We learned the fate of Rams general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo early Monday morning, and while both men are quite admirable, and both have families that unfortunately have to deal with being uprooted and transported to another NFL city, I’m sure they were prepared to deal with the realities of their jobs. Devaney couldn’t hide from the Rams’ record since he came to the Rams: 12-52 in four seasons, although he didn’t become general manager until when Spagnuolo arrived. And right there next to Spagnuolo’s name at ProFootballReference.com, in the coaches section, it says 10-38.
Those numbers are factual. They are indisputable facts. And it became clear that owner Stan Kroenke knew, wherever his team might be located in the future, those records are unacceptable to a fan base and business partners. And there isn’t much precedent for coaches turning around programs after starting with such a record. Generally, there isn’t patience shown for a coach that goes 1-15 as Spagnuolo did in his first year let alone turning in a subsequent 2-14 mark. Of those that went 1-15 or worse, Rod Marinelli was fired after his ‘08 Lions went 0-16, and Cam Cameron’s 2007 Dolphins went 1-15 in his first year, and he was let go. George Seifert was fired after his Panthers went 1-15 in 2001, Mike Riley lasted one year after going 1-15 with the 2000 Chargers, and Rich Kotite was jettisoned after the ’96 Jets went 1-15. Our own Rick Venturi served out the final 11 games for the ’91 Colts, and was replaced after the team went 1-15. The same fate hit Rod Rust in New England in ’90. Dick Nolan was replaced by Dick Stanfel during New Orleans’ 1-15 in 1980, and Bum Phillips replaced them the next year.
The one coach that went 1-15 and succeeded was Jimmy Johnson, who had that record with the 1989 Cowboys, but took them to the first of back-to-back Super Bowls three years later. To summarize, since the advent of the 16-game schedule 31 years ago, 10 teams have gone 1-15 or 0-16, and only two coaches have lasted more than one year afterward. Johnson went 7-9 and then 11-5. Spagnuolo went 7-9 and then 2-14. Seven of the others were fired immediately, and Riley lasted one more season.
This is the reality of sports. It’s a high performance, bottom-line business. And as much as we as media and fans might like Devaney and Spagnuolo, they know when they sign up that if they don’t win, they’ll be out of a job.
Even if your team is terrible, there are so many great things about the NFL that make it worth watching.
My NFL Sunday on New Year’s Day started with the Rams pregame show, and during the show it was announced that Aaron Rodgers would not start for Green Bay against Detroit. That just confirmed my decision to start Matt Flynn, Rodgers’ backup, at quarterback for the GloboGym Purple Cobras in the MAL Fantasy Football championship game.
Four hundred eighty yards and a Packer record six touchdowns later, I was being lauded and congratulated for my move, but did it help? Because of Ryan Mathews’ inactive status for San Diego, my game was close well into the evening. I rooted hard against Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, and needed something, anything from Jerome Simpson or the Kansas City defense. All I got was a KC interception of Tim Tebow at the end of the game for myself, and the Cardinals did everything they could to slow down Marshawn. So I headed into the Dallas-New York Giants game needing 28 yards or a touchdown from Dez Bryant of the Cowboys. Midway through the second quarter, Tony Romo hit Bryant for 13 yards. Then he hit Dez for nine with just over a minute left. And with 14 seconds before halftime, Romo delivered my winning pass to Bryant, fourteen yards, for a total of 36 on the night, and pandemonium at Purple Cobras headquarters. My fantasy championship was enough to thrill me.
So was the battle for the top pick. At the surprisingly populated Edward Jones Dome, I was intently watching the scoreboard to keep an eye on the Jacksonville-Indianapolis score. If you aren’t going to be in the playoffs, then the next best thing is to have a high draft choice. Although the Colts rallied, they couldn’t prevail, losing 19-13. Indianapolis couldn’t take advantage of a first-and-goal at the Jacksonville 10-yard line in the third quarter, kicking a field goal when they could have made it 10-10, and instead it was 10-6 Jacksonville. Then in the fourth quarter, with the Colts driving to a field goal that could have made it 16-9 or a touchdown that could have made it 16-13, former Ram George Selvie recovered a Dan Orlovsky fumble, and Jacksonville drove to the winning field goal, making it 19-6. Final: 19-13.
It was interesting to see Arizona and Seattle battle so hard to get to .500. The winner would get to 8-8, the loser 7-9. Neither team quit, both played hard, and Arizona won it in overtime 23-20. Kansas City certainly provided maximum effort in a 7-3 win at Denver to end the season. San Diego played hard for Norv Turner in their finale, a 38-26 win that knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs. Buffalo showed great effort in going up 21-0 on New England before the Patriots showed the Bills who’s boss in a 49-21 rout.
Point being, everyone plays hard. There’s nothing unusual about teams playing hard in the NFL. Even the Buccaneers, down 42-0 to the Falcons, rallied and showed some fight, losing 45-24. The Colts made it close against the Jags, and the battered Vikings made it close in their 17-13 loss to Chicago.
The NFL is entertaining. From fantasy games to the rest of the league, there are thrills every weekend. Let’s hope that those thrills are available to Rams fans next year. I’m tired of my excitement coming from fantasy. I want it to be real.