Chiefs’ Steve Spagnuolo deserves another head-coaching shot


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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Among the long-standing by-products of team success in the NFL is assistant coaches becoming hot commodities for the various head-coaching openings.

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has been the supposed next-man-up for a head-coaching job for the past few seasons with the sustained offensive success in Kansas City under Andy Reid.

Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator since 2019?

Not so much.

“Spags,’’ as he’s affectionately known by coaching colleagues and players, curiously has slipped through the cracks in this head-coach interview process despite the fact his Kansas City defenses have been quite representative during the team’s five-year run that has the team in a third Super Bowl Sunday, against the Eagles at State Farm Stadium.

In his first of two stints as the Giants defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo’s defense was solely responsible for wrecking the Patriots’ bid for an undefeated season, sacking Tom Brady five times in a 17-14 Giants victory in Super Bowl XLII at the very stadium where the Chiefs will play the Eagles on Sunday.

That was Spagnuolo’s first Super Bowl ring. He got his second one in his first season as Chiefs defensive coordinator, in 2019.

Now, the 63-year-old native of Grafton, Mass., who’s never lost his New England accent, has a chance for a third ring in his fifth Super Bowl, and fourth as a defensive coordinator — a number that should elevate him into the conversation with some of the top men to man that position over the years, including Bill Belichick and Dick LeBeau to name a couple.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo

“I don’t even go there, because it hasn’t happened,’’ Spagnuolo said Wednesday. “I’ve been blessed to have two.’’

When Spagnuolo was let go by the Giants in 2017 after his second stint with the team, which included being the defensive coordinator from 2015-17 as well as four games as the interim head coach after Ben McAdoo was fired, it was a time of uncomfortable uncertainty.

It’s when he made a brave plunge into the unknown, taking a year away from coaching.

“After the St. Louis Rams head-coaching job [he went 10-38 from 2009-11], I wish that was the time that I took the year off,’’ Spagnuolo said. “So, the second time with the Giants when that happened, I felt like this might be a time to do that, have a little bit of a halftime. And I’ll tell you what: I grew more in that year I think than any year of coaching.’’

Spagnuolo, who makes his offseason home in the Philadelphia area, during his year off used to go to NFL Films in nearby Mount Laurel, N.J., early every Monday morning to watch film of the previous day’s games.

“That kind of kept my mind fresh,’’ he said.

You know what Spagnuolo was most taken aback by in his year away from coaching in 2018?

“I didn’t realize how early it got dark,’’ he said.

That can be said of some coaching careers, including Spagnuolo’s as he took that year off uncertain that he’d ever be given a chance to return to the sidelines.

Here’s the thing about taking a year away from the game when you’re a coach: You’d better have a lot of confidence and faith in yourself, because you never know if you’re going to be asked back.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (right) talks with safety Juan Thornhill (22) and safety Justin Reid (20) on the bench before a game against the Raiders earlier in the season.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (right) talks with safety Juan Thornhill (22) and safety Justin Reid (20) on the bench before a game against the Raiders earlier in the season.

“When you make that decision, there’s a lot of unknown and uncertainty,’’ Spagnuolo said. “Listen, people get forgotten real quickly.’’

Fortunately, Reid, who’d brought Spagnuolo into the NFL as an Eagles defensive assistant in 1999, Reid’s first year as a head coach, hadn’t forgotten about Spagnuolo. Not long after the Chiefs lost the 2018 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, 37-31 in overtime, Reid texted Spagnuolo.

“Andy had confidence in me,’’ Spagnuolo said. “Thank God for Andy.’’

Four years into this journey with the Chiefs and in a third Super Bowl, Spagnuolo, a painfully humble man, isn’t sure how to characterize his fortune.

“Thinking it was going to be like this? Not in my wildest dreams,’’ he said. “I’ve been blessed beyond belief — not only to work for Andy, but all the success we’ve had. I just want to get over one more hump here and win this last one, but it’s been a great journey.’’

One issue that surely prevents Spagnuolo from receiving enough credit for what he’s done with the Chiefs’ defense is … the Chiefs’ offense.

Between quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who does otherworldly things with his uncanny skills, and Reid, one of the most fertile offensive minds in the game, the Chiefs’ prolific offense overshadows the defense.

“I’ll tell you one thing, I wouldn’t want it any other way,’’ Spagnuolo said. “We realize it steals a lot of the shine [from the defense], but we’re into letters not numbers: We want a ‘W.’ We’re not worried about statistics.’’

Will Spagnuolo get a second crack as a head coach if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl and continue their reign of success?

“Look, I’d like that chance,” Spagnuolo said. “You want a chance to prove you’re better than the way you finished. I look at it all the time with Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Shanahan, look at Doug Pederson right now … the guys that do it a second time tend to do it better, because they’ve gone through some of the ups and downs and they know what not to do. I think they’re just so far ahead.”

“I’m eager, and if it happens it would be a great thing and if not, I’m a content man working here for the Chiefs and Andy. I’ve got a pretty good job right now.’’

And, despite the lack of attention he’s drawing from NFL owners, he’s doing a pretty damn good job, too.

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