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Spagnuolo Sets the Course

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  • Spagnuolo Sets the Course

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Steve and Maria Spagnuolo call it divine intervention, some might say it was a simple twist of fate but through no intent of their own, the Spagnuolos were married at the world’s most famous Catholic destination four years ago.

    The trip to Italy for a wedding had come as planned. When the pair had decided to get married, they had decided they didn’t want a big, fancy wedding. In fact, they wanted to get away to the country of their respective heritages.

    So with much careful thought and planning, the couple opted to have the wedding in Italy. They wanted a simple ceremony in a Catholic church in Rome.

    For their marriage to be acknowledged in the United States, there were plenty of obstacles including enough paperwork to put Mead out of business.

    “Believe it or not, if you try to get married in another country, you talk about paperwork,” Spagnuolo said. “This paperwork around here is nothing.”

    Indeed, the task of getting married in Rome proved too difficult and the Spagnuolos had to call an off the field audible.

    As it turned out, that audible was as successful as any defensive call the Rams’ new head coach made in his two years as the wildly successful defensive coordinator of the New York Giants.

    In his research of the various wedding opportunities in Italy, Spagnuolo recalled a rule that allowed for people to skip some of the inane paperwork and be married. Of course, to do this, the couple had to go through the easy task of getting married at the Vatican.

    Sure, Vatican City is a country unto itself and was governed by its own rules but for most couples hoping to wed there, the nuptials were planned at least two years in advance.

    “We are talking about the Vatican but this is my simple mind,” Spagnuolo said. “If you walk in the main basilica is right there but there are eight chapels, four on one side and four on the other. I’m saying to myself well how hard can it be? Just throw us in one of those chapels.”

    Easier said than done. The Vatican only allows for two marriages a day, one at 10:30 a.m. and the other at 4 p.m. every day except Sunday.

    Fortunately for the Spagnuolos, a priest who had worked with Steve with the Eagles in Philadelphia had relocated and had connections at the Vatican.

    After forking over $200 for a best man and maid of honor to serve as witnesses, the Spagnuolos tied the knot.

    “That was an act of God, divine intervention,” Spagnuolo said.


    Growing up in Whitinsville, Mass., just outside of Boston, Spagnuolo was one of five children to mother Carol.

    From an early age, Spagnuolo was pretty much the All American kid. He loved sports, playing quarterback on the football team, second base on the baseball team and center on the hockey team.

    Like most kids in the area, he kept a close eye on the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Bruins and the Celtics.

    While sports were his outlet and an area of great enjoyment, Spagnuolo also excelled in the classroom as a straight A student. Carol Spagnuolo was a teacher and had piqued Steve’s interest in academics at a young age.

    Even as an eighth grader, Steve knew where his future would be.

    “Me and a buddy of mine wanted to go the Springfield College, get a phys Ed degree and come back and coach high school football,” Spagnuolo said. “That was the dream. When you are in eighth grade, that was the dream.”

    It was an attainable dream that didn’t seem far from Spagnuolo’s grasp considering his academic prowess and athletic ability. While he wasn’t the biggest kid in his class, Spagnuolo earned a reputation for his scrappiness whether it was running the wishbone as the Grafton High quarterback or buzzing around as the diminutive center for the hockey team.

    In the end, it was football that held Spagnuolo’s affection. He accepted a scholarship to play football at his beloved Springfield College, where he would play wide receiver and earned that long coveted physical education degree.

    One part of the dream was complete but when he took a job as an intern for the Washington Redskins in 1983, Spagnuolo’s dream began to evolve into something more.

    “I did the internship with the Redskins, got a taste for that and always had it in the back of my mind,” Spagnuolo said. “But I always had a love for the game.”

    It was in Washington where Spagnuolo first met a young scout named Billy Devaney. There, Devaney and Spagnuolo would engage in regular two-on-two basketball games against Wayne Sevier and Jerry Rhome.

    Suddenly, Spagnuolo envisioned something more for himself than returning to the high school ranks as a coach.


    Over the better part of the next 15 years, Spagnuolo found himself working in nearly every situation imaginable.

    Spagnuolo moved on to the University of Massachusetts as a graduate assistant, earning his Masters degree in sports management in two seasons there.

    From there, Spagnuolo bounced from college to college, mostly on the east coast with stops at Lafayette, Connecticut, Maine, Rutgers and Bowling Green.

    One decade after meeting Devaney, Spagnuolo finally got his foot back in the door in the NFL when Devaney hired him as a scout.

    Spagnuolo’s coaching ascension wasn’t limited to east coast colleges and NFL scouting departments, though. He spent a season as the defensive line and special teams coach of the Barcelona Dragons of the defunct NFL World League in 1992. In 1998, he returned overseas as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach of the Frankfurt Galaxy.

    Finally, after about 16 years of waiting, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid brought Spagnuolo aboard as a defensive assistant.

    Spagnuolo wasted no time in soaking up every bit of information he could get from Reid and quickly rose through the ranks. Working with Reid and legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, Spagnuolo learned the ropes of NFL defense and earned a reputation for his willingness to do whatever it took to win.

    “Jim was a mentor and is a mentor for me, because of who he is and how he coaches defensive football,” Spagnuolo said. “I wouldn’t be the coach that I am, I wouldn’t have had even a chance to have any kind of success as a defensive coordinator had I not worked with Jim. Just his passion for the game, the way he goes about it, his aggressive style certainly is something that I’d like to adopt.”

    Apparently, Spagnuolo adopted that philosophy quicker than he thought. After a brief flirtation with Minnesota’s defensive coordinator position, Spagnuolo accepted that same position with Philadelphia’s NFC East Division rivals, the New York Giants.

    Installing the same type of attacking, aggressive, exotic defense he learned under Johnson, Spagnuolo transformed the Giants defense into one of the league’s most feared units.

    And instead of simply falling in line with the basic tenets of Johnson’s pass rush packages, Spagnuolo took those basics and expanded on them.

    For example, Spagnuolo took the idea of third down pass rush specialists a step further, regularly employing four speedy defensive ends all across the defensive line so as to create mismatches across the line.

    “You could see when he first came in here, early on, that he is a stand-up guy,” Giants cornerback Corey Webster said. “We all had to earn his trust, but once we did, we began to play the aggressive style defense we all love to play. He is an aggressive coach by nature and that’s what makes him fun to play for.”

    By the time Spagnuolo’s defense had harassed and stunned the heavily favored Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl, he was one of the hottest coaching candidates on the market.

    Spagnuolo had a pair of interviews with Washington before withdrawing his name from consideration.


    As Spagnuolo’s defense put the cap on another strong season in 2008, finishing fifth in the NFL in total defense, the Giants earned the NFC’s top seed.

    Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Rams and new general manager Devaney had begun the search for a new head coach.

    One of the first names to come to Devaney’s mind was Spagnuolo but it never really occurred to Devaney that Spagnuolo would even be available because of New York’s winning ways.

    “I just assumed the Giants would be in the Super Bowl again,” Devaney said. “We talked about every conceivable candidate, coordinators, coaches that had been fired, college coaches. We went over every conceivable name. When his name came up, we thought he’d be great, he’d be a finalist right away but chances are I don’t know if we can wait that long. Chances are they are going to be in the Super Bowl. We didn’t spend the initial phase a whole lot talking about Spags.”

    When the Eagles upset the Giants in a NFC Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 11, Spagnuolo was suddenly available.

    While the Rams were interviewing candidates all over, Spagnuolo had already had preliminary discussions with Detroit, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Denver about their coaching vacancies.

    All the while, Spagnuolo was torn between assuring his coaching duties were tended to because of his responsibilities to the Giants.
    But with New York’s season at an end, Spagnuolo was free to speak with any team he wanted.

    Most assumed Spagnuolo’s was too sought after for the Rams to reel in but soon after the Giants’ elimination, his old friend Devaney had set up a “finalist” interview in Los Angeles.

    When Spagnuolo entered the interview room with Devaney, director of player personnel Lawrence McCutcheon, owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez and senior adviser John Shaw, he only knew Devaney.

    It was his job to win over the rest of the contingent. Four to five hours later, that’s precisely what he’d done.

    “It was a plan, it was a confidence,” Devaney said. “The leadership part came out. That was the thing everybody felt good about that was obvious. He was sincere and the biggest thing was he wanted to be a coach of the St. Louis Rams. That kept coming through. He was excited about it; he was going to embrace every facet.”

    Less than 24 hours after that interview, Devaney made his recommendation to ownership that Spagnuolo should be the next head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

    By Saturday, the sides had come to an agreement on a four-year deal for just under $3 million a year to make Spagnuolo the 23rd head coach in franchise history.


    Upon his introductory press conference on Monday afternoon, Spagnuolo represented everything Devaney had looked for in a head coach.

    As he set out on the search, Devaney had identified 11 traits he was looking for in a head coach. At the top of the list was leadership.

    A confident Spagnuolo stepped to the podium and laid out pieces of his plan for returning the Rams to past glory.

    The foundation for that turnaround? Something Spagnuolo refers to as the four pillars.

    “As a head coach, I will be committed to doing everything possible to bring success to this franchise,” Spagnuolo said. “I’m not about predictions, I’m not about bold statements, but we hope that we’re going to be about faith, character, core values and team first those will be the four pillars that we will hang our hat on.”

    In that one, Vermeil-esque moment, Spagnuolo had made it clear what he wants to accomplish as the head coach of the Rams. The emphasis will be on team, one group working as one toward a common goal.
    The task for Spagnuolo won’t be easy. But he and Devaney are the faces of a franchise that has needed someone to step forward and take the organization back to the heights it once reached.

    Spagnuolo will hit the ground running Tuesday as he and Devaney travel to Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl. There, Spagnuolo will spend most of his time searching far and wide for a coaching staff as he will likely not get many opportunities to leave his room.

    And though Spagnuolo and Devaney have a good idea of some names they are interested in and they’d prefer to get the coordinators in place first, they don’t plan to rush into anything.

    Included in that process will be formal interviews and discussions with each member of the current coaching staff.

    “That will be the first and foremost thing that we do,” Spagnuolo said. “To put a timetable on it, I think the bottom line is that we want to be able to get the best coaches that we can get. Sometimes, that means waiting. So, we’ll be patient. We’ll go through the process and hopefully get it done as soon as we can.”


    Last summer, Steve and Maria Spagnuolo took a weekend trip to Newport, Rhode Island. After getting settled into their hotel room, the Spagnuolos flipped on the television to catch the news.

    There, on the screen, was a familiar face being ordained as a minister in town. Spagnuolo instantly recognized the young man.

    “This is how you know God is in everything,” Spagnuolo said. “We just happened to be in Newport, Rhode Island. We turn the news on in the hotel room and my best man is being ordained on TV in Rhode Island.”

    Indeed, the best man Spagnuolo had never met but paid $100 for as a witness was right there on his television.

    Call it fate, call it destiny, call it whatever you want, Spagnuolo couldn’t help but get that same feeling he had when he saw his best man on that television when he found himself in that room interviewing to potentially become the next head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

    With one of his oldest friends in the league as the general manager and the opportunity to rebuild, Spagnuolo couldn’t help but think he was anywhere but the exact right place at the exact right time.

    “Things happen for a reason, you make decisions along the way as what you have laid out in front of you,” Spagnuolo said. “You will find that my wife and I are strong Christians and believe that God has directed us here. It’s not just about X’s and O’s and football. I think everything has happened in a way that is exactly the way it was supposed to happen.”

Related Topics


  • RamWraith
    More useful (and useless) info on Spagnuolo
    by RamWraith
    Compiled By Bernie Miklasz

    * Date of Birth: Dec. 21, 1959 in Whitinsville, Mass. He’s 49 years old.

    * To prepare for this job, Spagnuolo has spent the last 27 years coaching football in three countries, at six colleges and with four professional teams. The road included stops at Easton, Pa; Storrs, Conn; Barcelona, Spain; San Diego; Orono, Maine; New Brunswick, N.J.; Bowling Green, Ohio; Frankfurt, Germany; Philadelphia; East Rutherford, N.J.

    * His first NFL job was as an intern in the Washington Redskins’ player-personnel department in 1983. Among his duties: driving released players to the airport, making coffee, assembling the daily newspaper clips, charting plays during practice and stocking the refrigerators. "I was basically a gopher," Spagnuolo once said.

    * Billy Devaney must have noticed this valuable gopher. Devaney was working for the Redskins in 1983, and came to admire Spagnuolo’s work ethic and personality. After moving to San Diego to be the assistant GM, Devaney hired Spagnuolo as a Chargers’ scout.

    * Commenting about this "Where in the World is Spags" coaching odyssey, NY Giants head coach Tom Coughlin once said: "His background is what attracted me. Because he never really had a high-profile job and worked his ever-lovin' butt off."

    * Spagnuolo’s career highlight: orchestrating a nasty defensive assault on Tom Brady and the high-scoring and presumably unstoppable New England offense to spring a 17-14 upset in last year’s Super Bowl. The Giants sacked Brady five times in that one.

    * At Grafton (Mass.) High, Spagnuolo was virtually a straight-A student. And he played quarterback, running the wishbone offense.

    * Also in high school, Spagnuolo played second base on a state championship baseball team. On the high school hockey team, he played an aggressive, buzzing brand of center and didn’t shy away from contact.

    * In high school, Spagnuolo told his coaches and his pals that one day he’d be an NFL head coach. According to the New York Times, few who knew him doubted that it would happen. Spagnuolo would stay after practice on a daily basis, to go over the finer points of the team offense with coaches and teammates. High school chums told the Times that Spagnuolo was always able to rally his teammates around him.

    Said one of those friends, Mike Conway: "Steve is a brilliant, brilliant man. "He very easily could be at Mass General doing brain surgery instead of coaching football. You’ll never meet anybody smarter than him."

    * Spagnuolo played wide receiver at Springfield (Mass.) College.

    * Spagnuolo’s younger brother, Kevin, attends Harvard Law School.

    -01-18-2009, 07:26 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams hire the right guy in Spagnuolo
    by RamWraith
    By Bryan Burwell
    Sunday, Jan. 18 2009

    By 11:30 Saturday morning, it was all over. Jason Garrett — the man who barely
    12 months ago was the hottest man on the NFL coaching carousel — was being
    surreptitiously hustled out of town.

    He had arrived in St. Louis 18 hours earlier with the full star treatment, with
    TV minicams rolling, klieg lights glaring and reporters peppering him with
    questions about his prospects in the Rams' head coaching derby as he darted
    through Lambert-St. Louis International Airport baggage claim.

    But now those Friday night lights were gone, and the Dallas Cowboys' offensive
    coordinator was on his way out of town. He had no new job in hand, but no doubt
    a million questions buzzing through his head — the chief one being, "What the
    heck just happened?"

    If you love theatrics, you have to love the Rams, who are the only folks who
    can turn the simple pursuit of a new head coach into a brilliant Hollywood
    whodunnit, filled with heroes and villains, mystery men and fall guys, suspense
    and intrigue, confusion and .... well ... more confusion followed by careening
    plot twists that somehow led us to — we think, we hope, we pray — a true happy

    Introducing your new Rams coach: Steve Spagnuolo.

    I don't want to say I never saw this coming, because I did see this coming. I
    think we all saw this coming — in our wildest dreams.

    (Well at least I saw this coming once I no longer was under the seductive
    influences of a powerfully hypnotic "media lobbying" spell that apparently
    failed to influence only the most steel-willed among us).

    It was so obvious that this was the sort of happy ending for which most Rams
    loyalists were pining.

    The New York Giants' defensive coordinator was among that select group of
    high-profile up-and-coming assistant coaches on every NFL coaching wish list.
    Once it was clear the finalist list was being cut down to "Spags,'' Rex Ryan
    and Leslie Frazier, any of them would have worked. But concluding that "Spags''
    would end up the man was sort of like watching a good murder mystery, in which
    they dangled the best clue in front of you in the first scene and you had to
    figure it was just too darned obvious to be true.

    The Rams hiring the right guy?

    Nahhhhh. It never could happen.

    And the weirder-than-weird, eleventh-hour visit to Rams Park by Garrett only
    cemented the belief by all incurable Rams skeptics that a cloke-and-dagger plot
    twist was on the way.

    The Rams hiring the right guy?

    Exit stage left, Garrett. Enter stage right, Spagnuolo.

    Did the Rams...
    -01-18-2009, 07:20 AM
  • RamWraith
    'Go-fer' is now Rams' go-to guy
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Monday, Jan. 19 2009
    Young Steve Spagnuolo was working towards his master's in sports management at
    the University of Massachusetts but needed an internship to help complete his
    degree requirements.

    He got an internship that would have a profound effect on his career. In the
    summer of 1983, he was a personnel department intern during training camp for
    the Washington Redskins.

    "I worked directly with Charley Casserly, who was then assistant general
    manager," Spagnuolo told the Post-Dispatch Sunday.

    Casserly was promoted to assistant GM just a year earlier, and lucky for
    Spagnuolo, re-instituted a club intern policy that has produced numerous league
    executives over the years. And now, one NFL head coach.

    "He and I just hit it off," said Rams general manager Billy Devaney, who was
    then a Redskins scout. "He was a good guy."

    And a "go-fer" for the Redskins.

    "He'd make the airport runs," Devaney said. "He picked players up that were
    coming in, or took players to the airport that were cut. He was the absolute
    'go-fer.' We used 16mm film back then; if the tape broke Spags was the guy who
    spliced the tape together."

    After hiring Spagnuolo on Saturday as their new head coach, the Rams are hoping
    he can help splice together a team that finished 2-14 this season and has lost
    27 of its last 32 games. He will be formally introduced as the team's head
    coach today at Rams Park.

    "I can tell you this," Spagnuolo said. "I was very blessed and humbled that I
    was able to talk to various teams throughout this process. What I was looking
    for in terms of a final decision was people. How it would be working with the
    people? It was a gut (feeling). I knew inside this was the right thing to do."

    Spagnuolo, 49, said it always was a career goal to become a head coach.

    "Absolutely," he said. "When you get in this business, most of us — almost all
    of us — have the drive to be a head coach. If you don't, I don't know if you
    have the push you need. I feel I'm a very lucky and blessed guy."

    Spagnuolo, who comes to St. Louis after two seasons as defensive coordinator
    for the New York Giants, turned down a head-coaching offer from the Redskins
    last year at this time. This offseason, he interviewed with Denver and the New
    York Jets. So why the Rams?

    "No. 1 thing was gut feeling," Spagnuolo said. "The people, my relationship and
    closeness with Billy. I think there's a lot of good players there."

    The Giants defeated the Rams 41-13 at the Edward Jones Dome in...
    -01-19-2009, 05:30 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams get coach who stands for something
    by RamWraith
    By Bernie Miklasz
    Tuesday, Jan. 20 2009
    The hiring of Steve Spagnuolo seems to be playing well with the public. The
    phones lines at Rams Park were busier than usual Monday, and Rams Vice
    President Bob Wallace says that 95 percent of the calls were positive. Fans
    even inquired about purchasing tickets.

    So in that regard, the decision to go with Spagnuolo already is paying off. His
    arrival generated some positive buzz for a slumping organization that angered
    the fan base with a 5-27 record over the last two seasons.

    Spagnuolo looked like a head coach when introduced Monday. He was confident. He
    had presence. The room wasn't too big for him. He projects a sincere strength
    but pulls it off without being arrogant.

    Spagnuolo didn't have that perplexed, nervous, whoa-boy look that reminds me of
    a lyric from the song "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads: "And you may ask
    yourself — well ... how did I get here?"

    Spagnuolo knows he belongs. And that's a nice sign.

    Then again, I thought Scott Linehan did fine when he was introduced as the Rams
    head coach in 2006. So what makes Spagnuolo different from the hopelessly
    ineffective Linehan? They were both career assistants, right?

    True. And there are no guarantees about any coaches who make the jump. Some
    become John Harbaugh (Baltimore), Tony Sparano (Miami) or Mike Smith (Atlanta)
    and have immediate success as head coaches. Others become Linehan or Rod

    So again: Which way will Spagnuolo go?

    Is Spagnuolo destined to be the next Harbaugh, one of his best friends in life?
    Or is he Linehan II?

    Since I am optimistic about Spagnuolo's chances, I'll give it a shot:

    — Spagnuolo has a philosophy. He wants to play the game a certain way. That's
    crucial. GM Billy Devaney and Spagnuolo are aligned and will work to give this
    team an identity. I never got that from Linehan. He was here for two-plus
    seasons, and I never figured out what he stood for, or what he wanted the Rams
    to be. Those Rams never had a collective team personality. Spagnuolo is the
    exact opposite. He definitely knows what he wants. He knows what he wants his
    team to be.

    "OK, this is 'Spags' football identity," Devaney said. "It's simple but
    effective. Knock people down. Hit them in the mouth. Give the ball to a big
    back and run the football. Protect your own quarterback. Put extreme pressure
    on the enemy quarterback. That's his team. A blue-collar, beat-you-up kind of

    — As the respected defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, Spagnuolo
    stood at the edge of one of the fiercest battlefields in...
    -01-20-2009, 05:29 AM
  • RamDez
    Spagnuolo Set for First Draft as Head Coach
    by RamDez
    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Only days before his first NFL Draft as a head coach, Steve Spagnuolo has been doing a lot of the same thing he has done for most of the time since he was named the leader of the Rams.
    That means, much like when he was interviewing potential coaches for his staff or looking at free agents, Spagnuolo has been neck deep in meetings. Position by position, Spagnuolo has sat in on every pre-draft meeting with scouts, assistant coaches and general manager Billy Devaney.
    Like the rest of the offseason, it’s been something of an exercise in tedium.
    “It’s been a grind but it’s been a wonderful grind,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the best way to describe it. It is a grind. I have been used to it. I have seen guys go through it and with Andy (Reid) and Tom (Coughlin) they have gone through it. I know how they have done it, the ways they have done it. I have tried to do the same thing because you learn from people who you work with. I am enjoying it. Every day is filled. I can guarantee you that. My poor wife has had to do all of the unpacking of boxes. I haven’t done any of that yet. God bless her, I tell you.”
    The Rams’ increased emphasis on getting as much input as possible from the scouting staff as well as the coaching staff has made Spagnuolo’s presence as important as anyone’s.
    Soon after his being named head coach in January, Spagnuolo met with the scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Part of that process was intended to help give them an idea of what type of players will fit in to his vision for what the team would be like going forward.
    General manager Billy Devaney said that process was relatively pain free and the scouting staff was able to adapt quickly to figuring out what type of players would fit the mold of what Spagnuolo was looking for.
    In truth, there wasn’t a big difference between Spagnuolo’s ideas and what Devaney had already instilled.
    “It’s been tweaked a little bit, position specifics have been changed a little bit, but again the scouts have done a great job adjusting on the fly,” Devaney said. “Remember, they were out in August, September and October looking at players and evaluating players geared for a certain scheme and different coaches. So, they’ve had to, kind of in their mind when we came in for these meetings go back and when we got into the meetings and started talking about these players, we had to kind of preface by saying, not all the time, but in certain cases. You know what, I liked this guy a couple months ago, but for what we’re talking about right now, this guy’s going to play, we acknowledge that, but he’s not exactly what we’re looking for. So, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but again, I think the scouts have done a tremendous job of adjusting it on the fly.”
    The events of the past few months have also helped Spagnuolo get used to looking at the big picture...
    -04-22-2009, 01:30 AM