Last Friday, Rams equipment manager Todd Hewitt arrived to the team's Earth City complex at 5:50 a.m. -- 20 minutes late by his standards. It'd been a long week. The previous Sunday the Rams had dropped their season-ending game to the Seahawks, losing their bid to the playoffs. Hewitt had spent the next four days getting to work early so he could wash the final loads of laundry, strip down the locker room and help players prepare for their exit physicals. That Friday morning he was about to begin taking inventory for next season when he received a 7 a.m. call from head coach Steve Spagnuolo summoning him to his office.
Since Spagnuolo joined the team at the start of the 2009 season, he and Hewitt never warmed to each other; Spagnuolo had earned a reputation as a control freak, and it's possible he resented Hewitt's close relationship with the players. Hewitt, of course, was a Rams fixture, having served 10 different head coaches since 1978. He'd been appointed equipment manager in 1986, succeeding his father, the late Don Hewitt, who'd held the position since 1967.
When Hewitt entered Spagnuolo's office on Friday, he took a seat. But the head coach remained standing. General manager Billy Devaney hovered nearby.
Moments later, Hewitt experienced something he'd never anticipated in his 32-year career. He was fired.
"[Spagnuolo] said, 'There's no sense prolonging this. We're not going to bring you back,'" recalls Hewitt during an interview with Daily RFT at his Ballwin home.
It was a firing, pure and simple. No explanation. No negotiation. Not even a deftly crafted message by the team's spokesman along the lines of "Todd has decided he wants to spend more time with his family." The conversation lasted three minutes. Hewitt had until the end of the day to clear out his office; his request to do so over the weekend was denied. With the wind knocked out of him, Hewitt called his wife, who woke his three sons; they arrived at the complex in a moving truck. A security guard stood watch to make sure Hewitt didn't depart with anything that didn't belong to him.
In just one morning it had come to this: The man who'd spent more years with the Rams than anyone else since the '70s -- who joined the organizational family in 1967 as a ten-year-old ball boy, who screwed the face masks onto the helmets of Jack Youngblood, Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, who in 1997 earned the NFL's Equipment Manager of the Year Award, who helped usher the team into a new city, fourteen playoff appearances and three Super Bowls -- was consigned to shuttling boxes into a moving truck in the freezing cold, as the clock ticked and a security guard stood watch.
Last week the team also decided to let go of assistant strength coach Chuck Faucette. Shortly after Hewitt's firing, a statement attributed to Spagnuolo went out to the media: "We have decided not to retain Todd Hewitt and Chuck Faucette going forward in 2011. We appreciate their efforts in the past and wish them well in the future."
Now, after five days, the 54-year-old Hewitt has had time to unpack some of his boxes and emotions. Sitting on his couch in jeans and sneakers, he described the way the firing went down. "[Spagnuolo] said, 'You gave me two good years of great service, and we've decided to move in a different direction,'" Hewitt recounts. But the subtext ran deeper.
Over their two years together, the relationship between head coach and equipment manager had grown frosty. To hear Hewitt tell it, Spagnuolo brought a militaristic dysfunction to the locker room. He criticized the way Hewitt distributed socks. He questioned the way he hung wall fixtures. He scoffed at him for loading the team plane too slowly. He warned him never to talk back to him. By the second year, Hewitt couldn't assign a number to a new player without checking upstairs first. "He made life miserable," Hewitt sums up.
At one point last off-season, Spagnuolo told Hewitt he'd considered firing him and implied that he didn't take good care of the players. But he never elaborated as to how, says Hewitt. "He was paranoid."
A Rams spokesman declined to comment for this article beyond directing RFT to Spagnuolo's public statement.
Hewitt says his spirits are up now. He's received calls from most of the players. Dick Vermeil called. So did Faulk and Youngblood. So did the presidents of Nike, Rawlings and Riddell. But it's clear he's still in shock. He says the anger will come later, but signs of it are already showing.
"To be honest, I'm praying they lose every game next year," he says, adding that he has vowed never to watch another Rams game with Spagnuolo at the helm.
"What upsets me more than anything is that I did the job, I worked hard, I did things right, there was never a problem. It's not like I got fired because I forgot the footballs or didn't give players their shoes. I got fired because he wanted to move in another direction."
But when the talk turned back toward the players, the equipment manager's tone changed. And his eyes grew misty. "They're a tremendous group of guys," he said. "I'll miss them."
The only life Hewitt has ever known is Rams football. The majority of his memories, relationships and mementos come from the locker room that is clad in the carpeting that Hewitt laid down himself. "[Since the '60s] there are only two people who ever put a gold decal on those Rams helmets: Todd, and his father," says Hewitt's wife, Kathy. At this Hewitt laughs. "They'll figure it out," he quips. "But it kills the wrists. Gives you carpal tunnel."
Hewitt choked back emotions as he reflected on the good times. Over the course of 32 years, he never missed a game -- not even during the birth of one of his kids. He thought about the memories of his dad, who once advised him: "Never get married, get sick or die during the season." He talked about the first time he walked through the tunnel at the Los Angeles Coliseum, right beside Vince Lombardi before a Packers-Rams game.
"What I did wasn't anything earth-shattering," Hewitt reflects. "I just hope I made a good impression on people's lives."
Then he gets up. He has boxes to unpack.