by Mike Garafolo/The Star-Ledger
Friday January 23, 2009, 8:34 PM

Steve Spagnuolo, the new coach of the St. Louis Rams, believes his replacement as the Giants' defensive coordinator, Bill Sheridan, is ready for the challenge. When the outsider conducted his first meeting two years ago, he could have been met with any number of negative reactions: jealousy, envy, bitterness or skepticism. He, no more than a position coach his entire career, had been hired as the Giants' defensive coordinator over three other position coaches -- one of them a former coordinator.

But Steve Spagnuolo encountered something different from line coach Mike Waufle, linebackers coach Bill Sheridan and secondary coach Peter Giunta: teamwork.

"When I walked in that room for the first time, there were guys in there that were just as qualified as I was to do that job and yet, to a man, they were loyal, they worked together as a group. They were just outstanding," Spagnuolo, the new head coach of the Rams, said by phone Friday. "I was very, very fortunate it worked out that way for me."

This time, with Spagnuolo gone to St. Louis earlier this week, the new defensive coordinator came from within. Sheridan, the former University of Michigan assistant who spent the past four seasons with the Giants, was tabbed as Spagnuolo's replacement.

If the Giants hadn't promoted Sheridan, he might be with Spagnuolo as the Rams' defensive coordinator. Instead, he has been charged with taking over a unit that finished seventh and fifth in the NFL over the past two seasons, respectively.

Spagnuolo believes Sheridan is ready for the challenge, though he knows there will be adjustments to Sheridan's daily routine that must be made.

"The thing that hits you immediately is you walk in your office and you have a list of A, B, C, D and E, and you think you're going to knock it right out," Spagnuolo said when asked about his transition from Eagles assistant to Giants coordinator. "What you have to realize is there are five other people depending on you. And if one of those five walks in your office and needs help, you have to drop everything you're doing and take care of them.

"You now have people that rely on you and they're more important than anything you're doing at a particular moment."

As for changes to a system that generated outstanding pressure on the quarterback in 2007 and a pretty good push for much of this season, Spagnuolo thinks they'll be only slight tweaks. After all, he said his blitz packages were a result of a group effort between himself and Sheridan, as well as input from Waufle, Giunta and safeties coach David Merritt.

"I'm sure he'll put his own personal touch on it," Spagnuolo said, adding: "Anything Bill adds or deletes will be to make the defense better."

Many feared Spagnuolo's departure would immediately make the defense worse. He realizes how much the team and fans will miss him, though he appears to have misjudged what the media's reaction was going to be.

"Hope u guys aren't beatin me up too bad!" he wrote in a text message early in the week.

Truth is, nearly everyone associated with the Giants understood Spagnuolo had always wanted to be an NFL head coach. Still, he admitted "the pull was strong" to remain with the Giants.

"It would have been a lot easier if I was pursuing a dream and I didn't like where I was or it wasn't working out," Spagnuolo said. "Trust me, I know it's a head coaching job and there are only 32 of them and people say you should jump on any one you get. That wasn't the case. (His wife) Maria and I sat down and talked about it. I just wanted to take a chance at a challenge right now.

"There were special things that happened (with the Giants). I love the people there -- the Mara family, the Tisch family, Jerry Reese and Tom (Coughlin). I can't thank those guys enough."

Spagnuolo also said he's grateful to the Giants' players and coaches -- from Sheridan down to defensive quality control coach Andre Curtis.

"There's a bond we'll share forever and that's winning a championship. To me, that's worth a lot," Spagnuolo said. "And I don't know when they'll do it, but I can't wait for the 10-year or 25-year reunion or whatever. I hope to live to see it because that's going to be special."

"Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another."