St. Louis Rams Coaching Staff Grades
St. Louis Rams Examiner.
If you are a believer in the Bill Parcells theory of coaching (You are what your record says you are) then the St. Louis Rams coaching staff would deserve about a C- grade. The St. Louis Rams finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs which puts them as a below average coaching staff. If you would like to grade the team on improvement then you would give the coaching staff an A+. The Rams improved from a 1-15 record to a 7-9 record and were within a whisker of making the playoffs. A six game swing is among the best turnarounds in NFL history. The truth lies somewhere in the middle in my estimation. The Rams coaching staff did not earn an A+ because I believe that there were some serious flaws in what they did this season, but I would not lower their grade into that C- grade because you do have to give them credit for what they did accomplish in one offseason.
Here is a look a the coaching staff and how they should be assessed in 2010.
Steve Spagnuolo: B- A lot of the credit for the success that the 2010 St. Louis Rams had has to be attributed to their head coach. His unwavering support of the players and the attitude that he has brought to Rams Park has been a breath of fresh air. The players clearly believe in the guy and the amount of infighting within the walls of Rams Park has gone way down. That is a function of good leadership and that is why there is a lot of hope surrounding this franchise.
Among the other things he should get credit for in 2010 was the way he handled Sam Bradford The rookie quarterback's first season was handled with the right amount of care. Even though it was clear Bradford would be the opening day starter, Spagnuolo made sure he would "earn it." After Bradford became the starter he did a good job in trying to keep the rookie focused and then as the season went along he placed more and more trust in Bradford. There are ways a coach can screw up a player who has a ton of talent. Spagnuolo did well in not screwing it up and by trying to guide Bradford through the rookie campaign.
Now for the knocks against Spagnuolo. His gameday management is still a tremendous work in progress. I don't think anyone who watched this season can say that it was an area of strength when it came to clock management or challenge management. Those areas need to be improved upon by either hiring someone to help or to have better people in those positions to guide him through it. This is not rocket science, but the Rams continue to have issues in the first two seasons of his regime.
The conservativeness of his coaching is also a concern. Granted there was a rookie quarterback and unproven players all over the offense, but playing "four corners" football is not conducive to winning and probably cost the Rams one to two games this season. That is the difference between preparing for a Wild Card Game and sitting at home this week. Will Spagnuolo grow from the 2010 experience? That is the largest question facing him next season.
Pat Shurmur: C+ The Rams went from scoring 11 points a game to 18 points a game. The Rams offense went from 29th to 26th in offense ranking. They went from 28th to 21st in the league in passing. They also went from 20th to 25th in rushing. That is progress. Not as much as any of us would have hoped, but progress nonetheless and that should be credited to Shurmur. Shurmur did a good job handling Sam Bradford and did a good job managing not having any top wide receivers. Shurmur did the best he could with his limited arsenal of offensive weapons.
What has been interesting over the past few weeks is that you are starting to hear through back channels that Shurmur might have had the handcuffs placed on him by Steve Spagnuolo as the season went along. Whether that is true or not remains up to debate. Knowing the head coach's style it would not be surprising. In addition Shurmur is being considered for the head coaching job in Cleveland so it may be a function of trying to have his stock raised a little so he can acquire that position. Maybe the head coach is holding him back a little bit on showing how good this offense could become. At the very least it is interesting.
Where Shurmur can really be criticized in 2010 is the way he handled Steven Jackson. The Rams had him run this season more than any time in his career and it was not effective. Some of it had to do with the Rams interior offensive line not performing up to acceptable levels, but some of it has to do with scheme because the running game was the exact same week in and week out. Assuming Jackson is back in 2011, and Shurmur for that matter, the Rams have to figure out a way to make him more effective without putting that much mileage on him. If you give him the ball that many times in 2011 there is no way he will survive a 16 game season.
Ken Flajole: B+ The Rams defense were 12th in the league in points against vs. 30th a year ago. They managed to cut an entire touchdown a game off of their points against. Meanwhile the Rams were able to get to the opposing quarterback 43 times in 2010 as opposed to only 25 in 2009. They also increased their forced turnovers from 21 to 34 in 2010. That is making a quantum jump forward for a defense that was a mockery last season at times.
Flajole should be commended for coming up with some good schemes for a number of games. There were quarterbacks that struggled when the Rams were in attack mode. The only criticism of Flajole that I have in 2010 is that there were times that they dialed back the pressure and it would wind up costing the Rams. It is a philosophy thing. Is it better to get beat with a home run every once in awhile or to get beat by a bunch of singles and doubles? I don't mind giving up the home run every once in awhile in exchange, but it comes back to the conservatism of the head coach. The Rams backed off and sometimes it worked against them.
Tom McMahon: D I thought this area for the Rams really regressed in 2010. The average kickoff return dropped off by almost two yards a game and they once again went the whole season without returning a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season. In addition the Rams surrendered two returns for touchdowns this season (one kickoff and one punt) as well as being among the bottom half of the league in both punts and kickoff coverage. As with most special teams units in the league it was a shuffle of players in and out due to injuries, but this area has to get better in 2010. Josh Brown was down a little bit in the kicking game this season, but Donnie Jones was still among the best so McMahon receives credit for that as well.
Overall the coaching staff deserves decent marks, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Some of that will come in the form of better players, hopefully, in 2011. Some of that will come from self improvement and forced improvement from management. Where the Rams improve in their coaching will be interesting in the offseason. I don't think there will be a lot of movement unless Shurmur gets the head coaching job in Cleveland. If that happens then it could be a lot of movement on the staff. Whatever does happen it will be interesting to continue to monitor the growth of this staff.