Fisher's had eye on his new defensive coordinator for some time
• By Jim Thomas

Fisher's had eye on his new defensive coordinator for some time : Sports

Tim Walton is far from a household name to many who follow the NFL as fans or cover the game in the media. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher has had an eye on Walton for some time. Walton, 41, was officially announced as the team’s defensive coordinator on Friday.

“I talked to Tim a year ago about this time,” Fisher said. “I had a great deal of interest in Tim last year, and for whatever reason it did not work out.”

Fisher tried to hire Walton last year as the Rams’ assistant defensive coordinator-passing game, but Walton decided to return to Detroit where he had been secondary coach since joining the Lions in 2009. This time around, Fisher juiced up the job description to defensive coordinator – no “assistant” or other qualifiers attached. As the saying goes, it was an offer Walton couldn’t refuse.

Walton was offered and accepted the job Tuesday, and the contract details became finalized Friday. He is not yet in St. Louis but will be at Rams Park on Monday, and then head out to Indianapolis and the NFL Scouting Combine with the rest of the coaches later in the week.

On a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters, he sounded either overcaffeinated, or extremely excited. Or both.

“I’m looking forward to this year, getting the chance to get back over there and working with Coach Fisher,” Walton said. “They’ve got a lot of great players. It’s a great atmosphere, a great attitude there – a lot of great guys to work with on the staff and with the players. So, it’s just a great opportunity for me.”

Fisher’s initial exposure to Walton actually took place in the summer of 2011. That was Fisher’s year out of coaching, but he visited Detroit’s training camp because his son Brandon Fisher was then on the Lions’ staff.

“I had heard great things about (Walton) – you know, coaches talk – through his tour through the college ranks,” Fisher said. “I had a firsthand opportunity to watch him coach, and I was very, very impressed.”

The same held true, Fisher said, when he interviewed Walton for a job one year ago on Fisher’s inaugural Rams staff.

As defensive backs/third-down passing game coach last season in Detroit, Walton coached his way through a minefield of injuries in the Lions’ secondary.

“Yeah, it was tough for us from that standpoint with the fact that we had 13 different starting lineups throughout 16 weeks,” Walton said. “It’s hard to win in the NFL with that much turnover each week because as you know, it’s a tough league.

“We didn’t have a chance to get any consistency and develop any chemistry. But the guys worked hard and did their best and I tried to do as much as I could to keep them together and influence their development as players.”

Reminiscent of the Rams’ injury-plagued secondary of 2011, the Lions had seven players start at least one game at cornerback, and seven more start at least one at safety. The Lions started the same four secondary players in back-to-back weeks only once.

The only Detroit defensive back to start more than eight games was cornerback Chris Houston, who had 13 starts. Even so, Detroit finished the 2012 season ranked 14th in passing defense, or one spot higher than the Rams.

“Tim is very energetic,” Fisher said. “He has a great understanding of the passing game, the back end, the linebacker play – as well as the defensive line play. ... He communicates well. He relates to players very well. He’s an outstanding talent evaluator, so he just fits in.”

Three weeks ago, Fisher appeared poised to hire Rob Ryan as coordinator. But Ryan got cold feet very late in the game. Even as he was being shown on the scoreboard video screen at a Blues home game and introduced as the new Rams defensive coordinator, those close to him said he seemed more subdued than usual. He told his wife that he didn’t know if he could take the job.

And the following Monday – the Monday of Super Bowl week – things went kind of awkwardly during a Ryan meeting with the Rams’ coaching staff. The next day it was announced that Ryan would not be taking the job.

“We went down the road and spent a lot of time together,” Fisher said. “And that’s what you have to do. You can’t just knee-jerk react and run out and hire somebody.”

Ryan’s hesitation coincided with the firing of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator in New Orleans. The Saints’ let it be known they were looking for a replacement who ran the 3-4 alignment – Ryan’s specialty. So there are some at Rams Park who wonder if the Saints’ opening had something to do with Ryan backing out of the Rams’ job.

“I can’t say whether it did or not,” Fisher said. “All I can say is the day that we spent together here with the staff, it became apparent that it just was not the right fit. I’m happy for Rob that he got things worked out and he can move on. But I’m also glad that those kind of things happened when they did because at the end of the day, we got the guy that we needed.”

Fisher also interviewed Dick Jauron, most recently the defensive coordinator in Cleveland, and Mike Singletary, currently the special assistant to the head coach/linebackers coach in Minnesota.

“I spent two days with Coach Jauron; spent a day with Mike Singletary,” Fisher said. “They come from different backgrounds, different philosophies – two outstanding candidates.

“I really enjoyed the two days that we spent with Dick. He’s an outstanding man. But, the terminology is different. The terminology in (the Rams’) system is similar to what Tim’s used to there in Detroit, so that in itself eliminates probably three or four months of work to where somebody would come in and learn our terminology.”