I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Steve Spagnuolo and the New York Giants are made for each other and having him back as defensive coordinator will return them to Super Bowl glory, or at least the playoffs. Maybe he's a great coach who had a raw deal in St. Louis and New Orleans and will get to rebuild his reputation now that he's back with the team with which he had his greatest success. Maybe the Giants see something in him that no one else in this hiring cycle saw, and maybe they're right.
I just don't think, if I were the Giants, that I'd risk my future on it.
After they fired defensive coordinator Perry Fewell last week, the Giants had a chance to do with their defense what they did last year with their offense -- rethink and rebuild it with a fresh voice in charge. Instead, they defaulted to the familiar and brought back Spagnuolo, who was their defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl season of 2007 and the 12-4 season of 2008. Those were Tom Coughlin's best teams as Giants coach, and you can understand the temptation to go back to one of the people who helped make them happen.
But the Giants right now are at a point in their history where the focus needs to be on rebuilding for the long term. A half-decade's worth of miserable drafts has sapped their talent pipeline to the point where they needed to sign 20-plus free agents a year ago to fill out a roster that would go 6-10. The only reason to think they can turn this around in a year is that the NFL perpetually offers everyone that hope. Realistically, they finished six games out of first place in 2014 and are still in the early stages of a rebuild. The right move isn't to hire a coordinator to make the 2015 defense great. The right move is to hire a coordinator who'll help make the defense great for the next five or six years.
Spagnuolo could be that. Coughlin's quotes in the news release announcing his hiring focused a lot on how Spagnuolo has changed and grown as a coach since his last time in New York -- as if anticipating questions about this being a backward-looking hire and trying to head them off.
"His defense has changed since he was last here," the release says Coughlin said. "He worked in Baltimore with John Harbaugh and Dean Pees, and they are outstanding defensive coaches. He has studied defenses. Steve visited colleges and talked to college coaches, including Urban Meyer (coach of national champion Ohio State) to learn how to defend the spread offenses that have become so popular."
Good for him, and good for the Giants if that's the case. The best coaches are the ones who evolve and learn and open their minds to the new and creative ideas of those around and available to them. If that's the way Spagnuolo has spent the last two years, then he and the Giants can certainly benefit, and this could turn out to be a forward-looking hire after all.
But while this is obviously a great week to name-drop Urban Meyer (and yes, the parentheses were the Giants', not mine), the reality is that there are a lot more negatives on the Spagnuolo résumé than there are positives. You can tell me he didn't have the pieces in St. Louis to be a successful head coach, but he wasn't even a mediocre one. He was 10-38 in three seasons. You can tell me he and everyone else with the 2012 Saints were in a bad position due to the Sean Payton suspension and the bounty scandal, but that doesn't mean your defense has to go out and allow more yards than any NFL defense has ever allowed in a season, as the Saints did with Spagnuolo as their coordinator that year.
If this were a 55-year-old coach with a résumé identical to Spagnuolo's except that he'd spent 2007-08 with, say, the Minnesota Vikings, Giants fans would hate this hire. Literally the only reason for a fan to be fired up about it is if they're living in the past -- a past that by the way included Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in the pass rush.
Make no mistake: Given the Giants' personnel issues on defense right now, this job is a lot closer to the ones Spagnuolo had in St. Louis and New Orleans than it is to the one he took with the Giants in 2007. Can he make the difference? Possible. It's just a mistake to assume he will. And if he flops, the Giants will end up having to do what they could and should have done this time around -- find somebody to help build them something new and lead it into the future.