Steve Spagnuolo will be breaking out his typewriter fairly soon.
When he was fired by the Rams after the 2011 season, ending his first stint as a head coach in the NFL, he started writing down a list of all the things he would do differently if he ever were able to return to the position with another team. Instead of scribbling them down on Post-its or stuffing them in a notebook, though, Spagnuolo wanted to give these thoughts some formality.
So he typed them up.
Six pages worth. Ideas on everything from dealing with the media to scheduling OTAs to organizing the draft process. And, of course, there were in-season thoughts, too. In-game ideas.
When he was asked to be the Giants’ interim head coach Monday, the day the team fired Ben McAdoo from the job after less than two full seasons and toward the end of one of the most disappointing and tumultuous seasons in franchise history, he dug up those six pages.
He didn’t want to read them, necessarily. There wasn’t a whole lot of time, and most of the adjustments aren’t applicable to this kind of on-the-fly situation. Instead, he wanted the list so he could add to it.
“You learn as you go,” he said. “There are things I’ll learn this week that I didn’t recognize the last time.”
‘IT WAS A THRUST’
Spagnuolo is not the only one with added responsibilities this week. He’s not even the only one in his family. His wife, Maria, generally bakes a banana pudding for the defensive players each week. Now that Steve is the head coach for the whole team, she’s had to double the recipe.
It’s something she did in St. Louis, so she’s used to it. But it acts as a metaphor for the burden that is being placed on the Giants’ coaches — and the interim head coach in particular — during this stressful week.
There have been times, Spagnuolo said, that he’s been so engrossed in the defensive portions of practice that he has forgotten that he is in charge of the whole operation.
“In a normal setting, you take the job as head coach and there’s some time in there,” he said. “It’s almost like a buildup. Here, it was a thrust. So what I tried not to do was to change too much or to try to do too many things.”
He’s also dealing with an organization he knows well, from the medical staff to the equipment staff. He has delegated a lot more than he did in St. Louis.
“One of the things you do learn when you take it the first time, you think you’re going to charge in there and do everything on your own,” he said. “You’ve got to rely on a lot of other people, and we’re lucky here because we have good people . . . [I’m] trying not to stick my hand or foot or face or brain where it really doesn’t belong. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
He has made some changes. The biggest is the practice schedule, which had the team working Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and doing a walk-through Saturday. There also has been more strict attention to details such as making sure the team wears matching colors under their uniforms during practices to stress unity.
“He’s got his head-coaching cap on, I’ll tell you that much,” safety Landon Collins said in the change in Spagnuolo this week. “I think it’s a big difference. If something’s not right, he makes us all redo it right then and there and he will definitely come back to it. It’s a little faster out there now [at practice] and just a more competitive feel out there. He tries to get us to be more competitive now.”
“It reminds me of my first few years with T.C.,” offensive lineman Justin Pugh said of Tom Coughlin’s organization. “Obviously, he coached with T.C. and has been around him a while. I’m happy how he’s handling everything, the pressures that come with being interim head coach and inheriting everything that’s happened here so far.”
One of Spagnuolo’s biggest messages to the team this week has been about pride. He was a Giants history buff as defensive coordinator, and now he is one as a head coach.
“Just knowing that this place has a lot of tradition behind it and a lot of pride behind it and we play for not just ourselves but this organization and the guys that came before us,” Collins said of one of the key differences he’s noticed. “So just living up to what this organization has bestowed before us.”
BIG AND EXCITING
Spagnuolo won only 10 games in three years with the Rams. It was not, by any measure, a successful tenure. And this interim job? It’s likely just that.
Given that he has been the defensive coordinator of the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL to this point, there won’t be a lot of phone calls for his services after this season. He’ll be a candidate for the Giants’ vacancy in January, but they’re likely to go for some young, hot coordinator or a head coach who has won elsewhere before they turn things over to a soon-to-be 58-year-old without much of a track record of winning. The shine from his Super Bowl XLII ring can last only so long.
So this could be it. Four games for him to be a head coach, to be head coach of the Giants, and then move on. It starts Sunday against the Cowboys.
“There will probably be some butterflies, but they’re always there,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the fun part of working in the NFL. It’s big, it’s exciting . . . I just enjoy that part of it. So a Sunday is always fun when you can be involved in the NFL.”
He’ll be very involved in all aspects of this Sunday.
It’s been a grueling week. An emotional week.
“I got scolded [Wednesday] night because Maria said I’d better get home and get more sleep,” he said. “She’s right, I mean, she is right. That’s a big mistake I can make because you think you have to work more and work more. But I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and do that and get through Sunday’s game. And then you just reload, take a deep breath and get ready to do it again for the next one.”