Giants will enter '09 season with the loss of another defensive leader, with the conviction that his replacement will carry on continuity.
Steve Spagnuolo is introduced as the New Head Coach of the St. Louis Rams on Monday 1/19/09
Michael Strahan's retirement after the Super Bowl and Osi Umenyiora's season ending injury left many Giants fans bracing for the impact it would have on the 2008 season... the performances of Mathias Kiwanuka & Justin Tuck during the 2008 season left many Giants fans wondering why they were so concerned in the first place, yet feeling a bit cheated in knowing that the mere presence of a Umenyiora or Strahan on the field could have been the extra push needed to get over the hump.
Here we go again.
Everyone knew this day would come. I'm sure that Giants fans - myself included - held out hope that the plethora of head coaching job openings would fill up quickly and leave Steve Spagnuolo in their wake, forcing him to wait it out just one more year. It wasn't to be, and Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom has secured himself a talented football mind and solid human being. To be perfectly honest, Spags deserves this; I wish him the best of everything in his new role (except of course when he faces the Giants).
St. Louis' gain is the Giants loss, but Spagnuolo leaves a very special gift behind as he leaves New York. His influence on this team will reap benefits for years to come, and what his presence in this organization has meant to players like Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, Kiwanuka and Umenyiora cannot be overstated. In 2006, the Giants were the 26th ranked defense in the league under coordinator Tim Lewis. In just two short years, Spagnuolo instilled his system and work ethic in the fabric of each and every member of the Giants defense, and he's responsible for returning them to the ranks of NFL prominence as one of the most cohesive and successful units in the league.
Now we look ahead to 2009. Tom Coughlin has named Bill Sheridan as Spagnuolo's successor. It's been reported that Dom Capers - Coughlin's former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville - was among his considerations, but that Sheridan was always number one on the list of candidates (Capers has since taken that same post with the Green Bay Packers). To understand what Coughlin sees in Bill Sheridan, look no further that the fact that Spagnuolo would have hired Sheridan to be his defensive coordinator in St. Louis had the Giants granted Sheridan permission to even discuss it with Spags. Sheridan was asked to wait until the Giants were able to solidify their own coaching staff needs.
A Detroit native, Sheridan (49) played linebacker at De La Salle High School and Grand Valley State University. He has a pretty healthy resume, mostly on the collegiate level dating back to the mid 1980's. Over a 12-year span between 1992 and 2004, he coached at Army, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Michigan. Sheridan was primarily a linebackers and defensive line coach in that time, but also served as a special teams and defensive backs coach. He also gained in-depth knowledge of the recruiting process at the University of Michigan as the school's recruitment coordinator for two years, where his classes were rated among the top 10 in the nation.
As the Giants linebackers coach since 2005, Sheridan has grown adept at coping with injuries and working with players that had to shift positions. Carlos Emmons, Reggie Torbor, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, Roman Phifer - all former Giants linebackers that rotated in and out of the lineup over the last three years with injury problems. Even with all of those issues on the table, Sheridan managed to work closely with former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Kawika Mitchell to integrate him into pass rushing schemes, resulting in Mitchell's highest single season sack totals last year. Sheridan also played a major role in the development of Antonio Pierce, who's performance had been inconsistent prior to signing with New York as a free agent in 2005.
Pierce was an undrafted free agent signed by the Washington Redskins in 2001, where he spent four seasons in and out of the starting lineup. His best season came in 2004, when Pierce started in all 16 games replacing the injured Micheal Barrow - he signed on with the Giants the following season, and was one of the few injury-free players Sheridan could rely on over the last three years. Sheridan was also a key factor in helping Kiwanuka transition from defensive end to strongside linebacker for the 2007 season, where Kiwanuka registered 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles in 9 games before breaking his leg in week 11 against the Lions when - oddly enough - Osi Umenyiora fell on him while tackling Detroit running back Kevin Jones.
So now we wait for the 2009 season, where we'll find out just how much of Steve Spagnuolo's residue sticks to Bill Sheridan and the New York Giants defense.
"It's obviously a proven, excellent system that Steve brought from Philadelphia..." Sheridan said in a Giants team statement released on Monday. "You're obviously going to have a slightly different tint to it, because you have a different coordinator and will get different input from whoever Tom brings in from outside to complete the staff. But the system is in place and there's a tremendous comfort level with the players."
Tom Coughlin added, "We won 26 games here in the last two years..." Coughlin added. "...there is an inclination when that happens that you would stay within. Continuity is important to me, but the strength of staff is important, too. We've lost Steve, our coordinator, but it takes many, many people to be successful and to function properly... I want to keep the continuity, I want the players to know that the fact they have performed to a high level the last two years is, in a way, being rewarded. One of the coaches from the staff has been elevated to the coordinator's role and the terminology will stay the same."
Staying within... I like the way that feels. And Spagnoulo wanted Sheridan to join him in St. Louis, which - for now - is good enough for me.
References: giants.com, nydailynews.com (Ralph Vacchiano - staff writer), nfl.com - Giants Statement: Associated Press