Now completing his second year running the Chiefs defense, Spagnuolo got his first NFL job as a defensive assistant during Reid’s first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He eventually became the Eagles’ linebackers coach before departing to become the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in 2007.
It was during that first season in New York that Spagnuolo accomplished the unthinkable: thwarting the unstoppable New England Patriots offense in Super Bowl XLII, ruining the Patriots’ perfect season by holding them to just 14 points (almost 23 points below their season average) as the Giants eked out a 17-14 victory.
Another season in New York — in which the Giants fielded the league’s fifth-best scoring defense — led to Spagnuolo becoming the head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2009 through 2011 under first-and-last-time general manager Billy Devaney.
After a series of defensive coaching jobs (and a year off), Spagnuolo took over a moribund Chiefs defense in 2019, installing a new scheme and leading it to a stellar performance in the latter part of 2019 — and the first of two championship runs.
“Steve’s excellent,” declared Reid during his Thursday media session. “I think we know that. He was a head coach in this league — rightly so. And will probably get another shot at it — to do it again — in the next few years.”
Reid said that Spagnuolo’s expertise extends well beyond Kansas City’s defense.
“He’s got a great feel for the game,” said Reid. “We bounce things off of each other all the time. That’s important. His experience is very valuable to the whole offensive staff. Listen, we all love talking football, so it’s an easy conversation.”
Spagnuolo has the admiration of defensive players like Tyrann Mathieu, too.
“First and foremost, I think he’s a great man,” said the Chiefs safety on Wednesday. “I think he has a great heart — and above all that, he’s one of the greatest teachers I’ve been around. So detailed, so informative. Not only are you going to know what you’re doing, but you’re also going to know why you’re doing it.
“He never let’s us get complacent as well. He’s always trying to find a way to get us better, even if it’s just by a little bit. I think that means a lot to him to see us continue to progress. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around, such a great teacher, a guy that can really communicate with all three levels of the defense which is really rare. Most guys are specialists at one position. He’s a guy that really has a great knowledge of it all.”
Defensive tackle Chris Jones also admires his coordinator — but thinks he might still be a specialist at heart.
“I think he’s a defensive backs coach at heart — I mean, you look at the last four games, the defensive backs are getting all the sacks,” he joked. Then he switched gears.
“I love Spags, man. He’s a great guy. He’s a player’s coach — and it’s easy for guys to buy in. It’s easy for guys to buy into Spags because he speaks the truth. He’s relatable.”
And Jones was on the team before Spagnuolo arrived, too.
“I don’t want to say too much good stuff about Spags — to keep him on his toes — but Spags is a great guy,” he noted. “He’s a heck of a leader. He gets you to buy in. I think, more so, by being what this defense has been with coach Spags — you know, I had Bob Sutton at the beginning — and Spags brought a different type of energy to the building, just by the way he coaches.”
Spagnuolo’s additional energy turned out to be enough to push the Chiefs over the hump in 2019, getting them their first NFL championship in 50 years after falling just sort of the Super Bowl the year before. Will it be enough to land another championship?
That answer awaits on Sunday.