If (probably when) the Rams fire Spagnuolo, they will be making a huge mistake.
Whoa. Bold words, but let’s get some perspective here.
There was a young guy in his first head coaching position, suffering through a dismal third season after having seemingly turned a corner with his team in year two. His young quarterback was getting mauled despite game plans that called for 6- and 7-man protections. He tried to reassure fans in his weekly press conferences that “We don’t need wholesale change. We may need to adjust some things and that will be our focus.”
His game management skills and use of the challenge flag produced head-scratching at best, howls of derision at worst. Most damning, he had the gall to take an active role in the dismantling of the team’s old roster, and worked hand in glove with the GM to sign the guys who were now not producing, and ready to turn on him. Perhaps the low point was being called a thin-skinned control freak for firing one of the team’s maintenance crew over a perceived slight.
Of course, I’m talking about Mike McCarthy, circa 2008. The same guy went on to coach his team to a 37-11 record over the last three seasons, won the last Super Bowl, and is currently managing the NFL’s next best shot at perfection.
Perhaps that experience motivated Packers writer Aaron Nagler of Cheesehead TV, to say what he did on Twitter on Tuesday morning, and then spend the next hour vociferously defending his words to cranky Rams fans who just want to bury their heads. A bit more of that exchange, for those who missed it, after the break.
Rams fans spent the morning after yet another awful loss in quiet, apathetic slumber, wondering if today might be the day Spagnuolo’s head might join Todd Haley’s and Tony Sparano’s on this week’s pikes outside the NFL’s walls. So needless to say, Nagler’s unprompted opinion hit me like a cold slap.
For those who don’t follow him, Nagler is a well-respected contrarian, a football thinker who banters regularly with the likes of Pro Football Talk’s Gregg Rosenthal, Yahoo’s Doug Farrar, CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and Mike Freeman, and other members of the hyperactive second tier of NFL cognoscenti that scurry around below the lofty thrones occupied by the likes of Adam Schefter and Peter King.
So basically, when a guy like this says something that runs completely counter to my thinking, it makes me want to know why. What followed was a very interesting dose of perspective.
Q (from me): If the Rams were your team, if this lost season was your season, how would you approach it?
Nagler: Approach what? The offseason? I’d draft well, and come back rested and ready. They need to get healthy more than anything.
Q (from @SportsbyWeeze): “Big mistake?” My question would be based on what? Coaching aside his decision making & personnel choices leave much to be desired.
Nagler: You just described Mike McCarthy after his first two years on the job. He just happened to have Brett Favre.
Q (from @Joben74): What do you see as the problem if not Spags’ poor decision making?
Nagler: McDaniels is the issue, more than anything. Spags makes a lot of the same decisions McCarthy did early on. He’ll learn.
Nagler’s ability to see coaching value in a guy with an embarrassing record mirrors a sentiment that Farrar made late in the broadcast last night: “I would like to see Spagnuolo get another shot as a head coach down the road, because I think he gets it — but this would be a tough situation for anyone.”
However, lest you think that all these out of towners are aligned in their praise for Spags, PFT’s Gregg Rosenthal jumped in with a more cold-hearted perspective.
@greggrosenthal: Spags’ D was a far bigger disappointment than O this year when it mattered, even when healthier.
Nagler: 2 years not enough to turn around what he inherited. Deserves 1 more year, imo. Plus – he’s a good coach.
As Rosenthal later pointed out, though, a big difference between McCarthy’s situation and Spagnuolo’s is their contract situation. Spags’ is up after this season, and it’s a tall order to ask for an extension when you have a mere ten wins to your name.
Another out-of-towner, Mike Sando of ESPN, touched on this point in his morning-after read: “Tom Landry (10-32-3) and Chuck Noll (14-31) turned similar starts into Hall of Fame careers, but the stakes are too high for 10-year plans.”
Ultimately, though, we have to turn back to the real and immediate pain of the St Louis perspective, and nobody summed it up better than Bernie Miklasz:
“If Kroenke wants to bring back a head coach who is 10-35 with more losses on the way, we wish him the best in trying to sell season tickets for 2012. St. Louis sports fans would rather eat dinner at Pujols 5 restaurant than sit through another Rams season like this.”