Spagnuolo takes his turn with the Turk
Last week, I used this space to write an open letter to Rams' owner Stan Kroenke. In it, I recommended that he fire General Manager Billy Devaney and Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo in an effort to reverse his team's miserable fortunes. It has now been announced that Mr. Kroenke has done just that, though I freely admit that he likely reached his decision without benefit of my unsolicited advice.
Indeed, the notion that I had anything to do with the dismissals is a bit like crediting the rooster for the dawn -- the moves were both obvious and called for. Pro players often remark that NFL is an acronym that translates as "not for long." They recognize that professional football is a merciless meritocracy in which winning is the currency of the realm. When you record 3.8 losses for every 1 win, as did the Devaney-Spagnuolo regime, your tenure figures to be short.
Now that the deed is done, many of the commentators who cried for the coach's scalp seem to be suffering the pangs of something like buyer's remorse and have thus made a point of noting that Spags is a nice guy. He may well be -- I've never met the man.
But even nice coaches routinely cut personnel. Every summer, 80+ hopefuls report to training camp to vie for 45 slots on the opening day roster. Simple math demands a casualty rate of more than 40 percent.
Back in the day, the players personified their shared dread as "the Turk." He came calling when an assistant told you to report to the coach's office and to "bring your playbook."
Sadly, the Turk plays no favorites. Aging stars and marginal rookies are equally vulnerable, as is the coach himself when he fails to produce. Different people deal with this kind of stress differently.
Former head coach Dick Vermeil, for instance, famously promoted the Rams' organization as an extended family. Non-football personnel were part of the team, and everybody was encouraged to feel that they contributed to its collective success.
When Spagnuolo took over, on the other hand, it soon became clear that his would be a "my way or the highway" operation. Seemingly intent to purge the institution of every memory save his own, he cleared house. His firings included people most fans had never heard of and who had little to do with the actual won-lost record. One of these victims was the equipment manager, Todd Hewitt.
That move caught my attention because my seats at the Dome are up in the rafters where the beer tends to flow freely and the commentary is unedited. Over the years, I've heard complaints about every conceivable aspect of the operation--red zone offense, blitz packages, kick coverage, you name it. Losing seasons breed discontent. A feminist daughter of mine even objected to the dance routines performed by the cheerleading squad. But I have never heard anybody suggest that there was something wrong with the team's gear. It was always just assumed that our sweat socks were as good as the next guy's.
As an 11-year old, Todd Hewitt began accompanying his father, Don, to work. Don Hewitt was the equipment manager for the old LA Rams, and the kid tagged along to help out for the fun of associating with a pro team.
By 1978, he was given a paid staff position in the equipment department. In 1986, he succeeded his father as the head equipment manager after the older man retired. When the team relocated in 1995, Todd moved his family to St. Louis to remain a part of the Rams' organization.
During his tenure, he worked for seven head coaches and two interim coaches With Todd minding the gear, the franchise managed to win five divisional championships, three conference championships and a Super Bowl, so he must have been doing something right. Last year, Spagnuolo abruptly fired him for unspecified reasons.
After his dismissal, Hewitt said of his former boss, "He is a hard person to deal with. He's very hands-on. Controlling. It's an everything has to go through him kind of deal."
As I don't know Hewitt personally, I can't tell you that his firing was unjustified. Spagnuolo has refused to explain his motives, and Hewitt's published remarks obviously cannot be considered objective commentary on the matter. Hewitt, incidentally, has since landed a similar job at the University of California-Berkley.
I also freely admit that if the Rams were not floundering at 2-14, but instead were 14-2 and headed to the playoffs, I wouldn't be writing about a fired equipment manager. But with absolute control comes absolute responsibility; when you're in charge of everything, there's nobody left to blame when things go horribly wrong.
It seems that those who live by the creed of the Turk often die by it as well.
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.