Wednesday, January 27, 2010
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer
MOBILE, Ala. – Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has been coaching in the NFL for 11 years. Of the many things that profession entails for the majority of coaches, one is an annual trip here for Senior Bowl week.
That trip can only be skipped by a select few, those fortunate enough to have helped lead their teams to the final weekend or two of the NFL playoffs. Those are the coaches playing for championships and they gladly miss out on the opportunity to come to Ladd-Peebles Stadium to try to find the guys who could help them someday skip said event.
Before traveling down here this week, Spagnuolo reflected on this very idea and came to the conclusion that he has been quite blessed in his coaching career.
“I have been very, very lucky in this league,” Spagnuolo said. “This is year 11 for me and this is only I want to say like the fourth time I have been here because I have been lucky enough to be on teams that were in the playoffs.”
Obviously, Spagnuolo and the Rams weren’t so fortunate this season but that doesn’t mean he’s upset about coming to Mobile to get acquainted with some of the players in this year’s draft class.
Last week, Spagnuolo hit the one-year mark of his tenure as the head coach of the Rams. A lot has changed in that time.
At last year’s Senior Bowl, Spagnuolo was holed up in a room at the Renaissance Battle House Hotel interviewing candidates for various spots on his coaching staff. He attended no practices and got no feel for any of the players in attendance at last year’s game.
This year, Spagnuolo has had to, in some ways, re-learn the Senior Bowl process.
In the early days of the week, Spagnuolo sat anonymously with the NFL masses in the stands next to General Manager Billy Devaney. There, Spagnuolo picked Devaney’s brain about the players on the field in an effort to get to know some of them.
After a couple of days of that, Spagnuolo spent Wednesday morning standing on the sideline with Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and his trusty pencil and notebook in hand.
“I was picking his brain a little bit about his first couple of years and time as a defensive coordinator so we shared some thoughts there but we both stood there and said ‘You do realize we keep moving with the defensive guys,’” Spagnuolo said, laughing. “We do have our eyes on everyone, though.”
Although the Spagnuolo and his staff were offered the opportunity to be one of the coaching staffs here this week, the invitation was declined. Detroit is coaching the North team while Miami is coaching the South squad.
Spagnuolo said he put a lot of thought into the decision but ultimately didn’t feel like the time was right for his staff to take on the task.
“I just felt like this year it was more advantageous for us not to do that,” Spagnuolo said. “That does not mean I am against doing it because there’s some advantages and disadvantages. I just kind of weighed it out and went that way. I think all in all, it was the right thing to do this year. I mean, you don’t always want to be getting asked because that’s not a good sign but certainly I think there are advantages and some disadvantages.”
While a coaching staff does get an up close look at some of the players on the teams, learning how they work, their strengths, weaknesses and personalities, there are also some pratfalls to it.
For one, if you coach one team, that means you don’t get any kind of feel for the other 53 players in attendance because you are constantly in meetings or practicing with the players on your team.
Beyond that, it can also skew your thinking when it comes time to draft.
“When you coach guys you tend to gravitate to those guys because you feel like you know more about them and yet you really have to see the whole volume of all of these players and evaluate them kind of at the same level,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s just one example. There are advantages too so it works both ways.”
Of course, this week at the Senior Bowl hasn’t been all about getting his first taste of the college players in attendance.
The Rams do have a couple of coaching staff openings though it’s nothing that will keep Spagnuolo cooped up in a hotel room this time around. Receivers coach Charlie Baggett left for a job with the University of Tennessee and assistant offensive line coach Art Valero left for the same position with the Seahawks.
Although it’s not the most pressing need, Spagnuolo said he has talked to a couple of potential candidates for the receivers job and that one will take precedence in the search.
“I am not going to do anything real sudden,” Spagnuolo said. “I want to make sure we do it right, get the right person for that position. There’s a 50/50 chance that we will actually replace Art’s spot. We are going to weigh that out right now and see where we go from there.”
As for the possibility of bringing Rams legend and fan favorite Isaac Bruce on as receivers coach, Spagnuolo said it’s an idea he’s certainly open to though no contact has been made yet with the still yet to retire Bruce.
“I have not talked to Isaac,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t know him that well but I have heard so many great things about him as a person and I certainly know what he was like as a player. At some point, I will try to give him a call.”
The offensive line could potentially be filled from within or at least the duties of helping line coach Steve Loney could be assigned to someone already on the staff should Spagnuolo, who wished Valero luck in his new job, opt not to make another hire

Spagnuolo returned to St. Louis on Wednesday evening after watching the bulk of the South team’s afternoon workout. He will spend the next week or so chopping up the film from the Senior Bowl and continuing to look at potential free agents.
“I do like coming down here,” Spagnuolo said. “Even today, I decided to do it on the field. I wanted to get down there. I like being on the field. I like being here because I get to be around these guys. It’s football.”
For Spagnuolo, that beats sitting in a hotel room all day every time.