It finally happened.
The Kansas City Chiefs fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton after a poorly ranked defense finished the year on a low note, losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. Chiefs fans everywhere are rejoicing, but where will the team turn to replace Sutton in 2019?
We’ll look at a few candidates that I think could have an impact next season for the Chiefs, their histories and strengths and what they could bring to the team.
Mike Smith — outside linebackers coach, Kansas City
Andy Reid likes to hire from within, and the only name that makes sense on the Chiefs roster is Smith. After serving as the assistant defensive line coach, Smith was promoted to the outside linebackers coach in 2018. Dee Ford responded to the change by having the best year of his career, Justin Houston was able to find some form, and the team got snaps out of Breeland Speaks as a project rusher.
Smith has received tons of praise from his players and the coaching staff for his preparation and ability to put his players in their best positions to succeed — two of the biggest Sutton complaints I had. Ford, Houston and even Chris Jones have spoken to his level of preparedness, attributing Smith in no small part to their success this year.
Smith was a co-defensive coordinator at Texas Tech prior to joining the Chiefs, so he’s not unfamiliar with the task at hand. If the Chiefs are keeping things internal, Smith is the choice.
Spagnuolo is an intriguing name, and a real possibility considering his Andy Reid ties. A Jim Johnson disciple, Spagnuolo was a defensive assistant, defensive backs coach and a linebackers coach under Johnson while Andy Reid was the head coach.
Primarily running a 4-3 base, Spagnuolo embraces Johnson’s blitz-heavy approach, especially coming from cornerbacks and safeties. He famously utilized smaller defensive linemen as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, manipulating fronts and keeping the offense off balance.
While recent success has eluded him — being let go after becoming the interim head coach for the Giants in 2017 — Spagnuolo does have ties to Reid, and is an established name in the NFL. If Reid wants to hands the reins to a more established coordinator, Spagnuolo could be the guy.
Chris Hewitt - secondary coach, Baltimore Ravens
A seventh-year coach for the Ravens, Hewitt has been the secondary coach for arguably the NFL’s top passing defense in the league for the last two years. Previously serving as their defensive backs coach, Hewitt has helped turn the Ravens secondary into a ball-hawking, stifling group.
Running a multitude of coverage shells, Hewitt’s attacking, aggressive style with a secondary group lacking top-end talent has been able to keep offenses on their toes and support a blitz-heavy front.
Likely running an aggressive, shifting defense, Hewitt would be a bold hire. Reid would certainly be counting on his ability to install a complex scheme and maximize personnel as a defensive coordinator. If that risk ended up paying off, there is high-end potential for a Hewitt-led stop unit.
Matt House - defensive coordinator, University of Kentucky
A lesser-known name — but an up and coming coaching name — House has been the defensive coordinator at Kentucky for the last two years, transforming that defense into a top 20-ranked national defense.
House has a diverse background, coaching defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs at the collegiate and NFL level. He helped develop a collegiate Aaron Donald as the defensive line coach at Pittsburgh and looks to have developed a stud pass rusher in Josh Allen this year in Kentucky.
House was a hot name with an ability to run multiple fronts — getting head coaching consideration this offseason at the collegiate level. Reid has shown a propensity to “borrow” from the collegiate level with his play-calls and scheme, and the rest of the NFL is following suit. House has shown the ability to develop and stop the spread offense and produce quality players. If Reid was feeling progressive with his hire, House makes sense.
Rex Ryan is a name that is always thrown around when defensive coordinator positions open up at the NFL level. He’s been out of the game for a couple years now, but his brash, attacking style of defense is still remembered fondly.
Running a more blitz-heavy version of what Chiefs fans have come to know as Sutton’s scheme, Ryan was able to keep the Patriots in check with his Jets defenses in the mid-2000s. However, Ryan hasn’t coached a team that finished in the top 10 in points and yards since 2010, and his last coaching stint — with the Buffalo Bills — saw him inherit a good Jim Schwartz defense that underperformed in his two years before getting fired.
While Ryan would be an “easier” transition than some, if Reid is looking to overhaul the scheme and abandon some of Sutton’s tendencies, he may look elsewhere. However, if Reid wants to make a small transition and add some aggressiveness, Ryan makes some sense.
Who do you want to fill Sutton’s spot? Which (if any) of these candidates excite you the most?