ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 18: St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo watches from the sidelines in the second half of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 18, 2011 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. The Bengals defeated the Rams 20-13. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)
Oh boy. I can't even begin to imagine the can of worms I'm about to open up, but I'm going to write this anyway. For a long time, I've been in the mindset of firing Spagnuolo. But the more I think about it, the more I think the team should keep him.
I don't see any scenario where the Rams keep both Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo, but they should keep one of them. And that one person should be Spagnuolo. If you dare to hit the jump, I'll try to convince you.
First off, I'm going to talk about player progression. Now, I think we all know that Spags is NOT an offensive guy. I don't think he has an offensive bone in his body, and for that reason, I think he needs a strong minded offensive coordinator not named Josh McDaniels to help him succeed as a head coach. For that reason, I'm not going to look so much at offensive players, but more defensive players:
I'm no expert, but I strongly think that Spagnuolo has had a huge impact on Long. Two years ago, we weren't even sure if he would pan out. Now, he's among the leagues best in pressure and is turning into one of the best defensive lineman in the league. He has 13 sacks this year, even though he's been double teamed in almost every game and has little help on the inside.
Another Pro-Bowl quality player. The Rams picked him in the 2nd round a few years ago and have never looked back. He's clearly thrived in Spag's defense and is one of the best linebackers the Rams have had in a long time. I'm sure you can give credit to Spagnuolo and DC Ken Flajole (his specialty is linebackers) for his development.
Stewart has really shined this year, and has clearly qualified as a diamond-in-the-rough type player. Given where he was just a few years ago, you have to give some credit Spagnuolo, who has spent quite a bit of his career coaching defensive backs. This leads me to...
Sure, Fletcher has been injury prone. But when he has been healthy, he's been a quality starting corner. When opposite of Ron Bartell, the Rams have a good one-two punch on the defensive side of the ball (three-four if you include Darian Stewart and Quintin Mikell). When healthy, the Rams have a very good secondary with a good mix of young and veteran players.
We all know how the Rams draft. They assign a value to a certain position, and that value is the priority that they draft with. It wouldn't come to the surprise of any fan to think that both OLB positions are 10 and 11, respectively. Picked in the waning hours of the draft, Chamberlain is easily one of the Rams best special teams players. His progression this year as a defensive starter can't be overlooked either. While he isn't going to be an All-Pro, having a player like him on the team certainly helps when it comes to depth.
Another depth player, Gordy has become one of the Rams better corners. He clearly has progressed throughout the season and could see time next year as in the dime, or even nickel package based on his play this year.
Quinn's a raw player who has had problems against the run, but has still made an impression on the team. Its clear that his run defense problems have prevented him from starting full-time, but credit the coaching staff with utilizing him in every way possible, as evident by his three(!) blocked punts.
Of course, for every player like them, there is a Darrell Scott, a Justin King, or a Ben Leber. However, it's clear that when the injuries started to mount, players like Jabara Williams were cast aside to help fill gaping holes in other positions. Unfortunately, that is just how it works sometimes. Still, Spagnuolo's presence certainly can't be ignored, and the 5 defensive starters (and two key role players) I mentioned certainly have made an impact on the team.
It's clear that some of the players the Rams have cast off have had a big impact on other teams. Look at Larry Grant and Laurent Robinson, and you'll be puzzled as to why they didn't thrive in St. Louis. Is this Spagnuolo's fault? Well, that's questionable. Larry Grant certainly makes you question Spagnuolo's ability, but Laurent Robinson is another factor entirely. If the position coaches can't improve players, you can't expect a head coach to push everything aside on the team and focus on one player entirely. That is what positional coaches are for. So while Spagnuolo might be a decent head coach, his underlings are the ones you should really be worried about.
Another key fact to remember is that this team has stuck with Spagnuolo, even after you look at his record. They buy into his style and the team clearly plays for him. If the Rams wouldn't have had three epic-sized contracts in Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith, they most likely could have added more talent as well.
No, clearly the biggest problem this team has had is on the offensive side of the ball. Josh McDaniels has done a piss poor job of managing this side of the team, refusing to adjust any facet of his strategy to the clearly incapable Rams. This refusal has cost the Rams countless points, and has severely damaged Sam Bradford's ability. Spagnuolo is the boss, yes. But what would a defensive coach do? What could he do? I severely doubt he has the capacity to fire McDaniels. Nor do I think anyone on the team would be qualified to replace him in-season. I also don't believe Kroenke, who appeared to be a main factor in the McDaniels hiring, would appreciate Spagnuolo attacking his prized offseason possession.
On offense, the Rams have two key problem areas: wide receiver and offensive line. Jacob Bell and Jason Smith are likely on their way out. The prior, a Scott Linehan holdout, has done little to impress since he's been a Ram, and Jason Smith is a product of one of the worst drafts in recent history. They both had the dubious honor of being coached by Steve Loney, who I personally believe to be a horrible offensive line coach.
As far as the receivers go, they waited long enough to add Brandon Lloyd, but the loss of Danny Amendola certainly hurt the team more than anyone expected. It's hard to fill 10 holes when you only have 5 draft picks.
In conclusion, no Spagnuolo should not be fired. It most likely will not happen, but ideally, Josh McDaniels and select position coaches should be fired. Should Devaney stick around? That's debatable. But Spagnuolo was brought in for one purpose: to create a good defense. For all intents and purposes, he's achieved that goal, at least as well as you can when the defense is on the field for 45 minutes of every game and is missing every cornerback the team started the season with to injury.
If you ask me now, the Rams need to revert back to a WC offense, something Bradford clearly thrives in. They need to find new positional coaches for certain positions, and draft players like Matt Kalil to bolster the offensive line. If the offense can play decent, even mid-range, this team could win games. A lot of games. The record they have does not reflect (when healthy) the talent this team has.
Spagnuolo hasn't been perfect, but after inheriting a team absolutely devoid of any NFL talent and one currently facing countless injuries (not to mention a massive budget), could you really think of someone who could do any better? If his worst tick against him is that he can't control the basket-case that is Josh McDaniels, is it really a fire able offense (no pun intended)?
Dearest Stan, stop this madness. Nobody likes Dan Snyder, so don't act like him.
Note: This post went out WELL before I was expecting it to, and as such, it isn't complete (although I have added a little extra to it). Since it's already out there, I figure it might as well stay out there. There will be another piece with Pekka and I debating this topic tomorrow, so stay tuned.