Steve Spagnuolo was traveling earlier this year visiting college football powerhouses Alabama and Ohio State when he came to a realization.
He couldn't envision himself not coaching this season.
Spagnuolo contemplated taking a year off from the NFL after a rocky two seasons each ended with him being fired. However he became energized talking football strategy with Alabama coach Nick Saban and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, also making the rounds at Texas A&M, Boston College and Connecticut.
The visits and conversations convinced Spagnuolo to rethink his plans.
"I thought I might have been headed that way," said Spagnuolo, now a Ravens senior defensive assistant. "After a while, you want to be a part of something. It all worked out. I think the timing was great."
In May, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh created a position for Spagnuolo, bringing aboard a coach who was once regarded as a rising coaching star as the architect of the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLII defense. Spagnuolo is now trying to regain that luster.
In January, Spagnuolo was fired as the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator. The Saints finished last in total defense last season while playing without several players suspended in a bounty scandal, allowing a single-season NFL record 7,042 yards. That dismissal came just one year after Spagnuolo was fired by the St. Louis Rams in 2011, going 10-38 in three seasons as their head coach.
Standing inside the Ravens' indoor facility Thursday during the last day of mandatory minicamp, Spagnuolo was upbeat about his future. He spoke with an infectious enthusiasm.
"It's been a tough few years, but I'm focusing forward and I'm excited," Spagnuolo said. "The way I look at this is [it's] a privilege to be a part of a great organization. I'm just a lucky man, very lucky. You learn more from the setbacks than you do really from the successes.
"I think the book has gotten thicker and thicker of notes and a lot of things not to do, but a lot of things we felt really good about. God has a plan for everybody. Mine happens to be taking this road, and it brought me here, and I'm ecstatic about it."
A major part of Spagnuolo's excitement stems from his connection to Harbaugh, his longtime friend dating back to their years on the Philadelphia Eagles' coaching staff.
"That's a big-time blessing," said Spagnuolo, who's also been reunited with another former Eagles assistant, Ravens run-game coordinator Juan Castillo. "You leave each other, and you hope someday that you are back together. ..
"I'm fortunate to know somebody that I care about, have a great deal of respect for, and he was willing to bring me in when he really didn't need to. He didn't need to add anything. They have everything they need."
But their relationship was tested during the 2011 season.
Routed 37-7 by the Ravens during his final season with the Rams, Spagnuolo was quoted as saying he told his wife, Maria, they were done talking with the Harbaughs. He backed off of those comments a day later.
Now, it's a topic of humor for Spagnuolo and Harbaugh.
"We joked about it 24 hours later," Spagnuolo said. "To be honest with you, it was a joke when I said it. We laughed about it the other day."
Spagnuolo is in Baltimore now lending his insight to defensive coordinator Dean Pees and other assistants.
Spagnuolo doesn't lack for credentials, owning a reputation as a defensive guru. He engineered top 10 defenses in 2007 and 2008 when he was with the Giants as his 2007 defense held the New England Patriots to just 14 points in Super Bowl XLII, ending their undefeated season.
"Spags is a detail person, he's going to be that coach that's able to pull you aside and show you that little nuance to play your technique better or play your assignment better," said Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty, a former Giants starter who didn't overlap with Spagnuolo's tenure in New York. "He has a great understanding of the game. Obviously, the guys in New York had a lot of great things to say about him. His reputation precedes him. I'm just glad to have him aboard."
Spagnuolo isn't listed with any specific responsibilities as far as coaching a position, but has a strong background with designing blitzes to rush the passer.
"Steve is a guy that kind of whatever we ask him to do, whether it's draw cards, whether it's to do a special project, no matter what it is, it's kind of nice to have him here to bounce stuff off of," Pees said. "And also it just takes a load off of other guys having to do some of the things that he's doing."
Despite the rough times of the past few years when he was running the Rams, Spagnuolo didn't hesitate when asked if he still holds ambitions to be a head coach again.
"Oh yes, yes, deeply," he said. "Dick Vermeil, I listened to him speak one time and his advice to young coaches, any coach was, 'Be the best at whatever job you have right now.' So, I'm trying to be the best that this particular position and let the rest take care of itself."
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