You’d be hard-pressed to find a more hyper-masculine culture than the NFL.
It’s a place where aggression is encouraged. Players often find it hard to be vulnerable — or to express healthy love for one another — without thinking it could make them look weak.
That’s what makes the Kansas City Chiefs — and the culture the team’s coaching staff has built — so unique. While these individuals are at the top of their individual crafts, they also have normalized healthy friendship and affection. Flash to any sideline during a game. You’re sure to see guys hugging and embracing each other. Listen to any press conference. You’ll hear guys talking openly about how much they love each other.
This is not normal in the NFL — or in life.
But it should be.
As the team prepared for its Super Bowl LVIII matchup against the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday in Las Vegas, this love is on full display. On Tuesday afternoon, one reporter wanted Kansas City defensive end Geroge Karlaftis to explain why he and his teammates believe so strongly in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“I think with Spags,” said Karlaftis, “it all starts with how much he cares about the guys. We can see that he truly cares about us. He loves us. He’s like a father figure.”
During Monday’s Super Bowl Opening Night, veteran safety Justin Reid said something similar.
“I love Spags as a person, as a coach and as a friend,” he declared. “He’s like a father in a lot of ways.”
So it’s not just that the Chiefs’ players love each other. They also love their coaches — because their coaches love them. And more importantly, this love helps players trust their coaches to lead them.
It’s all built on a simple concept: players will fight a lot harder for a guy they love than a guy they fear. And it’s much easier for players to buy into a scheme or a philosophy when they understand that their leaders care about them as people — not just football players.
“We love Spags,” said Karlaftis. “We love playing for Spags. His game plan — and the stuff he’s able to dial up — speaks for itself... He’s just a great human being. I’d have to say that before anything else.”
And he’s also a great teacher — one who emphasizes winning and achieving each person’s potential.
“Spags always keeps you on your toes,” revealed Karlaftis, “because he’ll be presenting a certain topic — or something like that — and he might just call on a random person to explain something.”
His players tend to know the answers, because the coordinator takes the time to make sure his message is getting across.
“He explains everything really, really well. Everybody takes notes. And there’s a specific way we conduct our business in the defensive unit room.”
These things — along with Spagnuolo’s deep knowledge of the game — are a big part of the formula that has led to the team’s defensive success. And hopefully, it’s enough to carry the Chiefs across the finish line on Sunday night.