When it was first announced that Steve Spagnuolo had been hired as the new defensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, much was made of the fact that he had been out of coaching for a year.
“Why would you want a guy,” some fans mused, “who couldn’t get an NFL job last season?”
I wasn’t so sure it was such a bad thing. As a young man, I spent a number of years in the radio business. But then — after the station at which I was working was sold and everybody lost their jobs — I spent a few years away from the industry.
For me, being away for a while turned out to be very valuable because I spent time as a consumer of radio instead of a producer of it. I learned to think more like a radio listener — which was a very useful perspective when I finally returned to the biz.
So I wondered if something similar had happened to Spagnuolo during his season away from coaching. And as he revealed when speaking to the media for the first time on Wednesday, something like that did happen.
It wasn’t entirely his choice. After serving as interim head coach of the New York Giants following the firing of Ben McAdoo late in the 2017 season, Spagnuolo wanted to stay on.
“I had an interview with the Giants for the head coaching job, and that kind of lingered for a while,” Spangnuolo explained to the press. “When it was all said and done, most of the jobs were over and gone. I did decide not to take one particular job.”
Then, said Spagnuolo, it occurred to him that the best thing to do might be to step away from the game for a while.
“There came a point when I thought it was the best thing for me at that particular time. I’m really glad I did it.
“I found it to be both challenging and rewarding,” he said. “The challenge was missing football... missing the camaraderie of coaches and players, not being at training camp — [Chiefs communication VP] Ted [Crews] knows I love training camp, [because] when it’s nice and hot [and] you’re doing football. That was the challenge: missing it. But the reward was to sit back, see a big-picture view of the NFL and the game of football, as opposed to being in these buildings during the season and having the blinders on [so you see] just the team you’re going to play.”
For Spagnuolo, it wasn’t just navel-gazing. He took some specific steps to ensure he would benefit from the year off.
“I have oodles of notes,” he said. “I did have the opportunity — because I was living in the Philadelphia area — to go over to NFL Flims every week and have access to film. So the young guys here in Kansas City already know that I have a lot of plays that I wanted to pull because I gave [them] to them as soon as I got here.”
He also said he gained insight from spending time working in the media.
“I did do a little bit of media work — some radio, a little bit of TV. I found it real interesting — the questions and the perceptions of people in the media. Now... here’s where I’m going: sometimes as coaches, we don’t see the forest through the trees. And [when] somebody that may (or may not) know football the way a coach does brings something up, it just gets you thinking as a person that’s in the middle of it. I think there were a number of those that happened to me when I would kind of back off a little bit and say, ‘Geez, that was an interesting question. Maybe I ought to think about that a little bit.’”
Spagnuolo seemed genuinely excited to get back to work after his year-long sabbatical — maybe even a little too excited.
“I probably have too many thoughts of things that I could change, and you have to be careful about that, too,” he said. “The foundation of what we do and how we want to build this thing won’t change, but I’m always open to change in policies and procedures. I went to a number of practices. I saw drills that I would incorporate. I saw structures in practice — how it was run — that I would use, [which] I’ll certainly suggest to Coach Reid. Whether he uses them or not is up to him.”
Whatever else is true about the new defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, he’s coming into Kansas City fully rested. He has a fresh perspective and lots of new ideas. There’s a lot to like about that.