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An open letter to Steve Spagnuolo

Craig Stout thanks the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator for a job well done.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Dear Coach Spags,

When you were hired just over a year ago, you were put into an unenviable position: turning around an undisciplined, struggling Kansas City Chiefs defense. I’ll be honest: to most fans, you weren’t the sexiest choice on the market.

But since then, you’ve completely revamped the Chiefs defense. You added aggression and unpredictability to a group that struggled in both of these areas under the previous coordinator. You brought in an all-star coaching staff to help execute your vision and add new wrinkles to your scheme. You added brash, vocal leaders in Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark to help align the locker room as a singular unit. You made adjustments — putting each player in their best position to succeed — which led to a unified group that was even better than the sum of its parts.

And you were a major contributor in bringing Andy Reid his first Super Bowl victory — the team’s first in 50 years.

After five years of vanilla schemes and predictable calls, the 2019 scheme was a breath of fresh air — featuring heavy blitzing, creative coverage drops and a clear plan of attack that was tailored to each individual opponent. While that seems like it should be commonplace among today’s NFL teams, we’ve seen it isn’t always the case — even for this season’s Super Bowl runner-up.

Early in the year, your aggressive, one-gap defensive scheme led to some situations where poor gap control allowed big rushing lanes. But under your guidance, the defense learned to trust each other. By the time the Chiefs were in the playoffs, traditional rushing attacks that were expected to dominate the team were rendered ineffective. Negative plays were significantly more commonplace than in previous years, allowing more situations where you could use your creative pressure packages to get your unit off the field.

It was nice to watch a defense that wanted to attack — rather than simply sit on a lead.

During the 2019 offseason, much was made of your all-star coaching staff. Brendan Daly, Matt House, Dave Merritt and Sam Madison didn’t just live up to their billing. They exceeded it.

In Albert Breer’s fantastic MMQB article, we learned of the “do your job plus” mentality you instilled in the team — and other contributions your players and coaches made.

Daly’s involvement with the pressure packages — and attention to detail — helped the young defensive linemen produce at a level that was even more impactful than the team’s 2018 defensive line.

Merritt and Madison’s coaching of the secondary allowed you to run exotic coverage schemes and tailor the game plan the way you wanted. Even with spending less than $10 million on cornerbacks — and utilizing a rookie safety and a veteran cornerback converted to safety — their ability to maximize the team’s minimal investment in the secondary was nothing short of exceptional.

House’s contributions were more difficult to see, but he helped with the game plans and adjustments in an evolving NFL — including key contributions that helped blunt the San Francisco 49ers’ RPO attack in the Super Bowl.

Your assistants helped execute your vision for the team. They allowed the defense to roll through injuries, some spots of poor play and week-to-week shifts in the game plan. The trust you put on your all-star assistants definitely paid you back in full.

When you walked into Arrowhead, you knew you needed the right culture. Your attitude and vision would come through your approach and your assistants, but you needed on-field leadership to help execute and organize it.

The impact that Mathieu and Clark had on your defense cannot be overstated.

Mathieu gave us a peek at your vision in July, saying that he would be a chess piece — and stating his belief that your approach to the defense was the correct one. At the time, it seemed like the company line.

It didn’t take long to see that this wasn’t the case. Mathieu was a true leader on the field, emboldening those around him to be better — even getting typically stoic Daniel Sorensen to show some swagger on the field. Mathieu took to his leadership role like a fish to water, proving that your decision to make him a focal point on the defense was the correct one.

If Mathieu was the brains of the defense, Clark was definitely a major piece of the backbone.

Previous Chiefs defenses had too many moments of soft play — both physically and mentally. When the going got tough, whether the defense would respond to adversity was a coin flip.

Clark was brought in for his “knife between the teeth” mentality — a player who would never quit coming. Over the course of the season, he proved his mettle through injuries and hospitalization, helping to tighten up the previously-soft defense down the stretch. Back in April, general manager Brett Veach said that you viewed Clark as a closer — and the playoff run proved your assessment was correct.

You were able to boost the entire group, taking a brand new set of players — most of whom had never played with each other before — and turning them into a unified front that played to their strengths. It wasn’t just Mathieu and Clark, either. It was Derrick Nnadi, Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller playing what were arguably their best games during the biggest moment of their NFL careers. It was maximizing the talents of Chris Jones, Tanoh Kpassagnon and Charvarius Ward to become more consistent impact players. As a group, everyone knew what to do and when to do it — at the highest possible level.

In Kansas City, we’ve seen collections of defensive talent come and go. I’d argue this wasn’t the most talented group we’ve seen in the Andy Reid era — but thanks to the efforts of you and your staff, it was the best group we’ve seen since Reid arrived. The players wholly bought in to your scheme, culture and mentality — and they were a better unit because of it.

So thank you, Coach Spags. Thank you for helping bring Chiefs fans the bliss they’ve been craving for 50 years. This championship is due in no small part to your efforts.

— Craig Stout

P.S. How about we go ahead and run this thing back again next year?