams went 7-8-1 in Fisher’s debut season in 2012, when the NFC West-rival San Francisco 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl. Then they went 7-9 last season and had to watch another NFC West rival, the Seattle Seahawks, win the Super Bowl with a dominating defensive effort.
He’s now been a head coach for 19 seasons and he’s had just six winning campaigns, with the last one coming in 2008.
This move could take the Rams’ defense to the next level after two seasons in which the team ranked 13th (2013) and 14th (2012) in the NFL in points allowed. To compete in the NFC West, with Super Bowl contenders in Seattle and San Fran and a revitalized Arizona, St. Louis needs to get better.
Williams has an impressive resume, albeit one marred by a yearlong suspension for a bounty program he oversaw while coaching the Saints’ defense.
As defensive coordinator under Fisher in 2000, the Titans allowed the fewest yards in the league and the second-fewest points. Williams’ 2003 Buffalo team, which was his final season as head coach of the Bills, allowed the second-fewest yards and fifth-fewest points. The next year, 2004, he was the defensive coordinator of the Redskins, who allowed the third-fewest yards and fifth-fewest points in the league. In 2010, his second of three years as the Saints’ D-coordinator, the team ranked fourth in fewest yards allowed and seventh in fewest points.
Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis met with the media following the Williams press conference Thursday and spoke about the need for the defense to be better and the expectation that this group could be a top five defense in 2014.
"We wouldn’t have it any other way," he said. "You want to have that expectation way up there, and he has it and we have it. Quite frankly, there’s no excuses for this defense not to be there. That comes from myself, from all the guys, talking to them. We’re fired up, and I think it’s just really an understanding that we have to elevate our game. There’s absolutely no excuses. We should be a top five defense."
There are absolutely no more excuses for these Rams, who haven’t had a winning season since 2003.
Fisher has his guy in Williams, the one he wanted to run his defense when he was originally hired in St. Louis. The pair patched up whatever ill will there was between them — their unique history includes the fallout from the Bountygate scandal and Fisher firing Williams’ son, Blake, following the 2012 season — to get to this point.
"I just really felt strongly about just pulling it together," Fisher said. "I think I caught him by surprise by initiating the conversation and contact, but we spent a couple days together and at that point I was convinced it was going to work."
Now it’s time for Fisher and the Rams to win. If they don’t, the Rams will likely be looking for another new head coach and defensive coordinator who will.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.