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Spagnuolo, Harbaugh, Mornhinweg are branches of the same tree

New York Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo speaks

New York Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo speaks to the media during minicamp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ, on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

Steve Spagnuolo wanted to get a feel for what new Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg might be up to this week. Mornhinweg might be going into his first game with Baltimore Sunday, but he’s been an offensive coordinator at several stops in his NFL career, most recently with the Jets from 2012-14. He has a play-calling fingerprint, and Spagnuolo, the Giants’ defensive coordinator, wanted to be reminded of it.

So he turned on some film from the Jets in 2014. He watched their situational calls: third-and-short, third-and-long, second-and-short, etc.

“When I was watching it,” Spagnuolo said, “the Philadelphia was coming back.”

What does Philadelphia have to do with this game between the Giants and Ravens? Quite a bit before Mornhinweg received his promotion and now, even more. It’s not just the geographical middle between the two teams’ cities, it’s the epicenter of some of the key coaches who will be on the sidelines Sunday.

Philadelphia is where Spagnuolo, Mornhinweg and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh were all together as assistant coaches, working their way up the ladder. It’s where they spent so much time trying things against each other on the practice field, pushing each other to adjust. It’s where they developed their coaching personalities.

“All those years of working with and against him in practice,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s hard to say which of those things we’re looking at is going to be part of what he does. It’s a little bit of a challenge.”

“It probably could help him a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “I think that Spagnuolo just seeing Marty every day in practice and stuff like that, I’m sure he’ll have quite a bit of familiarity with that.”

He was right.


So what will Mornhinweg bring to the Ravens?

Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t spend a lot of time with the Eagles, but when he was there Mornhinweg was the offensive coordinator.

“His mentality is run a little bit but take your shots,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I think you’ll see, with the arm [Joe] Flacco has, him taking his shots. More deep balls and things of that nature. They had their shots [in the first five games], but I think it’ll be much more.”

“That was the immediate thought that we had,” Spagnuolo said.

That’s why the Ravens made the switch, firing Jim Tressman on Monday and installing Mornhinweg as their play-caller. A slumping offense that should be producing more based on its talent resulted in the change (sound familiar, Giants fans?). For the Ravens, it was just a matter of promoting their quarterbacks coach to the play-calling position.

“Marty’s been an effective coordinator,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seen him work up close, I worked with him for a number of years in Philadelphia. I’ve seen him work here, I know how good he is. I’m excited.”

Harbaugh insisted that the offense won’t change from a schematic point of view.

“We’re not putting in a new playbook or anything,” Harbaugh said. “Marty Mornhinweg and the whole staff have been here the whole time. You’re not going to change everything. I’m sure the way the plays are called, perhaps, or the way Marty operates during the week with the coaches and game plan will have his imprint on it.”

The Giants will be anticipating differences.

“We need to be ready for anything and everything, and expect the unexpected there,” Ben McAdoo said.

But the biggest change for the Ravens might just come from their offensive attitude.

“He is definitely a confident person, he is sure in what he is going to do,” Flacco said of Mornhinweg. “I think there will be a few tweaks here and there. I don’t really want to get into too much specifics, but Marty brings a definite energy and a lot of confidence.”


Mornhinweg isn’t the only coach Spagnuolo might have an inside read on. Before he came to the Giants for his second stint in 2015 he spent two years as an assistant with the Ravens under Harbaugh (Mornhinweg was still with the Jets during that time). It was right after Spagnuolo was fired as defensive coordinator of the Saints, one of the worst defenses in NFL history, and he was also coming off his failure as head coach with the Rams.

At a time when it wasn’t clear whether Spagnuolo would ever coach again, Harbaugh hired him.

Spagnuolo spent some time with McAdoo this week giving insight to the Ravens defense.

“I have a book of notes of when we were there,” Spagnuolo said. “My guess is because they’ve been built that way for 15, 18 years, that they haven’t changed very much.”

How does Spagnuolo describe the Ravens defensive prototype?

“Stout,” he said. “They all look the same. Thick, big, nasty . . . We expect them to come in here like their hair is on fire.”

Spagnuolo and Harbaugh remain close. Harbaugh, speaking to reporters in New York on a conference call, referenced their time together and the basketball games they used to play as young assistants with the Eagles.

“You mean when I used to dunk on him?” Spagnuolo said when the image was brought up.

“He’s a good man,” Spagnuolo said of Harbaugh. “Good football coach. I love the guy. He was very good to me in a tough time. I went down there and worked for two years. I owe him a lot.”

Then Spagnuolo paused.

“I’m not going to give him anything on Sunday.”

It’s the Philadelphia way.


A look at the overlapping Philadelphia roots of Steve Spagnuolo, Marty Mornhinweg and John Harbaugh:

Steve Spagnuolo

1999-2000: defensive assistant

2001-03: defensive backs coach

2004-06: linebackers coach

John Harbaugh

1998-2007: special teams coordinator & defensive backs coach

Marty Mornhinweg

2003: senior assistant

2004-05: assistant head coach

2006-12: offensive coordinator/asst. head coach



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