Bernie: Under Spags, Rams Felt Too Good About Trying
Bernie: Under Spagnuolo, Rams felt too good about trying
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
Monday, January 2, 2012
After the Rams succumbed to San Francisco 34-27 to bring a merciful ending to a dreadful 2-14 season, head coach Steve Spagnuolo went into his finest nice-guy mode.
It was a truly remarkable performance by the league's happiest head coach. Spags can make Dick Vermeil seem as icy as Tom Landry, as aloof as Bill Belichick, as grumpy as Bill Parcells.
Spags heaped praise on his team and added extra spoonfuls of sugar for good measure.
"The will (and) the fight and the character of our football team came out today," Spagnuolo said. "I believe that. I'm very, very proud of our team in that regard, and always will be."
That was just his opening comment. After giving a brief rundown of the injuries, Spagnuolo returned to his message of the day.
"I'm going to go back to the character and the fight in our football team," he said. "Again, so proud of it. And I know that to build anything that has to be the base at the bottom of what we call a rock-solid foundation. And that's there. I'm glad we have that in this football team. If you don't have that, you're in trouble. So I feel good about that."
I thought going 2-14 qualified as trouble, but I digress.
Spagnuolo did allow that the season was "disappointing in a lot of ways." And he did say he thought the Rams should have done better than 2-14.
OK, now we're getting a somewhere. Perhaps an acknowledgement that losing is unacceptable?
Heck, no. Spags caught himself. He quickly added that he was "very proud in a lot of ways."
No worries; Spagnuolo wasn't about to snap or show anger or declare that he won't put up with losing football games.
"I do think there was tremendous growth," Spagnuolo said.
Tremendous growth? The Rams won seven games last season. They won two this season.
The coach was talking about growing through adversity, growing through losing.
"You find out a lot about people in a situation like this," he said. "And when you're going to build something, it's good to have the right people. We've got a lot of the right people and that's important going forward."
Well, the Rams certainly have had many opportunities to grow. They went 1-15 in Spags' first season. Including last season's late 1-3 slide that cost them a division title, the Rams are 3-17 in their last 20 games.
At 10-38, Spagnuolo has the worst record in Rams franchise history by a coach with at least 20 games on his résumé. Other than that solid 6-4 stretch during the 2010 season, Spagnuolo has gone 4-34.
If losing builds character and makes a team grow, then the Rams should be the strongest, toughest, baddest team in the NFL by now. Instead, they lost 14 games this season by an average of 16 points. Moreover, if the Rams have a lot of the right people in place, as Spags claims, then why is their victory total so tiny?
When did losing become so easily acceptable?
Where are the standards?
I remember "Mad" Mike Martz going 51-29 as the Rams' head coach from 2000 through 2004. He had an offense that averaged nearly 27 points a game. But people in this town went berserk in their opposition to Martz and couldn't wait to push him out.
And now we've come to this: The 10-38 head coach is all but offering to take his players to Dairy Queen for a postseason treat to cheer 'em up. What's next, trophies for participation?
Yes, the Rams played hard Sunday. The home team didn't give up after trailing 34-13. I respect that. But they're supposed to compete. No. 1, it's their job. No. 2, most Rams lack job security and have no choice but to play hard to make a positive impression in the NFL.
OK, so the Rams players didn't sit in lounge chairs and smoke cigars on the sideline. That's great. Let's bake some cupcakes and have a celebration.
Yes, I'm being a sarcastic jerk. But I don't enjoy this. I wish I could be talking about a Rams winning season and upcoming playoff matchup and the brilliance of Spagnuolo's coaching. Unlike Leo Durocher, I do believe that nice guys can win.
That said, I don't want to hear about "tremendous growth" or having a "rock-solid foundation" after a 2-14 season in which the Rams finished last in the league in points scored and in the bottom third for most points allowed.
I don't need Spagnuolo or anyone else at Rams Park to throw a tantrum to score cheap public-relation points. But I'd like to see evidence that SOMEONE in a position of power in Earth City is mad as hell and won't abide losing.
You don't get four-year or five-year building phases in this league anymore. You don't win seven games in your second season and then revert to being an expansion-team level mess in your third season. There should be zero tolerance for the horror of watching quarterback Sam Bradford regress so alarmingly in his second NFL season.
I can't come up with a legitimate reason for staying the course with this GM or head coach.
There should be no parsing of blame, either. Some fans or journalists seem to be OK with the idea of sacking GM Billy Devaney and keeping Spags.
Why? Spagnuolo isn't a bystander in personnel matters. He has juice in the area of the draft, free agency and the roster. Spagnuolo has cut multiple young players who had at least some promise in favor of keeping over-the-hill veterans who did nothing.
For all of this talk about injuries, let's ask this question: What's the excuse for the Rams having the NFL's second-worst run defense this season? The front seven was reasonably healthy and the Rams spent considerable money to add pieces to the defense in 2011.
Defensive end Robert Quinn was the first-round pick, No. 14 overall. Devaney and Spagnuolo utilized free agency to sign a bunch of guys including expensive box safety Quintin Mikell, two veteran defensive tackles and three veteran linebackers. And the run defense actually got worse.
To put that all on Devaney is ridiculous; Spags was an active participant in these decisions. He shouldn't receive a free pass on personnel mistakes.
If Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to make it clear that he plans to establish and maintain higher standards for success, he'll install new football leadership.
My fear is that a bizarre alternate universe has set in over at Rams Park. It's a place where you can go 10-38 and merrily dish the kind of tributes usually reserved for a team that's gone 38-10.
Only Kroenke has the total power to change the football culture. And if he doesn't, then Kroenke immediately moves to No. 1 on the list of everything that's wrong with the Rams.
Re: Bernie: Under Spags, Rams Felt Too Good About Trying
This is why you don't give trophies for last place.