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Rams get coach who stands for something
By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tuesday, Jan. 20 2009
The hiring of Steve Spagnuolo seems to be playing well with the public. The
phones lines at Rams Park were busier than usual Monday, and Rams Vice
President Bob Wallace says that 95 percent of the calls were positive. Fans
even inquired about purchasing tickets.
So in that regard, the decision to go with Spagnuolo already is paying off. His
arrival generated some positive buzz for a slumping organization that angered
the fan base with a 5-27 record over the last two seasons.
Spagnuolo looked like a head coach when introduced Monday. He was confident. He
had presence. The room wasn't too big for him. He projects a sincere strength
but pulls it off without being arrogant.
Spagnuolo didn't have that perplexed, nervous, whoa-boy look that reminds me of
a lyric from the song "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads: "And you may ask
yourself — well ... how did I get here?"
Spagnuolo knows he belongs. And that's a nice sign.
Then again, I thought Scott Linehan did fine when he was introduced as the Rams
head coach in 2006. So what makes Spagnuolo different from the hopelessly
ineffective Linehan? They were both career assistants, right?
True. And there are no guarantees about any coaches who make the jump. Some
become John Harbaugh (Baltimore), Tony Sparano (Miami) or Mike Smith (Atlanta)
and have immediate success as head coaches. Others become Linehan or Rod
So again: Which way will Spagnuolo go?
Is Spagnuolo destined to be the next Harbaugh, one of his best friends in life?
Or is he Linehan II?
Since I am optimistic about Spagnuolo's chances, I'll give it a shot:
— Spagnuolo has a philosophy. He wants to play the game a certain way. That's
crucial. GM Billy Devaney and Spagnuolo are aligned and will work to give this
team an identity. I never got that from Linehan. He was here for two-plus
seasons, and I never figured out what he stood for, or what he wanted the Rams
to be. Those Rams never had a collective team personality. Spagnuolo is the
exact opposite. He definitely knows what he wants. He knows what he wants his
team to be.
"OK, this is 'Spags' football identity," Devaney said. "It's simple but
effective. Knock people down. Hit them in the mouth. Give the ball to a big
back and run the football. Protect your own quarterback. Put extreme pressure
on the enemy quarterback. That's his team. A blue-collar, beat-you-up kind of
— As the respected defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, Spagnuolo
stood at the edge of one of the fiercest battlefields in sports. NY fans and
media can immediately spot weakness and they move swiftly to attack it.
Spagnuolo thrived in that setting. In New York, his defection to the Rams was
viewed as a major blow, and that's one heck of an endorsement.
— Spagnuolo exhibited great verve on his sport's biggest stage. He devised the
superb defensive game plan and set the emotional dial for his Giants when they
ambushed Tom Brady and upset New England in last year's Super Bowl. The
imposing challenge didn't rattle Spagnuolo; he went right after Brady and an
incredible, undefeated Patriots offense that averaged 37 points a game. A lot
of what the Giants did came down to attitude. When's the last time the Rams
played the game with edge and attitude?
— Spagnuolo is relentless in approach. An undersized energy-line center for his
high school ice hockey team, he's a natural grinder. And a football lifer who
is consumed by winning. He virtually lives at the office during the season. His
wife, Maria, said he doesn't come home except to get a few hours sleep. The
Rams need that passion for the game. They haven't had a leader who exhibited
this inner fire for a while.
Said Devaney: "He works so hard and is so committed, and he's so sincere about
putting the team and the players first, that the players don't want to
disappoint him by losing. They don't want to let him down. That's the way the
Giants players felt about him. That's one of the best forms of motivation you
can have as a coach."
— Along those lines, Spagnuolo is a strong relationship guy. And that's a
primary reason he gets players to play. Linehan failed to bond with his Rams
players, and that was paramount in his downfall. Doing research on Spagnuolo, I
was struck by how much his players in Philadelphia and New York cared about
him. The praise was sincere and prolific.
The hard-nosed Jeremiah Trotter, his former middle linebacker in Philadelphia,
once said this about Spagnuolo: "He's one of the best men I know. Nobody works
harder trying to get us in a position to win. I'd do anything to help him."
As a head coach, the nature of the relationship can change; Spagnuolo will be
running an entire team now. But he insists he will remain faithful to the core
values that got him to this point. There's something about this guy. What's the
word? Substance. Yeah, that's it. Spagnuolo seems to be a man of substance.
Re: Rams get coach who stands for something
Spags is reminding me more and more of a young Dick Vermeil the more I see and hear.
From his diminutive but high energy stature to the characterization of him as a grinder to his philosophy of how you win to his workaholic, sleep at the office, barely return home during the season ethic to the genuine love and respect his players have for him where they would do anything for him and he for them traits.
I don't think this team will look like the Vermeil Rams teams, but I won't be surprise at all to see them look very much like the Vermeil Eagles teams of the late 70's on both sides of the ball. I just hope he doesn't burn himself out like DV did back in those days.
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