Great Debates: Should Spagnuolo be Fired (Part Two)

As promised, here is the second round of the chat Pekka and I had about Spagnuolo. It is the same format as last time, except now he is the one asking the questions (it flipped; novel concept- I know). Are you ready for another 5000 words of Spagnuolo? Of course you are.

Hit the jump to see the second round of questioning.

When a coach takes over a team that drafts in the top two seemingly every year, how many years should he be given to change the culture and start winning games regularly?

Eric:

I think three years is the maximum a coach should be given. Unless some massive calamity strikes the team, a good front office/coaching staff should be able to fix the problems a team has within three years. Assuming they draft at the top of the league, that's three top talent picks. If you can hit on those, it creates a great nucleus to work around. The ability to draft at the top of the league, especially now considering how the 1st round is one day, 2nd is another etc., really gives you an advantage in terms of how you can work the draft.

That being said, the Rams had the talent of a JV team when Spagnuolo came on board. So I'd say three years is the amount of time he should be given. He's had plenty of time to create his defense, to create his team, so I'd say this team is the result of his hard work.

Pekka for Pontiff:

I agree with your three year time frame. At the end of the third year after a new head coach has been hired, the team should resemble his work. And that's exactly why we should keep Spags. Huh you ask?

Well, if I recall correctly, there was some lobbying last year that Spags should be considered as a coach of the year candidate for taking the hapless Rams to within one win of winning the NFC West and making the playoffs. Well, the same guy is coaching this year's Rams. It's unfortunate, and we have all been monumentally disappointed with the way this year has gone, but it's all been caused, in my opinion, by an insurmountable comedy of errors.

I'm not going to get into all the injuries by name, but this has had a huge impact on the performance of this football team. Another factor has been the addition of a new offensive coordinator, whose system is not similar in any way to the offense we played last year. This hurt our offense terribly early in the season, as did the lack of WR talent, and the terrible offensive play has been accentuated by the horrible rash of injuries to the OL, the few quality WR's we have (Salas, Amendola and DX), Steven Jackson and even Sam has missed ~4 games. We don't have the depth to overcome this kind of plague, nor should we expect to have it within three years of being an expansion team. That has shown up this season.

In addition, the 10 corners on IR have been brutal to the defense. Corner blitzing is one of Spags' signature moves, and we've been able to do none of that this year because of the personnel "status." Thus, last year was a strong indication that this team is moving forward...but its fucking head got chopped off early in the season by injuries and disorganization from a new offense system.

To paraphrase, I don't understand how you can go from being a coach of the year candidate to a bum. That makes no sense to me.

When evaluating the performance of a struggling football team and when considering the ways to become successful, how do you discriminate between the successes/failures of the GM, head coach, and coaching staff?

Eric:

That is an incredibly hard question, because very often they blend together. For example, a HC might have a huge determination in who the team drafts, so he might have more blame than you’d think.

Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a CEO of a company say, "It’s not my fault the company is in the dump, I blame it on my lazy underlings." It’s Spagnuolo’s job as the HEAD coach to advise his assistants, to help the GM make good draft picks and free agent acquisitions, and to run the ship. If something needs to be changed, he needs to change it. Given how bad the Rams have been playing, and how little changes we’ve seen throughout the year, I’d say he is not doing his job well. You can blame the play calling on Josh McDaniels, but you can also blame Steve Spagnuolo for not taking care of business and making McDaniels call something that works. Now, whether or not anything works is a story for another time...

Pekka for Pontiff:

I agree with you, that is an incredibly difficult question, and that’s why I asked it. So you can speculate, and indicate that you "don’t think you’ve ever heard a CEO of a company say…." but the fact of the matter is that you don’t know, nor does anybody else on TST.

And that’s a huge part of the reason why I defend Spags. Dudes around here pretend like they actually have a clue about where blame can be placed for the clusterfuck that is this season. But they don’t know any better than the average monkey, and then they present their case on why it IS his fault as fact instead of conjecture.

In my non-humble opinion, that type of journalism is completely irresponsible, because so many (not all) people believe what he tells them to believe. They promote their own agendas and have clung onto the "blame Spags for everything" bandwagon.

I’m NOT saying he’s the greatest coach I’ve ever seen, but he, like all young head coaches is growing and learning and getting better, and since the Rams have show progress, he deserves to see this thing out.

Now back to the question.

You make a lot of great points in your second paragraph. The coach IS ultimately responsible for all this stuff. On the other hand, maybe Spags’ hands are tied and maybe the injuries have taken more of a toll than we realize. I mean, it’s romantic to say things like "next man up" or "coach needs to step up and tell people what to do" but do you think he has a plan B for the entire offensive line being injured and/or sucking? Does he have a plan B for the WRs not being able to catch the football when it hits them in the hands? Should he have a plan B for that? Can he coach that? In my opinion, it’s absurd to blame him for that. He hired McD, which everybody supported as a great hire. It is Spags’ responsibility to "advise" his assistants as you said, but what latitude does McD have? The O-line is a complete….I don’t know what. WRs can’t catch the ball. Our QB is out for the final 6 or so games of the year. What latitude does McD have with regard to his play calling? I would suggest that he just flat out doesn’t have any at all. Three yards and a cloud of dust? We’ve tried that and it didn’t work. Try and hit guys downfield? Well, we have no downfield playmakers (until a short while ago when we got Lloyd), and even if we did, the OL can’t protect SAM long enough so the WRs can even get downfield. The short game? Well, for the first 7-odd games we tried that and nobody could catch the ball. What are we supposed to do next? Go to the no-huddle again? Well when your WRs can’t get open, your decimated OL can’t block, your starting QB is injured and your RB is one-dimensional that won’t work either.

I provided a detailed response as to whether Spags advises BillyD well during the draft in the other post. He appears to have done that in spades.

I offer up a question to the readers: What do you think we should do offensively? What do you think would work at this point? And remember that Steven Jackson can’t regularly get one yard on 3rd or 4th down, so that’s not an acceptable answer.

How can anybody in their right mind not take injuries into consideration as a cause for the Rams' performance this year?

Eric:

You definitely have to take the injuries into account this year. The Rams have what, 14, 15 players on the IR? Most of them starters or key contributors? There isn’t any way that the injuries HAVEN’T hurt the Rams.

Of course, as a fan, you’ve got to see something on the field. The Rams have displayed nothing. Not now, not even week one. They were destroyed by the Eagles, and never looked forward. That was with a healthy line, with a healthy Bradford, with a mostly healthy team. Did the Rams adjust? A little. But when you leave in Justin King after giving up three touchdowns to a rookie who had never touched the ball before in his career (and then leave him in as a starter, again, and again, and again) it questions your ability to make those snap judgments that can win games.

And yes, I understand every CB on the team was injured at that point. But could it really have been much worse to play someone else other than Justin King?

Pekka for Pontiff:

I would argue that we did show some moxie early in the year on offense. Remember the no-huddle offense? Remember the Giants guys faking injuries cause we were going through them like a hot knife through butter? A couple of bad miscues on offense against the Eagles and Giants and Ravens resulted in defensive touchdowns, and you could argue that these were game changers in the Eagles and Giants games. Is that the coach’s fault? I suggest that it is not.

And then the injury stuff started (actually it started before that, but who cares, right?) hitting all at once and 2-3 key guys a game were going down for extended periods. And from the very start of the year our WRs and Kendricks could not catch the ball. Key drops at key times in the game also cooked our goose early. Is that a result of poor coaching? I dare suggest that you can’t coach catching either. But that’s just me. In fact, after (tragically in hindsight) losing Amendola, a coupla games later Salas started looking like a great young WR. But alas, he also died. And then Pettis started looking pretty good for us in a limited role.

And you made your own disclaimer about Justin King in the Baltimore Ravens game. Should Spags have told King to not let Smith get behind him three consecutive times in the first quarter? Probably should have…I’ll give you that. To King’s credit, he is better today than he was on that day…lol.

Why did you [Eric] change your mind that we shouldn't fire Spags? Alcohol? Not taking your medications? What?

Eric:

Divine intervention? Who knows. I know Spagnuolo hasn’t done a spectacular job; his record speaks for himself. However, he has had his defense ready to play. The team fights for him. I don’t think I know better than the team, so I’ll defer to them. If they are willing to keep playing for him even when the season is so obviously lost, I’m willing to see what a 4th year of Spagnuolo looks like.

Of course I think there are some valid concerns with the team’s coaching staff. Something MUST be done. Is it time to hit the red button and nuke the team back to the stone age? Of that I’m not sure.

Pekka for Pontiff:

First his 10-36 record is not appropriate to bring up. You can’t blame him for that God-awful mess he inherited, and that record is laden with confounding factors that most people don’t want to bring up. Thus, if people wanna throw that in my face, using a record of 9-21 is most appropriate. That’s one good year and one bad year. But you can’t tell me that Spags went from a coach of the year candidate to a complete bum in a single year. But that’s what y’all are telling me. And I’m just not buying it. Not yesterday, not today and not tomorrow. If shit goes south next year, and it can’t be blamed on the HUGE number of confounders that are present this year, then y’all won’t hear a peep out of me. I promise.

In closing, Eric said, "The team fights for him. I don’t think I know better than the team, so I’ll defer to them. If they are willing to keep playing for him even when the season is so obviously lost, I’m willing to see what a 4th year of Spagnuolo looks like."

If Eric can change his mind, then y’all can too. At the very least, we have boatloads more talent today than we had 3 years ago today, and that is because of Spags, thereby justifying another year as head coach. Think about it and you’ll realize we’re right. No further questions Your Honor.

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