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Rams coach is learning on the job
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Feb. 13 2009
Steve Spagnuolo hit the ground running Jan. 17 when hired as the Rams' coach.
Nearly four weeks later, he hasn't stopped. If he were a basketball player,
he'd be referred to as a gym rat, because he hasn't been out in the sun much.
Quite frankly, his new job has been overwhelming at times.
"Yeah. But a good overwhelming," Spagnuolo said. "One of those overwhelming
things you want to have happen to you. … We're just kind of chipping away as we
go. And there's so many elements.
"Free agency. College draft picks. Trying to put your schemes together.
Learning the building. I keep on trying to meet everybody face to face in the
building, so that's kind of ongoing. And trying to make sure my wife doesn't
But at least he's got his coaching staff together. It's 20 members strong, if
you include Spagnuolo. And the process of putting it together, Spagnuolo now
admits, was tougher than he thought.
"In your mind, you think things are going to fall a certain way," he said. "We
all do it as coaches — you always dream of the day you're in this position. You
hope to hire this person, that person. There's just a lot more to it. I learned
that quickly and kind of tried to dance my way around. I'm sure I didn't do
everything right. But I tried to limit the mistakes, I guess."
Spagnuolo, hired by the Rams after two highly successful seasons as defensive
coordinator for the New York Giants, has assembled a staff he knows. He makes
no apologies for it. It was by design.
"What I tried to do as a model, and I think we kept to it pretty much, was if I
hadn't known somebody personally or worked with them, what I tried to do was
have it just be one person removed," Spagnuolo said.
So if Spagnulo didn't know a coaching candidate personally, he had somebody
already on his staff who did.
"As I look around the staff, that pretty much held true," he said. "That either
somebody on the staff had worked with that person, or I had worked with them.
What we were looking for — the whole model for all of the staff — was to get
great teachers, high-character (people). And the only way to really know how
somebody teaches is to see 'em in action."
On Thursday, Spagnuolo formally introduced his three coordinators: Pat Shurmur
(offense), Ken Flajole (defense) and Tom McMahon (special teams).
Spagnuolo also clarified the job descriptions of three coaches who when hired
were given generic titles of offensive or defensive assistants: Frank Leonard
will coach tight ends, Paul Ferraro will coach linebackers and Andre Curtis
will coach safeties.
In today's NFL, it's common for teams to have two secondary coaches. It is
somewhat unusual, though, for their job descriptions to be segregated into
safeties or cornerbacks coach, but that's how Spagnuolo did it with the Giants.
(Clayton Lopez will coach cornerbacks for Spagnuolo with the Rams.)
The member of Spagnuolo's staff with a "non-coach" title is Bruce Warwick, the
assistant to the head coach-football operations. Although they haven't had the
fancy title, almost every previous Rams head coach in St. Louis had someone
such as Warwick to handle a variety of administrative duties.
With Scott Linehan, for example, it was Jeff Horton. With Dick Vermeil, it was
"Bruce will be as vital as anybody on the staff," Spagnuolo said. "He's
terrific, and he's really been in these positions all the way through his
career. He's going to be my righthand guy to try to keep me in line, make sure
I don't miss anything. We meet every morning at 7:30. He keeps me abreast of
what's going on."
One of Warwick's current tasks is researching training camp. Spagnuolo hasn't
decided yet whether the team will train at Rams Park or outside of St. Louis
A stickler for detail, Spagnuolo has three quality control coaches — one for
offense (Andy Sugarman), one for defense (Matt House) and one for special teams
"The quality-control guys, you compare 'em to graduate assistants in college,"
Spagnuolo said. "But I think they're a little bit more than that. What I've
learned is that the offensive (quality control) guy is a little bit different
than the defensive guy. The defensive quality control guy gets to do a little
more coaching. On offense, you have to do a little bit more computer (analysis)
and film breakdown."
As for the position coaches themselves, there's a lot more experience on the
offensive side of the ball than on defense. The average age of the six position
coaches on offense is 53, with tight ends coach Frank Leonard, 36, the only one
The average age of the four position coaches on defense is 38, with linebackers
coach Paul Ferraro the oldest at 49.
But Spagnuolo assigned no special meaning to the age differential.
"I guess it worked out that way," he said. "But again, the model was good
teachers of high character. And I do think the game is still about teaching,
I've always believed that."
Given his background, Spagnuolo undoubtedly will be more hands-on defensively.
So he might want to train the younger defensive coaches from Day 1 on how he
wants things done.
"Initially, there'll be some of that," he said. "But I've got a tremendous
amount of confidence in Ken and the staff. I'm finding out quickly that there's
a lot involved in being a head coach."
To truly run a defense, a coach has to be in the meeting room all the time.
"And there's going to be times that I'm not going to be able to do that,"
Spagnuolo said. "So it's certainly going to fall on Ken and his staff. …
They're all good coaches; they know football."
Re: Rams coach is learning on the job
That was an awesome thread Wrath. You get to know Spags as a person. You get to see what he is all about and his commitment.
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