Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: September 16, 1:57 PM ET
Spags brings Giants flavor to Rams
By Ohm Youngmisuk
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Steve Spagnuolo needs advice on how to handle something with the St. Louis Rams, he'll sometimes reach for his cellphone and text Tom Coughlin.
It could be about anything from when to start practicing without pads late in a year to how to build a team schedule during the lockout.
"You would be surprised at how many decisions you make that you don't even think about when you are a coordinator or a position coach," the Rams head coach said. "You have things every day that you have to decide on, and nobody has done it better than Tom."
Perhaps that is why the Rams have what Spagnuolo describes as a "New York Giant flavor" to them. On Monday night, the New York Giants will face a Rams team they don't see very often, yet they will be familiar with some of the things the Rams do because of Coughlin's influence on Spagnuolo and their familiarity with the Rams' head coach, whom they still refer to as "Spags."
"I am totally indebted to the fact that [Coughlin] gave me an opportunity to be a coordinator in this league, and I benefited greatly from working for two terrific head coaches," said Spagnuolo, who spent nearly a decade with Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles before serving as the Giants' defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2008. "Had I only been in one system, that being Philadelphia for those eight years, and been blessed enough to get this kind of job, it would have been functioned as one.
"I was so lucky that I got to work with someone like Tom, who showed different ways and other ways to do it," Spagnuolo added. "There is a lot that goes on here that has a New York Giant flavor to it."
Spagnuolo, though, also left his finger prints on the Giants' defense. He showed the Giants how to use exotic blitzes, sometimes using four defensive ends and moving them around and rushing them from all over. Most importantly, he connected with his players on a personal level.
Spagnuolo, who still texts with some of his former players, helped the Giants win the Super Bowl in the 2007 season. When he left for St. Louis in 2009, the Giants' defense struggled without the popular coordinator.
Under his replacement, Bill Sheridan, the Giants' defense surrendered 40 or more points on five occasions in 2009. Players such as Osi Umenyiora clashed with Sheridan, who was replaced by Perry Fewell in 2010.
Since then, the Giants have praised Fewell for relating to them and allowing them input like Spagnuolo did so successfully.
"Perry did a great job of understanding how we had had success before he got here and kind of implementing that," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "It is important for us to have a defensive coordinator that can relate to players.
"We are defined by nature to say the least as a defense," Tuck continued. "We have some guys that have their own personalities, so it is very important to have a coach who can relate to the players."
Fewell's approach coming from Buffalo was already similar to Spagnuolo's as far as being a players' coach. But Fewell still reached out to Spagnuolo shortly after taking over the Giants' defense for some insight on the team's personnel and personalities.
"I am just me," Fewell said. "I communicate and treat people the way that I treat people. Obviously you are going to have a great relationship with a guy who comes in and wins a Super Bowl and you come back the next year and go 12-4. His credibility is well-documented. I called Steve when I got the job just to ask him about personnel and different things from one coach to another to help me learn New York and the New York Giants."
Spagnuolo certainly missed his Giants defense upon taking over the Rams. St. Louis went 1-15 in Spagnuolo's first season before improving to 7-9 last season.
The Rams' head coach has some building blocks, including franchise quarterback Sam Bradford.
He also has a couple of former Giants on his defense in James Butler and Fred Robbins.
"He has done a great job of trying to mold that football team, especially on defense," Tuck said. "He has tried to use Chris Long kind of like how they use me. He also has a few former Giants so he definitely has tried to copy what he was able to do here."
There certainly is an Eagles influence as well. The Giants expect to see an enormous amount of pressure and blitzes Monday night.
"He is a part of the Philadelphia system, the Jim Johnson family," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "He is one of those guys, so they have all grown under Jim Johnson, and it is unquestionably predicated on pressure and pressuring the ball."
If Spagnuolo can get enough pressure on Eli Manning to put Coughlin in an 0-2 hole, the Giants will feel like they're in a pressure cooker before facing NFC East rival Philadelphia next week.
The Giants are in win-now mode after not making the postseason since 2008, when Spagnuolo was directing the defense.
Something tells Spagnuolo, though, that he will get the Giants' best Monday night.
"The Giants organization and coach Coughlin, in particular, are a very resilient group," Spagnuolo said. "When things don't look great and people think their backs are against the wall, they have always come out and responded to Coach Coughlin and how he approaches things. I was almost hoping for them to win last week.
"I know this much, Tom is one of the premier and elite head football coaches in this league," Spagnuolo added. "And anybody who sees it otherwise is wrong in what they are seeing. I hope he doesn't figure it out this week."