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  • A New Rams PLan

    A new Rams plan

    By Jim Thomas

    One of the first things you notice on the practice field is the ever-present pencil. It's resting on Steve Spagnuolo's ear. Or in his hand.

    He'll squat like a catcher at home plate and start scribbling while a drill takes place 10 feet away at Rams Park.

    He's used the same kind of Papermate pencil for the last decade. You know, the plastic ones where you turn the end to get the lead out. Spagnuolo uses it on the football field to help his players get the lead out.

    What's he writing about?

    "I actually don't (know)," safety James Butler said. "But I know when he gets up to speak to the team, he has a list of notes. So I don't know if he's writing down in practice what's going on or what. But he's always writing down notes."

    And then there are the practice "props."

    — The long plastic strip that's placed at the line of scrimmage, with the letters T-G-C-G-T on it. (As in tackle, guard, center, etc.)

    — The red cones placed several yards behind the line of scrimmage. (Players not involved in the play must stay behind the cones.)

    — The footballs with the tips painted white. (It's to get defensive backs in the habit of catching the ball at the tips.)

    — The "beeper box," which goes off when the quarterback has held the ball too long during 7-on-7 passing drills. (It can be calibrated for 3-step, 5-step and 7-step drops.)

    You look at all this, and you wonder if Spagnuolo was the type of kid who took a lot of notes, kept his room clean, made his bed.

    "I probably would say yeah," Spagnuolo said, flashing a "you got me" look at the questioner. "I was actually one of those people that went to class. I can't sit here and say I didn't go. I did. And I always took notes. If I didn't take good notes, I wasn't going to do good. Because I had to study. I wasn't a natural learner."

    The bed making?

    "I don't know why I remember this," Spagnuolo said. "(Maybe) because my mother used to say it to people. I made my bed every day till I got to be like 15 or 16 — whatever that age is (for teenage rebellion). And then all of a sudden I became not quite as consistent."

    So yes, Spagnuolo always had a clean room.

    "I don't know, I operate a little bit better that way," he said.


    Now, at age 49, Spagnuolo is trying to make the Rams operate a lot better as a rookie NFL head coach. The task is daunting to say the least. This is a franchise that hasn't been in the playoffs since 2004, hasn't had a winning season since 2003, and has lost 27 of its last 32 games.

    As he tries to lay the foundation for success, attention to detail is a critical component of Spagnuolo's rebuilding project.

    "Let me put it to you the way I say it to the team," Spagnuolo said. "I firmly believe that in the NFL, it's built on parity. That's what the league wants. That's what makes it so exciting — that at the beginning of the year, pretty much everybody's equal in talent.

    "If you stay healthy, all things being equal, to me the difference in winning and losing would be the details. It's not a cliché. I'm not trying to make anything up; I just firmly believe that. Because you put two equal teams out there, it's going to be the team that's detailed, focused, doesn't make any mistakes, etc., etc., etc., that's going to win the game."

    That's why Spagnuolo jots down his notes, constantly tells the players to "focus and finish," and harps on the little things.

    "Some people are like: 'Why's he worrying about that?'" long snapper Chris Massey said. "But it's good, because the little things and all the small details he keeps preaching to us are going to pay off in the long run."

    For example, Spagnuolo has made it a habit of attending every special-teams meeting — from start to finish, according to Massey.

    "He hit us this morning with our field-goal protection in a preseason game," Massey said, a few days before the Atlanta game. "Just the little things that we were doing wrong. ... I mean, he doesn't let anything get by him."

    So you better get it right. And you better be on time. To wit, one of the training camp coaching interns showed up late for a team meeting at the start of camp. He was immediately dismissed.


    Yes, Spags runs a tight ship. So much so that he's already earned a nickname to that effect from his players — the Dean. As in Dean Spagnuolo, head of the Rams' "campus" in Earth City. The Dean isn't a yeller or a cusser on the practice field or in the meeting rooms, but he gets his point across.

    "He tells it just like it is," center Jason Brown said. "I mean, brutally honest. But whatever he sees out here on the football field, he's not going to sugarcoat it. He lets us know exactly what we need to get done to win."

    Players say he has the "coach's glare" down pat. And Spagnuolo hits the hole — his speeches are crisp and concise, in other words the polar opposite of the long, meandering talks from predecessor Scott Linehan that quickly had players rolling their eyes and looking at their watches.

    "There's no need to beat around the bush," tight end Randy McMichael said. "Spags gets to the point and goes directly to what we need to work on. That's his style. Let's get to work, go through the details, let's put the work in on the field."

    There's no doubt Spagnuolo has the players' attention. There's no doubt the players are buying in. His success as New York Giants defensive coordinator — complete with Super Bowl ring — brings instant street cred into the locker room.

    But how will Spagnuolo deal with a three-game losing streak? What happens if there's an off-field issue that garners instant headlines? Or the injuries pile up? What happens when he gets pounded in a dozen different directions by a variety of issues — some big, some small, some medium — that pop up out of nowhere on a daily basis?

    "He's not going to flinch," said Rams general manager Billy Devaney, who hired Spagnuolo in January. "You know there's going to be bumps in the road. There is for just about every team.

    "He will be the same. I mean, it's not going to be a roller coaster. And that was part of the lure. He'll be like a rock. He hasn't changed one bit — from the first meeting with the team to the first preseason game, and it'll be the same way going into the first regular-season game."

    Nonetheless, there's always the possibility that even if a lot of things go right, even if Rams players embrace the details, that they simply won't be talented enough to win many games this year. When things get a little rough over the course of a season, will the players still "buy in"?

    "That still is the challenge that we know we're going to face," Spagnuolo said. "I'm sure somewhere along the way here, something's going to happen. There is an unknown that's going to go on here.

    "I can probably guarantee you that I'm going to pick up the phone and I'm going to call Andy Reid, and I'm going to call Tom Coughlin. I may call Brad Childress. I'll use as many resources as I can to ask, 'Hey, have you gone through something like this? What do you think? What's the wisest thing to do?' "

    And when he does, Spagnuolo will pull out his pencil, and start taking notes.

Related Topics


  • Alec22
    Rams Staying the Course
    by Alec22
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    By his own admission Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo can often have the sound of a broken record.

    Each week, win or lose, rain or snow, no matter the circumstance, Spagnuolo squares his jaw, focuses on the task at hand and approaches every game the same way.

    More than halfway into his rookie season as a head coach, Spagnuolo has never strayed from the team-first ethos he installed from the day he arrived in St. Louis way back in January.

    In the face of plenty of adversity, Spagnuolo has uttered nary a discouraging word and anyone looking for a full-throated, raging outburst should look elsewhere. And a little prosperity hasn’t had the opposite effect, either as Spagnuolo hasn’t come close to any type of braggadocio.

    “I have had my moments (of frustration),” Spagnuolo said. “But I think there’s a professional way to do it. I think everybody in this business should be respected for the jobs they have. I think any business is about respecting each other. I don’t see any reason to go off the cuff. I keep that to myself. Part of what we talk about as a team is being a poised team. You can’t be a poised team if the head coach isn’t poised.”

    Regardless of the record, if there’s one thing that has remained constant in this first year under Spagnuolo’s guidance it’s his and his team’s uncanny knack to remain unfazed by any possible distractions.

    Spagnuolo’s message reaches to the team, too. There have been no locker room or sideline blowups, only players staying relentlessly positive and focusing on the single goal of coming together as a team with the sole focus of finding ways to win football games.

    “Being a guy who has been here with the Rams now going for five years,” safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. “Some of the younger guys and some of the vets need to see loyalty and faithfulness from the guys that have already been here and that’s going to carry over throughout the locker room so you just build a team that is really focused on one goal and one purpose and being one.”


    At Spagnuolo’s initial news conference when he was introduced as the head coach, he made it clear the way he and general manager Billy Devaney wanted to build the team back into a winner.

    Topping the list was finding a way to build a team that was all about team. A team that would fill the locker room with players that care as much about the guy next to them as they do themselves.

    Spagnuolo put the Rams through a rigorous training camp that had them tackling in full pads from day one and continued to put the emphasis on building the team concept every day.

    It was easy enough for the players to buy into the system then because they knew Spagnuolo’s impressive resume coming from winning programs in Philadelphia and New York.

    “I think...
    -11-04-2009, 11:32 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams minicamp with a plan
    by RamWraith
    BY Jim Thomas
    Thursday, Apr. 02 2009
    For Steve Spagnuolo, it's never too early to look for leaders. His first
    minicamp as Rams head coach is as good a time to start as any.

    "We'll try to identify those leaders on our team, and hopefully, they'll step
    to the forefront in those tough times that you know you're going to have — no
    matter what team — in a 16-game season," Spagnuolo said. "I remember vividly
    going through it in Philadelphia. And I remember Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah
    Trotter, Donovan McNabb at a certain point in the season deciding that, 'Hey
    guys.' ... They did little things with the other players. Very unseen things,
    but it made a big difference."

    There certainly is a leadership void to be filled with the 2009 Rams. Veterans
    Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Corey Chavous and Trent Green have been released.
    Other veterans, such as La'Roi Glover and Dane Looker, are free agents who have
    not been re-signed by the club. (The Rams may revisit signing Looker after the

    "I believe that the underlying leaders surface once there's no leadership in
    front of them," Spagnuolo said. "Hopefully, there's some undiscovered secret
    leaders on this roster right now."

    Perhaps it's newly re-signed cornerback Ron Bartell. New center Jason Brown. Or
    safety Oshiomogho Atogwe.

    But over the course of five minicamp practices over the next three days at Rams
    Park, Spagnuolo will be looking for leaders. (The Rams practice twice today,
    twice Friday, and once Saturday.)

    "You'll look to see which guys jump in front (of the lines), which guys are
    encouraging other people," Spagnuolo said. "When I'm sitting in the back of the
    meetings, I'm going to be looking for who's taking notes — actually sitting and
    writing notes. The best players that I've worked with are great note-takers."

    During his decade of coaching in the NFL, Spagnuolo has observed that the
    players who are meticulous in their preparation are the ones who last the
    longest in the league.

    "Because they've figured it out — that it's as much from the chin to the
    hairline as it is anything that they do with their body," Spagnuolo said.

    In trying to foster an atmosphere of togetherness and teamwork, Spagnuolo said
    leadership has to come from several sources.

    "No matter what, it's never going to be about one person," Spagnuolo said.
    "It's always going to be about the makeup of the whole team. Sometimes I think
    we all make mistakes when we focus on one position. We know the glory position
    and the one that's out in the forefront is the quarterback position, but...
    -04-02-2009, 04:12 AM
  • mikhal5569
    Probably The Best Article I've Read All Year
    by mikhal5569
    Spagnuolo has Rams on right track.

    Don Banks.
    First-year Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has*team on right track - Don Banks -
    ST. LOUIS -- One of my favorite things to do on an NFL training camp tour is to visit a team that features a rookie head coach, as the Rams do this year after hiring ex-Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo this offseason. Though I'm usually blowing through camp in a day or so, you can often learn a lot from watching those early days of a new regime, seeing whether or not the veterans on that team are buying what the new guy is selling, and seeing a first-time coach in the process of finding out who he can and can't count on.
    True, trying to take an accurate temperature reading of an organization's new program after interviewing a handful of players for a matter of minutes is your basic snap judgment, writ large. It's far from foolproof. But sometimes it can be dead on.
    For example, after stops at both the Falcons and Ravens training camps last summer, I came away believing that rookie head coaches Mike Smith and John Harbaugh both had a pretty good handle on what it was going to take to turn Atlanta and Baltimore around, and that they had already put the wheels in motion. It's not that I saw 11-5 seasons coming for both, far from it. But I did see two teams that were in the process of fully buying into Smith and Harbaugh's approaches, and I sensed it would pay dividends at some point.
    In an inverse way, the same was true for the 2007 Falcons, who I also paid a camp visit to, in order to discover what the new Bobby Petrino era was all about in Atlanta. One day there and I had the feeling trouble was on way for the Birds that season, thanks largely to the degree of skepticism I heard coming from key Atlanta veterans. And you know how that story turned out: Petrino's rookie season was his only NFL season, as his 13-game tenure was a debacle of epic proportion.
    All that said, I'm ready to make the call that Spagnuolo seems like the right man for the job that faces his downtrodden Rams. While their NFL-worst 5-27 record the past two years breeds a certain amount of willingness to follow anyone with a plan, the Rams convinced me that Spagnuolo has been pitch perfect so far in his make-over efforts in St. Louis.
    "I was talking to someone in the locker room two days ago, and I said, 'He hasn't told us a lie yet,' '' Rams second-year defensive end Chris Long told me Thursday afternoon, after another two-a-day practice was in the books. "Everything he's said has been on point. I thought we bought into Spags the minute he walked in the door. I had never heard him talk or seen him before, but I knew where he had been, and that resume spoke for itself. On top of that, he's a man who treats people with respect, and when he speaks, guys listen and really embrace his notion of respecting team.''
    Watching Spagnuolo work a practice is like watching...
    -08-09-2009, 06:52 AM
  • MauiRam
    Bernie: Spagnuolo ready to tackle season ..
    by MauiRam
    By Bernie Miklasz Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:35 am

    Steve Spagnuolo is absolutely, positively ready for his second season as the Rams' head coach.

    We know this because he's sleeping in the bathroom again.

    Umm ... the bathroom?

    Yes, it's tucked in the back of his office on the second floor at Rams Park. The bathroom has the usual amenities, including a shower, a lavatory and toiletries. But last season Spagnuolo added a single bed.

    And when the coach stays up late at the office, reviewing video, he tries to sleep in the bathroom for a few hours to save time and make a quick pivot back to work in the morning.

    Not that a 1-15 rookie coach can sleep peacefully. When I asked Spagnuolo what it was like to go 1-15 last season as a rookie coach, he laughed and pointed to the bathroom. "You see that small little room? I spent some time back there," he said.

    Probably getting sick to his stomach from the pain and anguish of losing. Or perhaps it was his refuge. Spagnuolo would close the door and try to sort everything out in his mind.

    Emotionally and mentally, Spagnuolo absorbed quite a beating last season. His relentlessly upbeat nature was tested as never before. He won a single game. In the 15 losses, his team was outscored 426-148. Some of his friends wondered if Spagnuolo had made a career-smothering mistake by leaving his post as the New York Giants' successful defensive coordinator to take on such a thankless, hopeless job.

    "I don't think this way," Spagnuolo said. "I don't know about people saying that it might kill my career, because I simply don't think that way, go through life that way. I've always had to do things this way."

    Spagnuolo smiled, noted his diminutive stature and added, "At 5-8, and always having to overcome things, it's never been easy for me. I wouldn't know how to go into a situation where it was easy. I only know about starting from a tough situation and working from there. Maybe I function better that way. It hasn't been easy. It's been trying. Have I even wavered at times? Sure, I'm human. But I've never let it last long."

    It explains why Spagnuolo became a buzzsaw center on his high school ice hockey team at Grafton, Mass. He was an aggressive pest who would torment taller and more skilled opponents. He played second base on the state championship baseball team. He was a quarterback who ran the wishbone offense. Go ahead. Try to knock him down.

    This resolve carried Spagnuolo through coaching stops that took him around the world over a 27-year period before he became the Rams' coach. The odyssey took him to three countries, six colleges and four professional teams in small towns and big cities.

    When asked why he hired the largely unknown Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, Giants coach...
    -09-09-2010, 12:48 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, 04:29 AM