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Miklasz: It's absurd to think Spagnuolo is on the hot seat

By Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

10:42 PM EDT, September 21, 2011

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That little post-game meeting Monday at MetLife Stadium between Rams owner Stan Kroenke and head coach Steve Spagnuolo has been wildly and widely misinterpreted.

More than anything, Kroenke was oblivious to NFL protocol. Head coaches are obligated by the league to take media questions after a brief cooling-off period. After the Rams' 28-16 loss to the New York Giants, Kroenke intercepted Spagnuolo before the coach could meet the press.

It isn't uncommon for Kroenke or any NFL owner to visit with coaches after the game. It's just that the boss waits until the coach completes the news conference.

The owner-coach summit didn't mean that Kroenke was irate at his coach, or that he snapped at his coach, or that he's turned on his coach, or that he's going to fire his coach.

What hasn't been pointed out is that Kroenke also visits with Spagnuolo after the Rams win a game.

And yes, Spagnuolo needs to win more games. Definitely.

But it's absurd for a reasonable person to conclude that Spagnuolo is squirming on the proverbial "hot seat" and in any real danger of losing his job only 34 games into a massive rebuild. 

It is also true that as the losses pile up, the seat will get warmer. That applies to Spagnuolo or any coach that can't break a team's losing ways.

Spagnuolo's record is 8-26. But those who cite that mark as proof of the coach's inadequacies are missing the record that really matters right now: 1-5.

After climbing to 6-6 last season with a win at Arizona, the Rams have lost five of their last six regular-season games. And two of the losses (at Seattle, at New York) were duds on national TV.

That 1-5 is a lot more relevant to Spagnuolo's security than the 8-26. The 2010 Rams seemingly made real progress, cycling out of a grotesque three-year 6-42 record to go 7-9.

Fans  and perhaps even the owner  expect the growth to continue in 2011. And if the Rams go in reverse instead of moving forward Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney will endure increased criticism.

Kroenke isn't some crazy, loose-cannon owner. He should be asking questions of his coach and GM. Wouldn't you be asking questions based on what you witnessed in the first two games?

Kroenke stepped up and did his part by signing off on free-agent contracts that put the Rams at the NFL's salary-cap limit this season. And now it's up to his football people to shape the team up.

Spagnuolo coached in Philadelphia, and New York. He understands the reality of the coaching and the inherent, inescapable pressure to win. No one, including Kroenke, has to remind Spagnuolo of that.

The Rams need to win a game.

Period.

And then go from there to find a way to rack up other wins during this rugged, largely unforgiving stretch of schedule. The Baltimore Ravens will be at The Edward Jones Dome on Sunday. Opportunity  and Ray Lewis  are knocking.

"It's very critical," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I thought last week was critical, too. Last year, we started 0-2 and both games were very close. If we would have put one of those early games away, we might have been in a better position down the road. I think we all understand how important these early games are and how important it is not to dig yourself in so great a hole that you can't come out of it at the end of the year."

That the Rams are 0-2 is no surprise. They've dropped games to Philadelphia and New York, teams that have combined to win nine of the last 11 NFC East titles.

What's galling is how the Rams lost. Seventeen penalties, six fumbles (three lost), nine dropped passes and four botched red-zone chances in five opportunities. There were only two touchdowns from the offense, and two giveaways by that offense that were scooped up by opponents for easy touchdowns.

Bradford has been sacked six times, hit 10 other times, and hurried 25 times. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford has been pressured on 44.6 percent of his dropbacks. That's a big number; only Philadelphia's Michael Vick has encountered more heat from the pass rush through two games.

Spagnuolo is a football teacher who takes pride in schooling his team on smart, disciplined and fundamentally sound play. So when his team becomes unglued through mental mistakes, unforced errors and knucklehead lapses, it's a poor reflection on the coaching staff.

Spagnuolo has a second-year quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a new offense, and an undistinguished group of receivers. It's challenging to pull all of that together after a wiped-out offseason, so I think it's fair to say that this will take a little time. But again, there's no excuse for the sloppy play. And that's on the coaches.

And the Rams won't be a threat to anyone  except themselves  unless Spagnuolo, the staff and the players clean it up and begin to show tangible improvement.This has nothing to do with style points. Fans obsess over Spagnuolo's nice-guy persona, but he gets on the players d holds them accountable. He just does his growling in the meeting room, in private.

Besides, we all know that nice people can't possibly win in the NFL, right? Heck, no. Look at the eternally upbeat Dick Vermeil, who turned three losing franchises into winners, including the Rams. Vermeil is among the happiest, most positive, leaders I've seen in professional sports. DV was 9-23 after his first two seasons in St. Louis, but the nice guy won a Super Bowl in his third season.

I don't think Spagnuolo will win a Super Bowl in his third season. And if the 2011 Rams have an awful season, we'll see how Kroenke will react.

But Spagnuolo doesn't have to put on some phony, angry-man show to win cheap points with critics.

Spagnuolo's job is to win football games.

And if he can't do that, eventually he'll be gone. That's the coaching life.