It's a funny little tradition in the sports world. Whenever a coaching vacancy opens up, a list of "possible candidates" hits the streets almost immediately. The newspaper and radio guys peruse the rest of the league and figure out which coordinators led their units to strong years. The media also likes to look back and try to figure out what position coaches in the NFL might have once played with the GM of the team in question. This person automatically becomes a "candidate." There is also usually 2-3 coaching retreads looking to make their next pit stop. Or sometimes they make you a candidate simply because your last name says that you should be one. Translation: we don't care if you are Marty, Kurt, Brian, or Tito. If your last name is Schottenheimer, you are getting interviewed. Over the next couple of weeks, we will take a deeper look at some of the leading candidates for the prestigious position of Detroit Lions head coach. First up...
Steve Spagnuolo, New York Giants (Defensive Coordinator)
The defensive coordinator from the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and current top seed in the NFC. Hard to argue too much with this guy. Spagnuolo, or "Spags" if you want to act like you know more about him than the average fan, is possibly the hottest name besides Cowher this offseason. His Super Bowl winning defense held the 18 and 0 Patriots to a pedestrian 14 points in the big game. This year, he withstood serious injuries to key players to again form one of the league's best defensive units. I like this guy's pedigree. He spent eight years under Jim Johnson in Philly, learning his current 4-3 system emphasizing a number of blitzes from everywhere on the field. Spagnuolo's aggressive mentality would be a highly refreshing change from the "We're rushing only the front four on every down...either they get pressure or we get burned."
Only a couple of things scare me about Spags. First of all, he is a dead ringer for former NBA center Jim McIlvaine. You do not want to be mentioned in the same sentence as Jim McIlvaine at any point in your life. If you recall, McIlvaine is most remembered in NBA circles for the abominable contract he received from the Western Conference champion Sonics after a year in which he averaged 2 or 3 points a game, but was unfathomably seen as a player "about to break out." Yeah, just like Gabe Kapler and Juan Encarnacion were supposed to break out as a 3-4 power hitting force in the Tigers outfield. After McIlvaine inked the 7 year deal worth over $30 million, Shawn Kemp became so upset that he was being out-earned by Big Mac that he began eating his way through the city of Seattle. McIlvaine never came close to putting up numbers to justify the contract. He turned out to be a guy who merely showed some potential in a couple of years as a supporting player, but was not nearly ready to be in the spotlight. Essentially, he was just a poor man's Dave Corzine with a lot more publicity and less facial hair. Would Spagnuolo suffer the same fate as his exact clone and go down in flames after signing the big contract? Lions fans sure hope not.
One other bad omen regarding the Giants D-Coordinator. If he does get a head coaching job this winter, he would become the 3rd defensive coordinator this decade to use a Super Bowl victory as the springboard to an NFL head coaching job. The other two: Marvin Lewis and Romeo Crennel. Much like McIlvaine, this is not exactly elite company. Lewis has done nothing in Cincy. He had a once in a lifetime group on D in Baltimore, with Hall-of-Famers like Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson. He parlayed that into a head coaching gig. Crennel worked under Bill Belichick to win his title, and jumped from there to be the boss in Cleveland. That experiment was about as successful as the dual weight loss challenge that Crennel and Charlie Weis used to run up there in New England. First guy to get under four bills would get $10,000. The money was never collected.
Bottom line: simply getting a defensive coordinator from a former Super Bowl champion is not a fail safe. But in this case, I tend to believe in the guy. If there is anything this franchise needs, it is an identity on the defensive side of the ball. Spagnuolo would bring that here. The talent would still need to be accumulated, but at least a real defensive mindset would finally be firmly in place. Steve Spagnuolo, Lions Head Coach. Seems like a good fit. I can picture it now. He leads the Lions to a shocking victory in Week 1 next season. The entire city becomes enamored with their newest coaching savior. And, of course, a 99% chance that the headline in the Free Press on that Monday morning will read, "From Spags to Riches!" Book it.
How do you feel about Jim McIlvaine Spagnuolo? Drop a comment here, or shoot me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org