After Sunday’s 24-3 loss in Green Bay, Steve Spagnuolo is 8-29 as the Rams’ head coach. And even though he took over a disastrous situation, Spags is unique in that he’s still employed by the Rams. Among 2009 hires, Spagnuolo is the only one that hasn’t succeeded at some level, yet hasn’t been fired. Of course, at some point soon he’s going to have to succeed or be fired, but he’s certainly eclipsed the normal life span of a coach that hasn’t made significant progress these days in the NFL.
There were 11 coaches elevated to permanent head coaching positions after the 2008 season. In the NFC, Mike Singletary was given the top job in San Francisco, Jim Mora in Seattle, Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay, Jim Schwartz in Detroit and Spagnuolo with the Rams.
In the AFC, Jim Caldwell took over in Indianapolis, Eric Mangini in Cleveland, Tom Cable in Oakland, Josh McDaniels in Denver, Rex Ryan with the Jets, and Todd Haley in Kansas City.
Mora was let go in Seattle after a single 5-11 season, in favor of USC legend Pete Carroll. Following Mora out the door during last season was McDaniels in Denver, who, after starting 6-0 in his first season, went 5-17. Several poor personnel decisions and an embarrassing spygate episode in London precipitated McDaniels’ departure from the Broncos.
Also during last season, Singletary got the axe from San Francisco. He started with a promising 8-8 campaign in ’09, but his team imploded last year, and he was fired after a 5-10 start and an overall record of 18-22.
After last year, Mangini got whacked in Cleveland by new team president Mike Holmgren. Mangini went 10-22 in his two years, but really had no chance once Holmgren, who wanted his own man, took over the reins of the organization. Tom Cable got fired after last season, too, even though he went 13-19 and improved the club to 8-8 last year. Al Davis just didn’t like Cable, and made him his almost annual sacrificial lamb.
Of the 11 hired for the 2009 season, five didn’t make it to see 2011. Five more have had a reasonable level of success.
Caldwell coached the Colts to a Super Bowl in his first year and to the playoffs last season. Ryan turned around the situation Mangini left him in New York and immediately took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Ryan did it again last year.
Haley’s Chiefs struggled to a 4-12 season in 2009, but turned it around with a 10-6, AFC West title campaign last year. The Chiefs have returned to the doldrums this year and Haley appears to be in trouble, but the fact is that he did lead Kansas City to a playoff game last year. Like Haley, Morris’ Bucs struggled in his first year, stumbling to a 3-13 campaign. But last year, they turned it around and went 10-6. With a 26-20 win over New Orleans on Sunday, the Bucs are 4-2 this year and tied for the NFC South lead.
The Lions have seen gradual progress under Schwartz. They went 2-14 in his first year, and then 6-10 last year as quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered an injury-plagued season. However, the Lions made a big move late last year, winning their final four games before starting 5-0 this year. Sometimes, there’s a seminal moment for the turnaround of a franchise Tony Dungy had one in 1996 with the Bucs, Dick Vermeil had one in 1999 with the Rams, and Schwartz apparently had one last year when the Lions knocked off eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay on Dec. 12 to start that winning streak. So despite a rough start, and taking over an 0-16 team, Schwartz has delivered progress in Detroit.
That brings us to Spagnuolo. He hasn’t enjoyed much success in his 8-29 run. After going 1-15 in his first season with the Rams, they peaked last year by going 6-4 after an 0-2 start to reach 6-6. Since that time, the Rams have gone 1-8 and have been blown out in seven of those eight losses. During Spagnuolo’s career to this point, the club hasn’t had a three-game winning streak, and has won two in a row just twice in 37 games.
While other franchises are either succeeding or making quick decisions, the Rams are being patient. They are in the midst of a rebuilding project, and they have a coach who’s a good man that has a history of winning. But soon, the question must be asked.
As Rick Venturi has mentioned many times, you don’t have five-year plans in the NFL any more. Not with all the dramatic reversals of fortune that occur every season. Not when you see turnarounds like the ones in Detroit, San Francisco (under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh) and Buffalo (under second-year coach Chan Gailey) this year, and last year’s renaissance of Kansas City and Tampa Bay.
I’m a big fan of Spagnuolo and like him a lot. But I’m also objective enough to recognize that, as Bill Parcells says, you are what your record says you are. Spagnuolo has been given a tremendous amount of responsibility and power in the Rams organization. He’s overseen the reconstruction of the roster, and he’s been allowed to replace longtime employees that were around for a lot of winning. These are his Rams, his depth, his plan. Unlike the previous Rams regime, we know exactly where the buck stops.
It stops at Spagnuolo’s desk, and the result is 8-29. Soon, he’ll either be a success like Caldwell, Ryan, Haley, Morris or Schwartz, on TV like Mora and Mangini, or back as an assistant like McDaniels, Singletary and Cable.