Steve Spagnuolo’s Grace Period Bookended by Losses to the Cardinals

Well, Rams fans, here we are again. Another Monday following an incomprehensible, expectation-defying loss. Where have we gotten to in our rebuilding plan? Exactly where we started from. 

I think we can say now that coach Steve Spagnuolo is sitting squarely on the hot seat. One of the hottest in football. All of the mitigating factors have been used up — the talent, the schedule, the injuries. All of those wells are running dry as we sit here and try to explain this loss to one of the very worst teams in football, who just happened to be starting their backup quarterback, a fringe NFL talent at best. 

Spagnuolo’s long-time detractors will point to his overall record as coach, a humiliating 9-31 at the 40-game mark. But that’s not an honest assessment of how he will be judged. That first season, the 1-15 year with Marc Bulger and a half-completed roster renovation, was a given. A sunk cost. We could not have expected better from Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi or Jimmy Johnson, with that roster and those circumstances.

No, the Spagnuolo regime will be judged on a 24-game body of work that began with Bradford’s drafting, and ends today. A period that begins and ends with disappointing losses to a badly quarterbacked Arizona Cardinals team. 

In that period of time, Spagnuolo’s record stands at 8-16. And any steps forward taken by the Rams (Bradford’s magical run of 11 TDs and 1 INT midway through 2010; the Rams taking a division lead in Week 16; overwhelming the high-powered Saints last week) have been immediately followed by a stumble and fall. We have a few individual standout performances, a few players whom we can still consider to be building blocks, but do we still have faith that this team as a whole is heading in the right direction? 

That’s the question I’m wrestling with. I don’t take “regime change” lightly. I often think that a team is rewarded by sticking with its coaches for longer periods of time even if they include some pain, as the Steelers did with Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, as the Titans did with Jeff Fisher, even as the Bears have done with Lovie Smith. Each of those coaches ended up taking their team deep into the postseason. 

That said, when change has been obviously needed, as it was with Scott Linehan, as it was with Mike Martz, as it was in the Rams’ dysfunctional front office of Zygmunt et al, I have found no use for blind loyalty, or for simple hope that things will turn around.  

The question is, are we there yet? And how will we know?

I pegged Spagnuolo’s task this season, to save his job, at the seven win mark. At the very least, this team cannot lose ground from last year. Of course we expect more, but to justify our faith in moving forward, we have to not take steps backward. Well, the Rams took a significant step backward yesterday. And in doing so, dropped a critically winnable game that would have added to that seven-win mark. It will be a lot harder to get there now.

It will be a lot harder for Spagnuolo to point toward signs of improvement, when we are exactly where we were a year and a half ago. Except now we’re a little bit older, and a little bit wiser, and a lot tired-er of running in circles.