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"'You've got to tell me everything now,'" .. Said Flajole to Spags ..
Stull's staff at Mizzou went places
BY Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
When the Rams hired Ken Flajole as defensive coordinator, no one outside of the Flajole family was happier about it than Bob Stull. "I've known him forever," Stull said. "My wife talks to his wife every Monday and gabs. He's a real hard-working guy, a really detailed guy. He's done a nice job wherever he's been."
Nearly 20 years ago, when Stull was struggling along with a 15-38-2 record as head coach at the University of Missouri, who knew that his staff would become a cradle of NFL coaches? Flajole becomes the fourth member of Stull's Mizzou staff (1989-93) currently working in the NFL as a coordinator, joining Marty Mornhinweg (Philadelphia), Dirk Koetter (Jacksonville), and Dave Toub (Chicago). Mornhinweg and Koetter are offensive coordinators; Toub is special teams coordinator with the Bears.
Mornhinweg also had a two-year stint as head coach of the Detroit Lions. Of course, the most famous alumnus of Stull's Missouri staff is Andy Reid, a two-time NFL coach of the year with a 107-68-1 record over 10 seasons for Philadelphia.
"It was a great group," Stull said. "I think when we first arrived there, people questioned who are these young guys? Where'd they come from?"
Now look at what they've become. So it's a nice story to be sure. But in a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Stull added a fascinating new twist to the tale.
Guess who was a frequent visitor to the Mizzou campus during Stull's five-season tenure as Tigers coach?
None other than current Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo.
"I'll tell you the history of Spags," Stull said.
Here it is:
One of Spagnuolo's very good friends in the coaching business was Steve Telander; they had coached together at Massachusetts in the early 1980s. When Telander subsequently joined Stull's staff at Texas-El Paso, Spagnuolo made frequent trips to UTEP for coaching clinics, spring football, etc. When Stull took his entire UTEP staff with him to Mizzou in 1989, Spagnuolo continued such treks to Columbia.
"That's where he met Andy Reid and Flajole and Dirk and all those guys," said Stull, now the athletic director at UTEP. "He'd spend three or four days 'clinic-ing' with all those guys. He used to come down all the time to visit with us."
As an ambitious young coach trying to work his way up the ladder, Spagnuolo figured the more knowledge he could soak up the better.
"There were a number of times I'd go out there when I was coaching at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and then I was at the University of Connecticut," Spagnuolo said. "And you go to the UTEPs and the Missouris just to get football knowledge. That was really a hell of a deal."
That eagerness is what first attracted Reid to Spagnuolo.
"He's a gym rat," Reid said. "He just wants to talk football, football, football. And I appreciate that. I like those kind of guys. He had the passion for it."
What really helped form the bond between Spagnuolo and Reid and Flajole and other members of that staff took place in 1992, when Spagnuolo stayed for more than a few days in Columbia.
By then, Spagnuolo was coaching in what was then called the World League of American Football (known as NFL Europe in a later incarnation). The World League folded in the fall of '92, leaving Spagnuolo without a job.
"It's the middle of the (college) football season, and I don't have a job," Spagnuolo said.
The last thing he wanted to do was go back home and stare at the walls. He wanted to keep his head in football.
"So I actually went to Missouri and lived with Steve Telander," Spagnuolo said. "I actually lived with him a month as they finished out their season."
He tried to stay out of the way, but couldn't help himself. Every day, Spagnuolo showed up at the coaches' offices in the Tom Taylor Building. He'd watch practice. Look at tape.
"Spags was part of the staff," Reid said, tongue in cheek. "He was around there for a while. That's where I got to know him. And why I ended up hiring him" (as part of Reid's first Philadelphia staff in 1999).
While trying to stay involved in football, Spagnuolo also tried to make himself useful, occasionally doing the odd chore for Stull's staff.
"I remember every now and then he'd bring in pizza," Flajole said with a laugh. "We kind of loved him even more when he did that. You know it's funny, it's crazy in this business how you get to know people.
"You talk a lot of football over the course of a lot of years. When he was at Philadelphia and I was at Seattle, I know Mike Holmgren always had a real appreciation for what they did on defense. I remember one offseason, Mike's big deal for us on the defensive side of the ball was he wanted us to study the Philadelphia Eagles and certain aspects of their defense."
Within that overall theme, Flajole's "assignment" was to study the Eagles' red zone defense. So when he'd see Spagnuolo at the Senior Bowl or the NFL Scouting Combine, he'd ask him questions on that topic.
"He would never give me all of the answers," Flajole said. "If I said, 'Well, do you guys adjust and do this?' If he knew I was getting close, he'd kind of smile, but he'd never say, 'You're right.'"
After all, Spagnuolo didn't want to give up all of Philly's defensive "secrets." So whenever Flajole got close to unlocking something, the conversation would end with Spagnuolo saying, "We might have to play you sometime."
But when Spagnuolo hired Flajole as Rams defensive coordinator in late January, the instant joke from Flajole was that he wanted full disclosure. Demanded it. "'You've got to tell me everything now,'" Flajole told Spagnuolo.
So 17 years after delivering pizza to Flajole and the rest of that Mizzou staff, Spagnuolo is counting on Flajole to guide the Rams' defense.
"We tried to hire teachers with great character, and Ken fit both of those," Spagnuolo said. "He's very detailed. We might be putting in 'quote-unquote' something from the Giants, Ken wants to know every detail about it, which is a good exercise for me because I've got to go back and make sure I remember what the heck I'm doing."
At the NFL owners' meetings last month in Southern California, there was a mini-reunion of Stull's Mizzou mafia. Reid has a place near the site where the owners' meetings were held, and his wife held a surprise birthday party for him. Spagnuolo attended, and so did Stull.
"I can't take credit for Spags," Stull insists. "Other than the fact he just was friends with our staff."
Re: "'You've got to tell me everything now,'" .. Said Flajole to Spags ..
Everytime I read anything new about Spagnuolo and his history, I can't help but like the guy even more and think how great of a person he is. I feel like he is going to turn out being a special coach. I believe his future success with us will be greatly deserved. These players will not only be playing for the team but also for their coach.
I can't wait for the transformation the team will go through this upcoming season.
Bring on training camp already, this fan is eager for some football!
Re: "'You've got to tell me everything now,'" .. Said Flajole to Spags ..
the desires to be HC in the NFL of Linny & Spags seems like worlds apart!
id compare Spags to being like Dracula...working through the night for years to get what he wants and never gonna stop till someone kills him!
on the flip side theres the quivering Linny, the confused virgin maiden..being drawn to it but not understanding why...just aimlessly going around with a blank expression on his face...in any other aspect of life id want the virgin maiden...but when it comes to our HC i want the Drac man!
Re: "'You've got to tell me everything now,'" .. Said Flajole to Spags ..LA RAMMER
It's Jim not Chris
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