Spagnuolo's first year with Rams starts from bottom
July 21, 2009
By Michael Lombardi
National Football Post
The second part of our series on first-year NFL coaches looks at Steve Spagnuolo of the St. Louis Rams.
Steve Spagnuolo, 49, has spent a lifetime preparing for the opportunity that awaits him in St. Louis. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts. Steve worked his way into different roles and even worked a short time for the Redskins when current Rams GM Billy Devaney was there, forging their friendship.
Steve Spagnuolo 's influences? Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid and Jim Johnson. (US Presswire)
Spending most of his time in the east, with occasional stints in NFL Europe, Spagnuolo got his NFL break when he to work for the Eagles in 1999 as a defensive assistant under Jim Johnson.
• Coaching changes
It would be fair to say that every job served Spagnuolo well, but his real education started when he joined the Eagles, learning pro football from Johnson and Eagles coach Andy Reid.
From Philadelphia, he went to work for Tom Coughlin, another successful coach who, I'm confident, taught Spagnuolo a great deal about running a team.
Les Steckel Effect
Because of his experience being around the NFL for some time, Spagnuolo will have a good way of dealing with players. He will be able to deal with the veterans in a professional manner that will not create problems. When your resume includes coaching some of the great players in the NFL, like Michael Strahan, you can speak with authority about what it takes to make a champion, and what champions do to prepare to play.
Like all first-time head coaches, he will need to install his infrastructure, and as a result, there may be some casualties along the way. However, getting people to buy into his program is not going to be an issue, so getting rid of the ones who don't will not cost him many good players.
Spagnuolo's greatest challenge this season will be to teach his team how to prepare, how to be professional and how to win in the NFL. The Rams have won five games the past two seasons and were in the bottom five of almost every offensive and defensive category in 2008. So learning how to win will be a challenge, but that can"t start until they learn how to prepare to win.
I know the Giants played the Rams last year in Week 2 of the season, so Spagnuolo was somewhat familiar with the team"s offensive talent before he interviewed for the job. But he must quickly determine the talent level as it relates to the rest of the NFL, then play off those strengths.
Good to great for the Rams starts with learning how to stop the run, which they could not do last year, and learning how to run the ball, something the Rams also could not do. The Rams will win some games this season, but theyll have to do so playing a certain style, a certain way, and Spagnuolo must determine that style.
What am I going to do on game day?
Having called the game from the sidelines as a defensive coordinator gives Spagnuolo a firsthand view now as a head coach. Trust me, the game is different when watching from the sideline. It has a different feel, and it takes training to be able to know what"s going on at field level. Spagnuolo is going to be involved with the defense, even though he has hired Ken Flajole to run the defense. However, this is going to be the Spagnuolo defense taught to Flajole. There are going to be calls from the sideline during the game that I'm sure that Spagnuolo will want to make.
The delicate balance here for Spagnuolo will be not to become the defensive coordinator over becoming the head coach. He was hired for his expertise in defensive football, but that expertise needs to be utilized in the formation of the game plan during the week. He must know what to expect from the offense and the kicking game.
Since Spagnuolo will be involved with the defense, he can't allow the other two elements of the game or else be at the mercy of the staff he hired.
I know when to punt -- I think
Dick Curl, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, is on the Rams' staff as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. Curl was the main man entrusted with handling Herman Edwards" game management, which was legendary -- in a bad way. Edwards, whether on the advice of Curl or not, was never in tune with the game. He never seemed to have a handle on when to call timeouts. In fact, the "08 Chargers have the Chiefs to thank for their playoff appearance because of two unexplained timeouts the Chiefs took as the Chargers tried to get back in the game. Watching the Jets or Chiefs under the Curl administration of game management, many were often left wondering.
I know that Curl and Spagnuolo have a deep-rooted relationship, but Spagnuolo has been around Coughlin, who is one of the best game management coaches in the NFL. He has also been around Reid and knows firsthand how a head coach's game decisions can make life tough for one side of the ball or the other. So he shouldn"t rely on the advice of only Curl in this phase of the game. It's one thing to hire your friend; it's another to listen to him when it comes to a very critical component of winning or losing. If Spagnuolo does decide to entrust Curl with this important aspect of game management, he runs the risk of things not working smoothly.
I wish we had done ...
The Rams play in the NFC West, which will feature every different kind of offense in the NFL. From the excellent passing game of the Cardinals to the west coast offense of the Seahawks to the attempt of the ***** to become a smash mouth team, the Rams must be versatile with their defense. It would not surprise me if, at the end of the year, the Rams feel they did not spend enough time on the personnel of the west and how their team matches up to it.
I also think that next season might be the changing of the guard for St. Louis quarterbacks, and the Marc Bulger era may soon run its course. When the season is over, the Rams might look back and wish they had drafted USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Just an observation.
I'm going to remember this one ...
For the Rams to be respectable in "09 as they start their climb from good to great, they must become a better fundamental team in terms of technique. Spagnuolo must start at ground zero, making sure the details he covers this year are in place when he enters year two of his program.
He can"t lose sight of the big picture, that he must build a foundation, not adapt more schemes to just win a game. This team needs to remember what it's building for -- long-term success.
You can never fix all of a team"s problems in one year, but next year, I get a feeling Spagnuolo will have a better understanding of what he needs in order to win the NFC West. He will come to the realization that he must find a long-term solution at quarterback, and he is really just a year behind.
Re: Spagnuolo's first year with Rams starts from bottom
I think he makes some good points. I wonder whether Flajole will be in the booth or on the field. There IS the possibility that Spags will be the new Dick V... which is both good and bad.
I don't agree with the point about not trying hard enough to match up with all the NFCW teams. That's the problem to which there is no quick fix; they all present different challenges.There's been fresh blood at every position on the defense over the last two off seasons.On paper, at least. It's not as if we've been stockpiling talent on offense.
No wonder this guy couldn't get a FO job with anyone but The Raiders. Even with that name. Maybe that's the problem; he can't grasp that it ain't Dad's world any more. There aren't eleven rounds or whatever in the draft.
We all know he's right about Marc being on the hotseat but I think he's unduly fatalistic about Bulger's demise. We'll see.
I know I'll be more excited if we are looking for a stud DE somewhere around the middle of the first round than a QB in the top five next spring.