Steve Spagnuolo has earned, for many, a dream job.
Yet he prayed he wouldn’t get it.
“I don’t know that it’s all caught up to me yet,” Spagnuolo said in his first statements as interim head coach of the New York Giants.
“I’m not going to lie, in the past, I had thought about this. But, because of how fast it all happened, I don’t know that. I haven’t thought that way. It really was, you know, it came. I prayed Monday morning that it wouldn’t happen. I’ll be honest with you. But, that’s okay. This is where we’re at. I’m honored to do it.”
Spagnuolo is the one left to lead the Giants in what remains of their woebegone season, the final four games of a 2017 campaign gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Spagnuolo takes over for the departed Ben McAdoo, who saw his duties as head coach removed alongside general manager Jerry Reese.
He began his Wednesday afternoon press conference praising his former colleague, who retained Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator when he took the head coaching job from Tom Coughlin last season.
“I feel personally I’m one of the guys that let (McAdoo) down. We failed as a team, but part of that failure was me. So, it’s hard for me to stand here in the position I’m in right now,” Spagnuolo said.
“I want to publicly thank Ben for two years ago sticking with me as the defensive coordinator here. I greatly appreciated that. He’s a great man. He’s a great coach. He’ll be a head coach again in this league in my opinion and a really good one.”
After sending McAdoo off in style, Spagnuolo got to business, immediately addressing the quarterback situation and his first statements with his team. To the surprise of few, Spagnuolo officially announced that Eli Manning would return to his normal spot as starting quarterback for the Giants as they return home for a divisional showdown with the Dallas Cowboys (1:00 PM, FOX). Three of Spagnuolo’s four games are against NFC East competition, and each of that trio will take place at home.
“I do want to say I’m honored that ownership asked me to do this,” he said. “I will give it every ounce of energy that I have out of respect for this organization and I’ll give every ounce of energy to help unite, restore and win football games. That’ll be the goal.”
The coach affectionately referred to as “Spags” was not ready to comment on the post-Dallas situation of the quarterback discussion, stating he was only looking for a way to take down the Cowboys, who remain on the fringe of the NFC playoff discussion at 6-6.
“The number one focus right now is to figure out a way to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I can tell you that,” Spagnuolo said when questioned about the stats of rookie thrower Davis Webb. “Each week we’ll talk about those other things, but right now, in the midst of everything that’s going on with the changes and what not, little tweaks here and there, the focus is still going to be to beat the Dallas Cowboys.”
Like his predecessor, Spagnuolo was reserved when it came to commenting on internal team discussions. He was, however, enlightened by his first address with the team as head coach.
“I’ll keep most of that to the team, but I will tell you this: one of the main focuses was asking the guys that when they come into the building, when they come to work, come to work expecting to win,” Spagnuolo recalled. “That’s how they should function. Forget about what has happened prior. Let’s just go forward coming in the building ready to work every day and expecting to win.”
A native of Whitinsville, Massachusetts, Spagnuolo has achieved the nearly impossible by becoming a New Englander that has endeared himself to a good portion of the New York metropolitan area.
Though he has spent just five seasons with the Giants, he forever went down in Giants history in 2008, when his defense played a key role in earning the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII victory. The victory helped earn Spagnuolo a promotion, as he took over the helm of the St. Louis Rams in 2009, his first head coaching job.
Success in the Gateway City, however, was not to be.
Though Spagnuolo helped the Rams contend for the NFC West title in 2010, improving to a 7-9 record after a 1-15 rookie season, a diastrous 2-14 mark in 2011 doomed Spagnuolo, who was fired after tying with Indianapolis for the league’s worst record. After his ousting in St. Louis, Spagnuolo visited New Orleans and Baltimore as a defensive coordinator and secondary coach respectively. He made his way back to East Rutherford in 2015.
Despite only 10 wins in three seasons, Spagnuolo believes there are lessons to be learned from his days in a different shade of blue.
“I’ve got, I want to say it’s six pages, typed out list…I’m not a good typer…that has all of the ‘what would I do next time’, ‘what did I think I did wrong’ and I’ve already reviewed that,” he said. “I’m not going to reveal them all. It’s too long of a list, but sometimes you learn more from failure than you do from success. I think everybody understands that. So, there are many things.”
Despite any playoff hopes being long deceased, the Giants now have something to play for in the future of their team, and of Spagnuolo. Principal owner John Mara, speaking after the monumental firings on Monday afternoon, already confirmed that Spagnuolo will be considered for the full-time position once the season ends.
True to form, however, Spagnuolo is interested only in winning now.
“It’s our hope to unite, restore and find a way to win football games. When I mean restore, you know, restore Giant pride. It’s hard to be real prideful when you don’t win a lot of football games. But, I think the guys feel that. They understand it and we’ll function that way going forward,” Spagnuolo said in his message to Giants fans.
“I leave (everything) in God’s hands. I’ll be where He wants me to be and right now he wants me to be here for this game and that’s how I’ll function. And that’s as honest as I can get.”