Curtis Lofton’s phone was abuzz with activity Wednesday morning and he wasn’t really sure why.
Then he read the explosive story from the Times-Picayune’s Larry Holder about how one player believed Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should be fired after one season, one in which New Orleans set an NFL record for yards given up.
To Lofton, the story was a head-scratcher, both for what it contained and for the fact that it was out there.
The defense, the linebacker asserted, was certainly difficult in that there were many moving parts. But Lofton also pointed to the fact that in the latter half of the season, the defense improved and he believes brighter days are, in fact, ahead.
Lofton was steadfast in his defense of Spagnuolo’s system, calling it one of the only ones he knows of that dictates the game to the offense and has an answer for everything an opponent can throw at it.
But what has Lofton perplexed the most – as well as those inside the Saints organization – is the point that Spagnuolo “treated players like crap.”
From the media’s perspective, he has never been anything but gracious, answering questions without batting an eye, even when they’re about why his defense has failed.
There’s also this – when the defense was off to its historically terrible start, Spagnuolo’s weekly press conferences were moved up from Fridays to Mondays. Why? From those I talked to, it was Spagnuolo’s idea to take pressure off of interim coach Aaron Kromer and allow him to answer the questions instead.
That would be one reason a staff member I talked to said both Spagnuolo and his wife Maria are very well-liked inside the Airline Drive facility. He’s also well respected throughout NFL circles.
Lofton, meanwhile, acknowledged that he and Spagnuolo had had heated discussions this season. But each time, the Saints linebacker said, he and the defensive coordinator worked out their differences and found a middle ground. Lofton, it should be noted, has taken over for linebacker Jonathan Vilma as the leader of the defense.
No player and coach ever see eye-to-eye all the time, Lofton said, but the key is being able to talk problems out and Spagnuolo’s door always was open for that to happen.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle as it always is.
According to Holder’s story, Vilma sidestepped a question asking if the anonymous player’s beliefs were wrong, telling the paper, “That’s not the question or the point.” Vilma was given a perfect opportunity to refute the player’s sentiments, but only took umbrage with the anonymous sourcing aspect of the story.
That’s not exactly a defense of the defensive coordinator.
What is a defense, however, is what Chris Chamberlain said. The outside linebacker played for Spagnuolo in St. Louis and signed with the Saints this offseason. He was set to be a key member of the defense until blowing out his knee in a preseason game.
When asked Wednesday afternoon about the Times-Picayune story, Chamberlain said he was surprised to see the comments that were made by the anonymous player. He added that he has never seen Spagnuolo treat anybody poorly, saying, “He’s always been good about getting his point across without being disrespectful to the player.”
Chamberlain spent the season rehabbing and spending time with the linebackers and defense in team meetings, watching as the defense was installed and tweaked.
As for the part about Spagnuolo’s scheme being the problem and proper adjustments not being made, Chamberlain said that that wasn’t true, that he “made it clear that if there was something that we didn’t feel good about, to let him know and he would take it out.”
Several other players were contacted by WWLTV.com and, the ones who responded, preferred to stay away from the fray and out of the story.
In listening to Lofton, he seemed genuinely taken aback by the story. Throughout the conversation, Lofton time and again sounded puzzled that anyone believed Spagnuolo wasn’t willing to listen to gripes or concerns with the defense.
It was obvious that Lofton wasn’t onboard with the anonymous player’s thoughts. Indeed, it was apparent in Lofton’s tone that he wasn’t taking the company line and was speaking for himself.
And on Wednesday, the only thing that had Lofton angrier than the story blasting his defensive coordinator was that having to comment on it interrupted his playing Call of Duty.