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Rams Staying the Course

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  • Rams Staying the Course

    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 that he would even admit that we bought into his system,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “We know it’s going to be successful it’s just a matter of bearing with it. Once we start getting those wins, it will start to pay off. It’s a winning formula. He’s been with the (New York) Giants and Philadelphia. It’s not always easy but I think that the older guys around here know that it is a winning formula. We’ve all bought into it.”

    The more difficult task for Spagnuolo and the Rams is continuing to believe in the system even when adversity strikes.

    After starting the season 0-7, it would have been simple for somebody to start freestyling, whether it be a press conference blowup or some sort of a sideline argument. Frustration alone would serve as a reasonable excuse for such an act.

    But there hasn’t even been so much as something resembling a close call.

    “To me, that’s a credit to the players,” Spagnuolo said. “It is easy in this business to venture somewhere else, especially when you don’t have a lot of success. That’s why I keep going back to and keep saying that I love the group down there, the character, the commitment, the loyalty because if you have those things, eventually that will be the reason why you win. It won’t be about coaches or trick plays. It will be because what your core of players is made of. That will be the reason why we win.”


    Buying into the core values and beliefs being instilled by Spagnuolo is one thing, though it’s no small thing. The other part of that building process is diving into new offensive and defensive systems.

    Defensively, the Rams have made strides under the guidance of Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole.

    Rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has emerged as a force as the quarterback of the defense, end Leonard Little is racking up sacks with youthful zest, end James Hall is dominating from spots all across the line and the secondary is developing plenty of its young talent.

    “I think we are close,” Flajole said. “Now again, every week we come out here, we are not where we want to be yet. That is obvious, but I think from a mental standpoint when you see our guys do certain things, you kind of say, ‘Well we didn’t quite get that right last week or the weeks before but we got it right now.’ I see a natural progression which is encouraging. We’ve just got to continue to keep on that track and keep improving as the weeks go along.”

    On the other side of the ball, the Rams have been as advertised in their approach to the game.

    Running back Steven Jackson is having an MVP-caliber season against teams that have game planned entirely with the idea of stopping him on Sundays. A revamped offensive line has continued to grow together and a few young receivers including Laurent Robinson and tight end Daniel Fells have flashed glimpses of potential.

    That hasn’t necessarily translated into a lot of points but offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur believes the Rams are on the path to a breakthrough.

    “We need to score points and that is the focus,” Shurmur said. “We found a way to drive the football. We are eliminating some of the mistakes we made earlier in the year and now we just have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone. There is no magic formula other than we just have to be better at what we do.”


    One of the weekly initiatives that has been installed by Spagnuolo since he arrived is the idea of going with captains on a game by game basis. There are no players wearing the ‘C’ on the jersey.

    Spagnuolo didn’t want to separate any players from the pack and he also wanted a chance to get to know his players before he would declare anyone a leader.

    In other words, instead of Spagnuolo trying to identify leaders, he opted to let those leaders identify themselves through work habits and setting an example.

    “There’s leaders in there surfacing,” Spagnuolo said. “I think people recognize who they are. Those guys I credit as much as anybody with keeping it together because it’s the leaders in the locker room that do it. As coaches, we are not in there all the time. So when a young guy ventures the wrong way, a leader can pull him back in, that’s huge. That’s why you have to have the right people in the locker room and I think we have that.”

    Players like Jackson, Atogwe and center Jason Brown are among the many players who have stepped forward into a leadership role this season.

    Because Spagnuolo and the coaching staff has to spend so much time focusing on opponents and game planning, the emergence of those leaders has eased his work load a bit.

    “It makes it a lot tougher if you don’t,” Spagnuolo said. “I respect those guys a lot. The business they are in and what they do is not easy. It’s probably a lot easier for the coaches because we are in this building all the time. We don’t really feel the pressures of the outside. Our players leave this building every day and have Tuesdays off; they are around it all the time. Yet, they still find a way to keep the distractions outside. That’s a credit to them.”


    The process of building a team isn’t easy. It takes a lot of care and consideration. And because team-building isn’t something that is tangible or that can be quantified, it’s hard to know how far along you are in the process.

    Spagnuolo relies on little keys he can pick up on in determining just how far his team has come so far in his first season.

    “I usually gauge it off of the feel of practice,” Spagnuolo said. “Is the effort still there? Are we still practicing fast? Are guys on time? The little things that people would probably overlook, I look at them all the time. This team hasn’t cut corners, hasn’t looked for easy ways out. When you do that, it tells me they are still hungry to get things done and as long as we stay hungry, we have a chance.”

    So far, there have been no signs of that hunger going away. If anything, after getting the first win of the Spagnuolo era against Detroit, the Rams’ desire for more wins will likely only increase.

    “The thing is that every organization, every team, everything is a season,” Brown said. “Everything goes through a season. Right now, it’s a tough season but all seasons must come to an end. This storm that we are going through right now is not going to define us. We are busting our butts, we are working are hardest to make sure our ship gets going in the right direction and we stay headed that way.”

    Spagnuolo and his staff are constantly evaluating the things they are doing moving forward. There are lessons to take from losses just as there are from the wins. The bye week allowed for an opportunity to self-scout or study themselves.

    Each week provides another opportunity to develop whether it’s improved clock management for the coaching staff or fundamental tweaks for the players.

    While some of that stuff might change, the message and the tasks certainly won’t.
    “Well, I think that’s hats off to our coach,” Jackson said. “He’s a great leader. He’s making sure that no one drifts away from what we’re trying to turn around here. We knew going into the season that we were going to have our hands full. It’s a new scheme on both sides of the ball. It’s a lot of new faces in the locker room. Coach has really done a great job of making sure that we are all on the same page that’s first thing. He’s giving everyone a vision, getting everyone going in the right direction. I think we have that.”

  • #2
    Re: Rams Staying the Course

    I like the thought process of letting leaders emerge instead of just granting someone that spot because they are the qb, been on the team the longest or are a fan favorite...
    "The disappointment of losing is huge!"

    Jack Youngblood


    • #3
      Re: Rams Staying the Course

      I enjoyed reading that Spags has to be giving time, teams seems to be in a mode of giving a coach the quick hook. Teams may need to take a page from the steelers they stay with a coach for a while.


      Related Topics


      • r8rh8rmike
        A New Rams PLan
        by r8rh8rmike
        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...
        -08-30-2009, 03:11 PM
      • Bralidore(RAMMODE)
        Rams Learn Lessons for Future
        by Bralidore(RAMMODE)
        "For 16 weeks this year, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has had a laser-like focus on one thing and one thing only: the next game.
        That tunnel vision trickled down from Spagnuolo to the rest of the team and any discussion of something beyond the next contest was immediately dismissed upon mention.
        When Spagnuolo woke up Monday morning, though, he was left with the sobering realization that there won’t be another game to plan for until the start of the 2010 season, months and months away.
        “I wish we were getting ready to play another game,” Spagnuolo said. “I just want to play another game. When you lose, you crave and you hunger for the next opportunity to win. I talked about this a lot during the year. There’s nothing like being in a locker room of an NFL team after winning just because of everything that goes into it during the week and what the guys do together, just the craving for that feeling. Unfortunately, we will have to wait however many months that is to get that feeling again.”
        So it is that Spagnuolo and the rest of the Rams have already turned the page on the 2009 season and begun their preparations for the next step. Those steps include preparing for the start of the free agent period, scouting and evaluating college prospects and then making the first selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
        But before any of that can happen, the Rams will review what happened in 2009 and glean as many lessons as possible from what happened to improve their performance on the field in 2010.
        To each man in the Rams’ locker room, those lessons were different but the overlying theme remains the same.
        “Through all of the adversity we went through, unless I am missing something, the team, there wasn’t anybody jumping ship, pointing fingers, going off the deep end and that is a credit to them,” Spagnuolo said. “To me, that is the biggest thing.”
        Indeed, through the difficulties that inherently come with a 1-15 season, it would have been easy for any player or coach to go off the reservation and explode be it in the media, on the field or anywhere else.
        Beyond that, though, even when the chips were down and the Rams were long-since removed from contention for the postseason, the team continued to fight and battle as though it were in the thick of the race for the playoffs.
        While simply having a good attitude and remaining competitive when it’s tough won’t win you any games it is certainly a big part of the fabric of successful teams.
        “I learned something about the guys on this team,” defensive end Chris Long said. “We don’t have any quitters. You see it every week on television. You watch teams and things aren’t going well and people quit sometimes. I don’t feel like we quit. We have to get the football ironed out. That’s execution and stuff like that but I don’t fault anybody for their heart or their...
        -01-04-2010, 07:44 PM
      • 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
      • r8rh8rmike
        Rams Keep Effort Up
        by r8rh8rmike
        Rams Keep Effort Up
        Monday, December 21, 2009

        By Nick Wagoner
        Senior Writer

        As the ball came shooting out of the hands of Houston running back Arian Foster following a 13-yard catch and run, the eyes of rookie Rams defensive tackle Darell Scott immediately got large.

        It was as though Scott was about to sit down to a big meal, which, coincidentally, was something he’d been physically unable to do even had he wanted to in the days leading up to Sunday’s 16-13 loss to the Texans.

        Scott reacted immediately and hauled all of his 6’3, 312 pound frame as fast as it could go from near the line of scrimmage the 20 or so yards required to pounce on the ball.

        Ultimately, Scott fell on it at the Rams’ 8 but the fact that Scott was well enough to chase it down at all was nothing short of a testament to the effort these Rams are still putting in despite the 1-13 record attached to their name.

        “You talk about an effort play from a game that I don’t know if he even ate anything the three days before it,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “That was a pretty good indicator of what those guys have inside of them.”

        Effort doesn’t amount to a whole heck of a lot in the NFL. In fact, it’s probably the minimum requirement for what it takes to win an NFL game. Most teams that find themselves playing into January start with effort as the baseline and build from there.

        As with most things in life, when something goes wrong, the easy thing to do is give up, regardless of how well compensated you are or whatever prestige might go with a particular endeavor.

        For the Rams, that opportunity to call it a day has presented itself time and again this season. Yet, for many reasons, they have refused to pack it in and go quietly into the offseason.

        “That’s what I expressed to them in the locker room,” Spagnuolo said. “That means a great deal to me, the staff. I know it’s not easy especially for the vets. It’s not an easy thing to go through, not for any of us and yet they are able to dust themselves off, come back to work on Wednesday and get ready to play a game.”

        While that hard work and effort has amounted to just one win and a whole lot of respect from Spagnuolo for the players, those efforts aren’t going completely unnoticed around the world of football.

        To wit:

        CBS analyst and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher on the Rams: “The Rams are playing hard every week, and that is a reflection of their coach. I've been watching film on them and they are playing hard. As coaches, we are judged on wins and losses, but at this time of year, you're tired and beat up, and if a team is still putting out a good effort it's a tribute to their coach.”

        Or this excerpt from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column on “I love...
        -12-22-2009, 06:23 PM
      • MauiRam
        No time like now for Spagnuolo to get a win ..
        by MauiRam
        BY BRYAN BURWELL, September 27, 2011 12:30 am

        There will be plenty of time over the course of this NFL football season to dwell on the subjective topics like roster depth, draft-choice decisions and the relative value of the large and expensive men who have been hired by Rams general manager Billy Devaney to protect his franchise quarterback.

        But in the short term as the winless Rams try to fight their way out of this 0-3 hole and re-establish some faith that this really is their breakthrough season, there's really only one thing we need to concentrate on: head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

        Spagnuolo can supply all the answers to every question we have about his so-far disappointing football team, beginning with the preparation and results for Sunday's game against the visiting Washington Redskins. Now in his third season in charge, it's time for Spagnuolo to prove that he's right.

        Right about what?

        How about everything? He and Devaney are joined at the hip on everything, so all the personnel decisions that have been made by the GM — from drafting to free agent signings, from every roster decision big and small to every coach who has been hired and fired — have surely been made either with Spagnuolo in mind or with his implicit consent.

        They have cleared out the undesirables from the previous regime and gathered the sort of players who physically and mentally fit the head coach's wish list. So now it's no longer a matter for debate about whether you or I still believe he's the right man for the job.

        Those are all opinions.

        This season's won-loss record will be very plainly about proving that he can and will get the job done.

        These are his players, his coaches, his organization from top to bottom. So if this is his vision, he has to show that he can not only climb out of this 0-3 hole but stem the building perception that the Spagnuolo-Devaney era has hit the stall button and regressed rather than turning the corner toward becoming a consistent playoff-caliber franchise again.

        On Monday afternoon at Rams Park, Spagnuolo was offering no excuses for Sunday's horrid 37-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. "We've got a long way to go here," Spagnuolo told reporters. "We've got things we know we need to correct. Nobody's happy with the way we've played. We certainly all feel like we can play better. I did say to the team this morning that I'm confident when it's all said and done, this three-game swing right here will be something that we'll learn from and that will help us later. Those are three good football teams. I'd be very surprised if all three aren't in the playoffs. I don't have the crystal ball, but they're certainly all good enough in my opinion to be there. Maybe getting some of this battle tested work will help us down the road."

        He'd better hope so. But so far, what...
        -09-27-2011, 10:46 AM