How Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo Went From Unsung Hero to Super Bowl-Winning Mastermind

Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has etched his name into the history books after the Chiefs defeated the 49ers in Super Bowl 58.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has firmly cemented his legacy in NFL history, becoming the only offense or defensive coordinator to win a ring (four of them) with multiple teams. Four other coordinators have won three Super Bowls — Richie Petitbon, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Josh McDaniels.

Steve Spagnuolo’s Defense Too Much for 49ers

Spagnuolo’s defensive game plan in Super Bowl 58 focused on containing San Francisco 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey, holding him to 3.6 yards per carry, and limiting his explosive plays.

That meant the pressure shifted to Brock Purdy. But it was just too much to overcome for the 49ers quarterback.

“Man, it was just tough. I feel like first and second down was tough,” said Purdy after the game. “We’d always — I feel like it was third-and-long. I have to be better on first and second down, taking what they have given me, and I feel like they were just sticky across the board when they played man coverage and stuff, so that was another challenge.

“So, I just feel like on third down, I have to execute better. For our defense to give us that many stops like they did, and then for us to go three now and not do anything with those opportunities, that’s what hurts me.”

The performance of the Chiefs’ defense shouldn’t have surprised those who were paying attention. The Chiefs finished the regular season second in the NFL in points allowed per game (17.3) and yards allowed per game (289.8).

During their playoff run, Kansas City faced some of the top offenses in the NFL by points scored this season — the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs’ defense held those teams to 13.7 points per game, the fourth-lowest allowed by any team that made the Super Bowl since 2001.

Chiefs Defenders Describe How They Contained Christian McCaffrey

The 49ers came into Super Bowl 58 averaging 6.6 yards per play, the seventh-most by an offense in Super Bowl history. And during the regular season, they scored 28.9 points per game.

On Sunday? The 49ers scored 19 points, averaged 5.3 yards per play, and the Chiefs’ defense forced San Francisco to punt five times. Knowing how important these metrics are for Spagnuolo and considering their recent body of work, it’s easy to see why San Francisco couldn’t produce as they normally would.

“In ‘Spags’ we trust, as the defense. They’ve done a phenomenal job this entire year,” said guard Trey Smith. “We have a lot of special players. The way they feed off each other’s energy. For example, someone’s going to rake the ball out, someone’s going to get a big stop, and every time we needed the defense to come through in a big way, they always did this year.

“In my opinion, the defense absolutely balled out this last game and this entire season. A special shout out to Steve Spagnuolo and all the defensive leaders in terms of players and coaches that we have. They did a fabulous job this entire season.”

Defensive end Chris Jones, set to hit free agency next month, echoed Smith.

“This is a special unit, for the guys in the room, for the relationships we was able to establish, and Spags [Steve Spagnuolo], man, Spags has been amazing,” said Jones. “His wife moved to Kansas City this year, and I think it transformed our whole defense.”

A Brief Look at Spagnuolo’s NFL Coaching History

Spagnuolo worked his way up through the NFL ranks, and in 2007, then-New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin hired him to be the team’s defensive coordinator.

His shining moment? Leading a defensive effort that defeated the undefeated New England Patriots, who had come into Super Bowl XLII scoring 589 regular-season points, an NFL record. In that game, the Patriots only scored 14.

Spagnuolo’s performance earned him the opportunity to lead the St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) as the head coach. After compiling a 10-38 overall record in three seasons, he was fired and bounced around the league before rejoining the Giants from 2015 to 2017.

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After that year, where Spagnuolo served as interim head coach for part of the season, most of Ben McAdoo’s staff were let go after McAdoo was fired as head coach weeks before.

Spagnuolo spent a year out of the league and was hired by the Chiefs in 2019. During his time in Kansas City, they’ve appeared in the Super Bowl four times in five seasons, winning three.

Along the way, Spagnuolo has proven his worth time and time again within the locker room.

“Coach Spags did all of this,” said Justin Reid. “From the beginning to the end, guys bought into his system and game plan. He’s the only defensive coordinator to win Super Bowls with different teams, and he’s done it four or five times now.

“He’s just an unbelievable man, an unbelievable mentor, and an unbelievable father figure. He’s my favorite DC I’ve ever been a part of. I love Coach Spags.”

Regardless of what happens next, one thing is for certain — Spagnuolo’s legacy has been secured.

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