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Five things to know about Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo

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Get to know your new defensive coordinator.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s official. The Kansas City Chiefs have a new defensive coordinator.

After firing Bob Sutton just two days after the Chiefs AFC Championship loss to the Patriots, Andy Reid began his search for a new coordinator to take over a defense that was very much in need of some change.

Under Bob Sutton’s guidance, the Chiefs defense finished the 2018 season ranked at a lowly 31st in yards per game and passing yards per game, 27th in rushing yards per game, 24th in points allowed per game and 26th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA.

Enter Steve Spagnuolo.

Spagnuolo comes into this new role with the Chiefs having stepped away from the game in 2018. He was let go by the New York Giants in 2017 after being been bumped up from defensive coordinator to interim head coach in the wake of Ben McAdoo’s termination in Week 13. Spagnuolo had led the team to only a 1-3 finish.

Despite that bitter end in New York, though, Spagnuolo felt confident that he would return to the NFL in 2019.

“I’m going to coach again,” Spagnuolo said in a report following the Giants’ decision. “I’m passionate about it. I love it too much. That’s the biggest fear as a coach if you’re not looking at a season this year, is can you handle not doing it? But if that’s what happens, that’s what I’ll have to do and Maria and I will find a way to make it work and hopefully get back on the trail a year from now.”

And Spagnuolo was right. He would be returning in 2019—this time back with Andy Reid and for the first time with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are five things you need to know about Steve Spagnuolo, also known as, “Spags.”

1. He has long experience in multiple defensive areas

Steve Spagnuolo Career Trajectory
Team Year(s) Position(s)
Massachusetts 1981–1982 Graduate assistant
Washington Redskins 1983 Player personnel intern
Lafayette 1984–1986 Defensive line coach, special teams coach
Connecticut 1987–1989 Defensive backs coach
Connecticut 1990–1991 Defensive coordinator, defensive backs coach
Barcelona Dragons 1992 Defensive line coach, special teams coach
Maine 1993 Defensive backs coach
Maine 1994 Defensive coordinator, linebackers coach
Rutgers 1994–1995 Defensive backs coach
Bowling Green 1996–1997 Defensive backs coach
Frankfurt Galaxy 1998 Defensive coordinator, linebackers coach
Philadelphia Eagles 1999–2000 Defensive assistant
Philadelphia Eagles 2001–2003 Defensive backs coach
Philadelphia Eagles 2004–2006 Linebackers coach
New York Giants 2007–2008 Defensive coordinator
St. Louis Rams 2009–2011 Head coach
New Orleans Saints 2012 Defensive coordinator
Baltimore Ravens 2013 Senior defensive assistant
Baltimore Ravens 2014 Secondary coach
New York Giants 2015–2017 Defensive coordinator
New York Giants 2017 Interim head coach
Kansas City Chiefs 2019- Defensive coordinator

From graduate assistant, to NFL intern, to coaching at various colleges and even with NFL Europe franchises — which served as a sort of NFL minor league before ending in 2007 — Spagnuolo had exposure to a lot of different college/NFL coaches early on in his career.

However, it was his time in Philadelphia working under Jim Johnson that Spagnuolo credits most with providing him the foundation for his creative defensive schemes and aggressive blitzing philosophy.

“It began mostly with Jim Johnson back in Philadelphia,” Spagnuolo said in 2012 interview. “We were doing a little bit in NFL Europe when I was coaching the team in Frankfurt, Germany. It really expanded and all the things that Jim was creative with. That’s kind of where it began. It was that foundation in Philly for eight years. Jim was terrific with it God rest his soul. He had done it a long time.”

2. He has strong ties to head coach Andy Reid

If there’s one thing we know about Andy Reid, it’s that he really values his coaching relationships and likes to keep those he trusts and respects close to him if possible — and Spagnuolo fits that bill.

After almost 20 years working mostly in the collegiate world, Spagnuolo landed his first NFL gig in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles — the same year that Andy Reid took over as the team’s head coach. During his eight seasons working under Reid, Spagnuolo worked as an assistant with the defense in various capacities and was a crucial part of helping Reid lead the Eagles to five straight double-digit win seasons between 2000 and 2004.

However, in all five of those seasons, the Eagles’ season ended in either a divisional-round loss, conference championship loss or, eventually, a Super Bowl loss in 2004.

3. He’s primarily used a 4-3 base defense

As our own Craig Stout pointed out in his article, “The 4-3 Under: How the Chiefs’ current personnel fits,” the 4-3 variant that Spagnuolo uses, called the 4-3 Under, is similar to that utilized by his mentor — and former Andy Reid defensive coordinator — Jim Johnson. The 4-3 Under front shares quite a few similarities to that of the Chiefs 3-4 defense, which should make this coaching transition easier.

The 4-3 base will be a change schematically for the Chiefs, who had been operating under the 3-4 scheme used by former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and will likely have an impact on the Chiefs’ 2019 draft picks, as well as their approach to utilizing the current talent they already have.

While we’re here, take a look at this breakdown in which Spagnuolo explains how to play zone defense and when to use Cover 2, Cover 3 or Cover 4.

4. His past defensive rankings are a bit...inconsistent

Steve Spagnuolo as Defensive Coordinator
Team Year Def
DVOA
Points Scoring
Pct
Yds/Ply Rush
Y/A
Pass
NY/A
Pass
Rtg
Sacks Sack
Pct
TO TO
Pct
Giants 2007 -2.9%
(14)
351
(17)
29.5
(11)
5.0
(8)
3.8
(4)
5.8
(10)
83.4
(17)
53
(1)
9.2
(1)
25
(22)
12.4
(23)
Giants 2008 -4.0%
(8)
294
(5)
28.9
(6)
5.0
(8)
4.0
(11)
5.8
(7)
76.7
(8)
42
(6)
7.7
(5)
22
(20)
12.1
(19)
Saints 2012 14.8%
(32)
454
(31)
39.6
(28)
6.5
(32)
5.2
(32)
7.4
(32)
93.8
(28)
30
(25)
4.7
(29)
26
(12)
13.0
(12)
Giants 2015 10.5%
(30)
442
(30)
40.5
(29)
6.1
(30)
4.4
(24)
7.2
(29)
95.9
(21)
23
(30)
3.5
(30)
28
(6)
14.2
(8)
Giants 2016 -15.0%
(2)
284
(2)
29.9
(5)
5.1
(5)
3.6
(2)
6.0
(6)
75.8
(2)
35
(14)
5.3
(21)
25
(11)
12.2
(12)
Giants 2017 5.7%
(24)
388
(27)
35.5
(19)
5.7
(28)
4.2
(20)
6.9
(27)
94.2
(25)
27
(29)
4.6
(29)
19
(23)
9.6
(25)

As you can see, 2015, 2012 and 2017 weren’t Spagnulo’s most shining years in his defensive coordinator career. However, in his best seasons as a defensive coordinator — all three with the New York Giants in 2007, 2008, 2016 — he had some remarkable numbers and even won a Super Bowl (against the undefeated 2007 Patriots—hi, Chiefs fans).

During those seasons, here’s the talent he had to work with:

In Spagnuolo’s worst seasons, his numbers don’t look much better than those of the Chiefs’ defense under Bob Sutton, which could be an area of concern for Chiefs fans going into 2019.

So, which Spags defense will the Chiefs get? The one that ranked fifth in points allowed in 2008 or the ones that ranked 30th and 31st in points allowed in 2012 (Saints) and 2015 (Giants)?

5. He can execute a solid plan when it matters

Despite his inconsistent defensive rankings throughout his career, one of Spagnuolo’s most notable achievements was the role he played in the Giants’ 17-14 Super Bowl XLII upset victory over the New England Patriots.

Serving as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo put together an aggressive game plan that allowed New York to shut down what was, at the time, the highest-scoring and most dangerous offense in league history in the undefeated Patriots.

In that game, Tom Brady completed just 29 of 48 attempts, was sacked five times by four different Giants defenders and finished with a quarterback rating of 55.4 percent. Additionally, New England only converted on 7 of 14 third downs and went 0 for 2 on fourth downs.

Here are the highlights from the legendary upset: