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Rams hire the right guy in Spagnuolo
By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Jan. 18 2009
By 11:30 Saturday morning, it was all over. Jason Garrett — the man who barely
12 months ago was the hottest man on the NFL coaching carousel — was being
surreptitiously hustled out of town.
He had arrived in St. Louis 18 hours earlier with the full star treatment, with
TV minicams rolling, klieg lights glaring and reporters peppering him with
questions about his prospects in the Rams' head coaching derby as he darted
through Lambert-St. Louis International Airport baggage claim.
But now those Friday night lights were gone, and the Dallas Cowboys' offensive
coordinator was on his way out of town. He had no new job in hand, but no doubt
a million questions buzzing through his head — the chief one being, "What the
heck just happened?"
If you love theatrics, you have to love the Rams, who are the only folks who
can turn the simple pursuit of a new head coach into a brilliant Hollywood
whodunnit, filled with heroes and villains, mystery men and fall guys, suspense
and intrigue, confusion and .... well ... more confusion followed by careening
plot twists that somehow led us to — we think, we hope, we pray — a true happy
Introducing your new Rams coach: Steve Spagnuolo.
I don't want to say I never saw this coming, because I did see this coming. I
think we all saw this coming — in our wildest dreams.
(Well at least I saw this coming once I no longer was under the seductive
influences of a powerfully hypnotic "media lobbying" spell that apparently
failed to influence only the most steel-willed among us).
It was so obvious that this was the sort of happy ending for which most Rams
loyalists were pining.
The New York Giants' defensive coordinator was among that select group of
high-profile up-and-coming assistant coaches on every NFL coaching wish list.
Once it was clear the finalist list was being cut down to "Spags,'' Rex Ryan
and Leslie Frazier, any of them would have worked. But concluding that "Spags''
would end up the man was sort of like watching a good murder mystery, in which
they dangled the best clue in front of you in the first scene and you had to
figure it was just too darned obvious to be true.
The Rams hiring the right guy?
Nahhhhh. It never could happen.
And the weirder-than-weird, eleventh-hour visit to Rams Park by Garrett only
cemented the belief by all incurable Rams skeptics that a cloke-and-dagger plot
twist was on the way.
The Rams hiring the right guy?
Exit stage left, Garrett. Enter stage right, Spagnuolo.
Did the Rams really just hire the right guy?
Call me cautiously noncommittal. We'll see. But I'm hopeful, and I haven't been
hopeful around the Rams in a long time.
But this is not the end of the Rams' great coaching whodunnit, it's just the
beginning because as impressive as Spagnuolo is, he still is a great unknown.
He certainly looks the part, but he is the unproven assistant who never has
been an NFL head coach. So this is a thumbs up with reservations.
He could be the next John Harbaugh, a five-star first-year success story with
Baltimore, or he could just as easily become a frightening Scott Linehan sequel.
We'll find out soon enough.
But the good news with "Spags" is that the people who seem to know him best —
his players — say he's coming in with one trait that never was in the Linehan
personality profile, and the one trait that this organization needs so
desperately. He is an unmistakable, recognizable leader of men, not just an X's
and O's, personality-challenged introvert who wants to be left alone with his
chalkboard and remote control.
"I know he's never been a head coach before, and that's the one thing that
he'll have to prove," said Danny Clark, a former Illinois linebacker who was
Spagnuolo's starting outside linebacker this season. "But I tell you what, I
think he's going to be a success. He's one of the most passionate coaches I've
ever been associated with. He gets his players to do a lot more with their
abilities than even they think they can do, and that says a lot about the guy."
Clark remembers a year ago when he was with the Houston Texans sitting at home
watching the Giants go on their Super Bowl run, and he remembered thinking how
much fun it would be playing in a Spagnuolo-designed defense.
"His defenses are aggressive as ever," Clark said. "I was a huge fan of it last
year. The impression that guys have around the league about 'Spags' is
'aggressive.' You have to remember he spent a lot of years down there in Philly
working under Jim Johnson (eight years as an Eagles assistant) before coming to
the Giants last year. And everyone knows what sort of defense Johnson runs.
It's that crazy blitz package and that's exactly what (Spagnuolo) brings to the
table. He's gonna send 11 or 12 guys at you on the blitz. Heck, he'll blitz
guys off the bench if he has to."
A few months later, Clark signed as a free agent with New York and found
himself in his perfect football dream.
"I always thought Tom Coughlin was the most detail-oriented coach I knew as far
as the way he approaches a team with attention to every detail," Clark said.
"When I tell you he teaches you every situation that will come up in a football
game and how to attack an opponent, I mean that he is extremely thorough. Well,
Spagnuolo is a spitting image of him."
What was it that finally swayed general manager Billy Devaney to recommend his
good friend Spagnuolo to ownership over all the other finalists?
Draw your own conclusions, but here's the best hunch. Devaney probably sees a
whole lot of himself in Spagnuolo. They're both hard-nosed, passionate
competitors, both little fireplug tough guys who have not only earned their NFL
chops the right way, but share a clear vision of exactly how to turn this
moribund franchise around.
Spagnuolo "always speaks about his small stature," Clark said. "But I tell you
what, his heart is as big as a lion and I'm a big fan of that guy."
Re: Rams hire the right guy in Spagnuolo
Rams Hire Spagnuolo
Saturday, January 17, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
The Rams have chosen Steve Spagnuolo as their new head coach, the team announced officially on Saturday evening.
He will be introduced at a news conference on Monday at 11 a.m.
Spagnuolo, the New York Giants defensive coordinator, and the Rams agreed on a four-year deal only hours after Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett departed St. Louis following his one night visit.
Spagnuolo was believed to be a favorite of ownership after an impressive presentation and interview in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon.
Rams owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez along with senior adviser John Shaw, general manager Billy Devaney and director of player personnel Lawrence McCutcheon were part of three interviews this week involving Spagnuolo, Garrett and Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
After those interviews concluded, Devaney made his recommendation to ownership. That recommendation as it turned out, was Spagnuolo.
"We considered some very qualified and outstanding candidates for this position but we kept coming back to Steve Spagnuolo,” Devaney said.
Rosenbloom said he was in agreement with Devaney after all of the hard work his general manager put in to find the right candidate.
"On behalf of Lucia (Rodriguez), Stan (Kroenke) and me, Billy did a spectacular job of presenting some fabulous candidates,” Rosenbloom said. “We’re very excited that Steve will be our head coach and are looking forward to an exciting season.”
In his two seasons in New York, Spagnuolo’s defenses have earned a reputation for a fierce pass rush combined with exotic and creative blitz schemes. With the likes of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora at his disposal, it wasn’t a major surprise the Giants defense had such success rushing the passer in 2007.
This season, the Giants played without a retired Strahan and lost Umenyiora to injury before the season. Spagnuolo’s unit still finished the season ranked fifth in defense, allowing 292 yards per contest.
New York’s front four was so dominant in 2007 and in the playoffs, that it earned Spagnuolo a raise to about $2 million a year, making him one of the highest paid assistants in the league.
Spagnuolo is well respected and liked by his players for his ability to take into account their thoughts, adjust his game plans accordingly and resistance to point fingers when something goes wrong.
Considering Spagnuolo’s history, it’s not surprising that his defenses mirror his personality. Spagnuolo cut his teeth under legendary Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson for eight seasons as a defensive assistant, defensive backs and linebackers coach for the Eagles.
There, Spagnuolo, 49, learned the many exotic and creative blitz packages that Johnson has a reputation for.
Spagnuolo took those principles with him to New York, running a base 4-3 defense that emphasizes a variety of blitz packages and various other ways to create pressure on the quarterback.
"Steve has been on some outstanding defensive staffs during his ten seasons in the NFL,” Devaney said. “He represented what we were looking for when this process began."
Born in Whitinsville, Mass., Spagnuolo played his college football at Springfield College where he was a wide receiver.
An east coast guy through and through, Spagnuolo developed a relationship with Devaney when the two were with the Redskins at the same time in 1983. At the time, Spagnuolo was a player personnel intern while Devaney was a scout.
A decade later, Spagnuolo was a scout in San Diego where Devaney was director of player personnel. That relationship combined with the Giants playoff run helped Devaney skip the preliminaries with Spagnuolo and advance him directly to the finalist round of interviews.
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