One defensive coordinator was rumored to take over as the new Jets head coach, while the other was actually hired.
One is known for being a hard-nosed drill sergeant, while the other believes in sitting back and watching his celebrated X's and O's on the defensive side of the ball translate into victories.
One is a 49-year-old with a Super Bowl ring, and the other is a 46-year-old also boasting some shiny jewelry on his finger.
One is Steve Spagnuolo. The other is Rex Ryan.
When Spagnuolo’s St. Louis Rams and Ryan’s Jets clash in Friday’s preseason opener (7:00, WCBS), prognosticators will focus on the training-camp subplots growing by the minute. It will be interesting to see how the Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens race pans out, and how young—or old—Steven Jackson’s legs look.
The real story, the one we should all celebrate, is how Spagnuolo and Ryan finally get to see their extensive resumes pay off. You would be hearing lies if they each claimed butterflies won’t be dancing in their stomachs prior to their NFL head coaching debuts.
Spagnuolo spent eight years as an assistant to Jim Johnson in Philadelphia before taking over as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in 2007. And we all know how he anchored "The Little Blue Engine That Could," which sacked Tom Brady five times—the most he’d been taken down in a game that season—and generated the “18-1” chants as the Super Bowl XLII clock dwindled to zeros.
Following interviews with the Lions, Browns, Broncos, and Jets, Spagnuolo agreed to a four-year, $11.5 million contract to guide St. Louis. The Rams finished 2-14 in the awful NFC West and yielded 465 overall points last season.
The daunting rebuilding project is underway in a loud manner, ever since full contact and going all-out have become staples at Camp Spags.
"It is definitely quite a shock," Jackson, a running back and victim of the hard hits, told The Sporting News. "It's something that is not routinely done. I understand the benefits of it, and I am just trying to go with the flow."
The other Rams clearly see the profit as well, as they reportedly have taken a liking to an ultra-intense workout.
"That’s encouraging," Spagnuolo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If you had it the other way, I'd be a little concerned about people not wanting to be physical. But the guys have been tremendous. I walk in (the huddle) now and say it's not live, and they're all, 'C'mon! c'mon! How come it's not live?'"
Meanwhile, Ryan, who spent several years helping the Baltimore Ravens transform into one of the most feared defensive clubs in decades, brings a fresh attitude to a team in desperate need of one.
“I always wanted to be on the sideline. I always wanted the feel of the game,” Ryan said, according to the Jets’ Web site. “When I was a coordinator, even a position coach, I was up in the box one year and couldn’t take it. I did much better on the field.
“I always thought you got a better feel for the game, what your guys were like, just the feeling that you would get down there.”
Ryan, whose team is armed with a potent defense and electric running game, respects his first two assignments.
“You have Spagnuolo’s defense this week, and you have the Ravens next week. There are probably some easier games to open up preseason with, but it’ll be great because the competition will be fantastic,” Ryan said.
“I can honestly say, I can’t tell you a single preseason game score that I’ve ever been involved in, and that’s a bunch of them. Win, loss—we all know it doesn’t really matter.”
You can bet this one will mean a little bit more to Spagnuolo and Ryan, the new guys learning on the job.