Les Bowen: Spagnuolo to Eagles? Not looking good

If Steve Spagnuolo has decided to coach with the Eagles next season, he's not telling anybody.
If Steve Spagnuolo has decided to coach with the Eagles next season, he's not telling anybody. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: January 16, 2012

TALKED TO someone close to Steve Spagnuolo yesterday. This person said Spagnuolo is going to take his time with his decision on what comes next, that he wants to "see what develops."

Meanwhile, Eagles coach Andy Reid was scheduled to return from vacation last night. The team's offices are closed today for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. So Reid's long-awaited season recap news conference, which presumably will let us know whether Juan Castillo will return as defensive coordinator, won't happen before tomorrow, at the earliest. And frankly, if the Eagles are indeed looking to bring in Spagnuolo, it doesn't sound as if the former Rams head coach is going to be ready to make a decision in the next few days.

It's interesting that no other names have emerged in connection with the Eagles, and we don't know for sure that the Birds are interested in hiring Spagnuolo. Maybe Castillo is coming back - though that would be an upset at this point. Or maybe we're looking at a protracted process here, given the stakes. Reid hasn't spoken, but team chairman Jeffrey Lurie has, and Lurie clearly wants to see the Eagles in the Super Bowl next season. Reid can't afford to make a mistake.

What can we tell from the fact that Spagnuolo seems to be in no hurry? We can probably infer that returning as a coordinator to his wife Maria's hometown, where he was a Jim Johnson assistant from 1999-2006, isn't Spags' burning dream, or anything. That doesn't mean he won't come here, but it probably does mean he would just as soon do something else, given the choice.

Reports indicate that Atlanta and New Orleans are interested in having Spagnuolo run their defenses. It's easy to see why those might be more attractive opportunities. For one thing, going back to a former team as an assistant after flopping as a head coach is less than exciting and new; why not start fresh? For another, you have to figure what Spagnuolo really wants here is to maximize his chances of being a head coach again. New Orleans and Atlanta were playoff teams this season that are good bets to be back in the postseason next year. That's the kind of visibility that gets you back into the head-coaching discussion. Maybe you heard Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Co. touting the job Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has done lately, after the Giants' upset in Green Bay yesterday. A month ago, when the Giants' season seemed headed down the tubes, New York fans wanted Fewell fired in favor of Spagnuolo, who led their "D" to the Lombardi Trophy 4 years ago.

Now, Fewell is maybe one more win away from being a head-coaching candidate. Which, of course, could leave the Giants looking for a defensive coordinator. Is that one of the developments Spagnuolo is awaiting?

Without knowing anything about how Spagnuolo's family factors into his decision, or whether he knows New Orleans coach Sean Payton very well, you'd have to think the Saints would be about as good a setup as someone in Spagnuolo's shoes could hope to land. Payton is established and respected. Current New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to go to St. Louis to work with Jeff Fisher. With Drew Brees at quarterback, presiding over a host of weapons, the Saints will again be a prominent NFC contender.

Atlanta is maybe a little less desirable, in that the Falcons' first-round loss last week at the Giants after a 10-6 season has left people wondering about the upside for a group that is 0-3 in its last three trips to the postseason. Is head coach Mike Smith on thin ice? Is Matt Ryan really a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback?

You could say that having a head coach on the hot seat might be a plus, in that Spagnuolo could be next in line if that guy got fired. (Like, say, with Reid and the Eagles.) But not many coaches sign on to work for someone hoping the man who hired them quickly loses his job so they can have it. And, if the team has a bad year and the head coach loses his job, it's unlikely ownership is going to look to a coordinator from the failed regime to turn things around.

The Eagles, of course, did not make the playoffs this year, but they will be widely expected to be back in the mix in 2012. Michael Vick, coming off a disappointing season, is kind of in the same spot as Ryan - he's better than a journeyman, but definitely not Brees. Would this situation be what Spagnuolo needs to get back in the head coaching race? Maybe so, if Spagnuolo is willing to coexist with defensive line coach Jim Washburn's "wide nine" approach.

We're assuming here that Washburn will be staying, even though Fisher, his former Tennessee head coach, has a new gig in St. Louis. For Washburn to leave for the Rams, the Eagles would have to be willing to let him go, since he's under contract, and presumably wouldn't be getting a coordinator's title. Washburn made it clear when the Eagles hired him last year that he wasn't looking to become a coordinator.

We know that Spagnuolo is like Johnson, disguising blitzes and sometimes dropping defensive ends into coverage. (Something Sean McDermott continued here, to great derision from critics.) We know that's a hard thing to do from the wide nine. But we also know that good coaches tweak their preferences to the personnel they have. The Eagles tied for the NFL lead with 50 sacks. It's very hard to argue that with better linebacking play and a more experienced coordinator, their defense wouldn't have been as good as almost anyone's by the end of the season. The Eagles have more impact defensive players than New Orleans or Atlanta. Surely, Spagnuolo would see that, too.

We still don't have any idea what will become of Castillo. A report the other day suggested Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier could have interest in Castillo as defensive coordinator, though the Vikings have not yet fired d-coordinator Fred Pagac. That report, from 1500ESPN.com in the Twin Cities, mentioned that before moving from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator with the Eagles a year ago, Castillo was telling friends he thought he was going to Minnesota to work with Frazier. In fact, the buzz just after the Eagles' playoff loss to Green Bay last year was that Castillo was going to become some sort of offensive line coach-assistant head coach with the Vikings.

As much as we'd all like answers, free agency is more than a month away, the draft is 3 months off. As long as they aren't missing out on a perfect candidate, the Eagles don't need to rush whatever changes they're looking to make. The only people really suffering are those of us expected to write about stuff that, so far, isn't happening.


For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/LesBowen.

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