The return of Steve Spagnuolo as the Giants’ defensive coordinator was pretty much expected once it was announced that Big Blue sought permission from the Baltimore Ravens.
Spagnuolo, who served as the Ravens assistant head coach/secondary coach this past season, interviewed with the Giants on Wednesday and was hired a day later, showing just how badly the pairing was sought by both sides. Spagnuolo was the architect of a Giants’ defense that executed arguably the greatest gameplan in history when they stifled the high-powered and then-unbeaten New England Patriots, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII. The man affectionately known as “Spags” has as many rings as the man he replaced, Perry Fewell, who also led Big Blue’s defense in their Super Bowl XLVI victory.
One man with a ring is replacing another with the same hardware, but the former is expected to win another because head coach Tom Coughlin felt like the latter was no longer good enough to lead the charge. Fewell’s comeuppance occurred due to the en masse of players placed on injured reserve (a league-high 22). But with all expected to be ready by training camp, Spagnuolo will reap the recouping – but with the added pressure of succeeding where Fewell apparently failed.
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It also means that despite the goodwill and happy feelings of his return, the honeymoon period won’t last too long because expectations will be high. Coughlin’s seat will also undoubtedly be hot, as he’s in the final year of his contract and there aren’t any more coordinators to jettison.
Spagnuolo didn’t announce any great elevation in the defense’s performance, but was happy to reason that his unit won’t lack in effort and intensity.
“Defense is more thana chess game. It is partially that, partially intelligence, and mostly effort – 100-percent, all-out effort,” Spagnuolo said, adding that he’s happy to return to the place where he’s had his most success as a coach during his 34-year coaching career. “I was hoping to becomea coordinator again. I am ecstatic that it’s withTom Coughlin.He is the highest character guy I know, and the feeling I have is excitement. We’re going to work our butts off and hopefully we will do great things together … It’s both new andfamiliar [and] a nice feeling to come back.”
In order for the Giants’ defense to come back, they’ll need healthy bodies to return and have rising youngsters continue to ascend. It’ll also help to make sure defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul re-signs with the team to give the pass rush some bite. Pierre-Paul is a restricted free-agent, who will likely get franchise tagged if he and the team can’t agree on a long-term extension. When he’s completely engaged, Pierre-Paul is as good as any pass rusher in the league. And coupled with new money and a scheme that befits him, next season could be a big one for the young vet.
Coughlin said if anyone can move the crowd, it’s Spagnuolo, adding that he likes his defensive scheme, his ability to teach, and how well he relates to the players.
“Steve has so much enthusiasm in front of a room, in front of the team. The energy, enthusiasm, and strong personality that we saw before in Steve Spagnuolo [is] very evident again. And his desire to be a Giant again was very obvious,” Coughlin said, noting he hired the right guy to combat the spread offense – a criticism of Fewell. “His defense has changed some since he was here, too, working in Baltimore with [head coach] John Harbaugh and [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees. Both are outstanding defensive coaches, and he has studied defense under [Ohio State head coach] Urban Meyer. After all that, he has perfected his solution to defending the so-called spread offense, the uptempo [offenses] that you see so often in this league.”
Pierre-Paul’s tempo has been called into question at times during his career in New York -- as well as that of fellow defensive end Damontre Moore, who has the talent, but seems to have lapses in play and judgment at inopportune moments.
So, it’ll be up to Spagnoulo to get the most out of those types of players, or else he’ll be made a scapegoat like his predecessor. Because as Fewell found out the hard way, unless you’re Coughlin, not even past glory can keep you around forever.
Big Blue notes:
-Spagnuolo, 55, was first hired by the Giants on Jan. 22, 2007, after an eight-year stint on the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff, with the last three as the club’s linebackers coach. During his first season in New York, the Giants yielded an average of 305 yards a game, a 37.4-yard improvement over the previous season. They also led the NFL with 53 sacks. But the defense did its best work in the four-game postseason, allowing an average of 16.3 points per game. In the Super Bowl, his schemes and adjustments held the 18-0 Patriots – who had averaged a league-high 36.8 points a game in the regular season -- to 14 points.
- Tim Walton was named cornerbacks coach by Coughlin, replacing Peter Guinta, who was dismissed at the same time Fewell was. Walton, 43, was the St. Louis defensive coordinator in 2013, and in January of 2014 he was replaced on the St. Louis staff by Gregg Williams.
- Among those passed over for the Giants’ defensive coordinator position were former Oakland head coach Dennis Allen, Washington’s defensive backfield coach Raheem Morris, and former Giants’ linebacker Pepper Johnson, who was told he’ll stay in Buffalo under new head coach Rex Ryan.
-Fewell shouldn’t be out of work for too long, as there are reports he could join new Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio on his staff.