New Rams DC Tim Walton (Photo courtesy of AP Images)
When Jeff Fisher was putting his coaching staff together last January after being hired as the Rams new head coach, he landed nearly every candidate he had on his list for nearly every position he had available.
One that got away, however, was Detroit assistant Tim Walton, a coach thought to be something of a rising star in the league by his peers. Fisher had envisioned Walton filling a co-defensive coordinator/passing game specialist role on his new staff after getting the chance to observe Walton’s work in Detroit during Fisher’s year away from the game.
Alas, the Lions kept Walton by giving him a promotion and he stayed in Detroit. Fast forward through a year and a nearly seven-week process and Fisher and the Rams finally got their man.
The Rams announced Friday morning that Walton is the team’s new defensive coordinator after a long process that saw them nearly hire Rob Ryan and spend a fair amount of time with other veteran candidates in Dick Jauron and Mike Singletary.
“It was an extensive process,” Fisher said. “I spent two days with Coach Jauron; I spent a day with Mike Singletary. Obviously the Rob Ryan stuff was probably well documented. At the end of the day, I think you take advantage of patience and we did so and found the right guy in Coach Walton.”
Walton takes over the seat that’s been vacant for the majority of Fisher’s time in St. Louis. After his hiring, Fisher moved quickly to hire Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator but Williams was suspended by the NFL for his role in a bounty system while in New Orleans.
Rather than name a defensive coordinator for the 2012 season, Fisher and his deep, experienced staff opted to go with a coordinator by committee approach. By Fisher’s own admission, that offered some challenges to the staff but it also resulted in an improved group that finished 14th in total defense and scoring defense.
When Fisher went searching for someone to sit in the coordinator seat on a more permanent basis, he initially went through more veteran options to step into an already experienced-laden staff.
After nearly hiring Ryan before a final day meeting left both sides realizing it wasn’t a fit, Fisher took a deep breath and went back into the process. Ultimately, it took him back to the guy whom Fisher had pursued a year earlier.
“We had a great deal of interest in Tim last year and for whatever reason it did not work out,” Fisher said. “He has an understanding of our system. There are a lot of similarities in terminology and so on and so forth as far as that’s concerned. We just felt like, at the end of the day, without hesitation that he is absolutely the right guy. He fit in very well with the staff. We felt like Tim is going to do nothing but help us improve defensively.”
Fisher and Walton first got familiar during the 2011 season when Fisher took his one-year sabbatical from the game. With son Brandon serving as the assistant defensive backs coach (a position he now holds for the Rams), Fisher spent time at the Lions training camp and watching that staff in action.
Even before those visits, Fisher had heard positive returns on Walton from his time working as a coordinator and with defensive backs in college stops at the likes of LSU and Miami.
The presence of Fisher in Detroit allowed Walton to begin forming a relationship that would ultimately pave the road for his arrival in St. Louis.
“I got to know him well,” Walton said. “He was around a little bit and got a chance to engage with me and I worked with Brandon. Just being around football, getting a chance to talk, it was a great environment, a great relationship we got to develop just from him being around a little bit. I’m grateful for the chance to join him now on the staff.”
During those visits, Fisher recognized an energetic young coach with the ability to relate well to his players, focus on fundamentals and technique and communicate with everyone with whom he crossed paths.
Those qualities made Walton an obvious fit in terms of personality, an important trait considering the veteran nature of a Rams’ defensive coaching staff that includes the likes of assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, secondary coach Chuck Cecil, linebackers coach Frank Bush and line coach Mike Waufle.
“I am going to soak up all the knowledge and wisdom of those guys there,” Walton said. “With coach Mac and Frank and Chuck and Waufle, those guys are experienced guys that have been around a long time. I am going to get in, join in with those guys, gain a lot of knowledge and information with them so we can build this thing together as a family and as a team.”
But that was only a piece of the puzzle.
Walton also held an important trump card compared to the competition when it came to fitting in with the scheme. The Rams base 4-3 defense is a collaborative effort derived from principles that Fisher created long ago.
With no intent to exchange those principles for someone else’s scheme, Fisher wanted someone who could bring an understanding of that system while also bringing some new, fresh ideas. While Jauron and Singletary impressed Fisher, they also didn’t have the base knowledge of what the Rams are trying to accomplish defensively.
“They come from different backgrounds, different philosophies,” Fisher said. “But you know the terminology is different. The terminology and the system is similar to what Tim is used to there in Detroit. That in itself eliminates probably three to four months of work to where somebody would come in and learn our terminology because it’s our defense, our terminology so Tim is familiar with that. The terminology thing I think was No. 1.”
Philosophically, Walton said he prefers an aggressive style of defense but the Rams’ defensive philosophy will be predicated on the collaboration of the coaching staff in the coming months. He also places a strong emphasis on technique and fundamentals, believing that those are the foundation players can rely on when they get into games.
Walton does, however, believe most in playing to the strengths of the players in place and not trying to bend them to fit a square peg into a round hole. In assessing the defensive talent in place, he believes the Rams have the pieces in place to be a top tier defense.
“We’ll all get together as a group to decide what is the best thing that fits our players and play to their strengths?” Walton said. “We have time to sit down and evaluate throughout this offseason and make sure we go about it as coaches of putting guys in the best position to (utilize) their talents.”
Walton will arrive in St. Louis over the weekend and hit the ground running as he joins the process right in the middle of the player evaluation process for the draft and free agency.
From there, Walton will watch film cutups of the players currently on the roster before traveling with the team to the scouting combine in Indianapolis next week to get started on evaluating players that could be added to the mix.
“I am very excited,” Walton said. “I am looking forward to this year, getting a chance to get back over there, working with Coach Fisher, we’ve got a lot of great players, it’s a great atmosphere, great attitude there…it’s just a great opportunity for me and I look forward to being part of the Rams family.”