Steve Spagnuolo made one last desperate plea to keep his head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams. The owner of a 10-37 record told Fox Sports Radio on Saturday that he plans to be in St. Louis for the 2012 season. Ultimately, that's Stan Kroenke's decision to make, and the talk right now is that Spagnuolo will get the boot after the season ends.
That's where my heart is. That's where my dedication is, and drive. You know, when I came here, this was never about me. . . . I was very blessed to share an experience in New York where we won a Super Bowl and have that ring that everybody's shooting for. I came here in hopes that the people here would be able to experience that. So what drives me is being able to bring that for other people, and we hope to continue to do that.
Despite no end of rumors and chatter, some more credible than others, about Spagnuolo's future, it really has yet to be decided. Spagnuolo's plea ignores some of the repeated mistakes that put him on the hot seat. Frankly, it smacks of desperation.
It's frustrating that Spagnuolo would use the media to snivel about wanting to share success with the fans here. He never used the bully pulpit to raise the stakes of play, demand accountability or push the organization forward. Instead, week after week, loss after loss, Spagnuolo repeated the same mantras that led to the failures in the first place.
Bryan Burwell at the Post-Dispatch penned a long apologia last week, pleading for the Rams to keep Spagnuolo. Ironically enough, the columnist points to Spagnuolo's leadership as the reason to not to fire him, his leadership in the face of a losing record and a losing culture at Rams Park.
Spagnuolo is not liked by the majority of players on the Rams roster, other than a handful of the players he's brought over from his previous coaching stops. The Rams are fortunate enough to have a core of professionals who realize there's little to be gained from criticizing a coach publicly, especially in a league where that could cost a player money in future contracts.
Burwell latches on to the comparison with Dick Vermeil. Who turned the Rams into a Super Bowl winner after just nine wins in his first two seasons. Obviously, he's ignoring the time difference here. Vermeil and the Rams got it together after two years. The Spagnuolo-led Rams are still seeking answers as they wrap up their third year. When you're being paid a $2 million annual salary, you only get so many mulligans. Teams sink when they try to hang onto well-paid draft busts too long, and doing the same with coaching busts would produce equal, if not worse, results.
A few tweaks to the coaching staff under Spagnuolo, some better roster moves and the Rams will have it in 2012, according to Burwell's hallucination. Nevermind the fact that they've had ample opportunities to do just that. The McDaniels hiring was supposed to improve the offense. A bumper crop of free agent additions was supposed to improve the offensive line and shore up a weak run defense. We're supposed to shrug that off, and think the same people who did things wrong for three years would finally get it right in year four?
Jim Thomas pens a more accurate portrayal of the Spagnuolo era in today's Post-Dispatch. He points to other teams that did manage to overcome a similar plague of injuries. He points to personnel decisions that backfired, forgoing playmakers in the draft, cutting promising young rookies at the behest of a coach desperate to win. And despite Burwell's admiration for Spagnuolo's leadership, Thomas also points out tension inside the building at Rams Park. Spagnuolo has been described to me, by people familiar with the situation, as "paranoid" and "insecure." That hardly sounds like a leader deserving of a contract extension.
Ultimately, the decision is a financial one. Spagnuolo doesn't make what a number of his counterparts around the league do, but at $2 million per year, he's not getting paid merely to keep trying. The Rams had to buy up unsold tickets this week in order to prevent a local television blackout. More of the same from Spagnuolo and the team next year, and the coach's $2 million contract will end up costing the team much more than that in lost ticket sales, declining television ratings, clearance rack merchandise and the death of fan interest which would be a death blow to hopes of getting a stadium solution worked out or even making a 2015 flight back to L.A. impossible.
Firing Spagnuolo won't solve the Rams' problems. It's important to think of firings as a beginning rather than an end. The real work comes in days and weeks afterward when Stan Kroenke et al have to find competent people capable of putting the Rams on the right course.