Super Bowl 57: The 4 Coordinators That Will Decide the Game Are on Different Paths

The four Super Bowl coordinators that define the game are all on different paths in their NFL journey. We talked to them to find out more.

The Super Bowl represents not just the culmination of the season for two NFL teams, but a stopping point in the lifecycle of an NFL coach, and represents a potential critical stepping stone for the Super Bowl coordinators about to become a head coach.

Super Bowl LVII has four coordinators at seemingly every stage in that process, coaches whose game plans won’t just define how the biggest game of the year will play out, but perhaps the rest of their careers. That journey will play out as each coordinator faces the enormity of the task before them.

The 4 Coordinators That Will Decide the Super Bowl

Steve Spagnuolo, Defensive Coordinator | Chiefs

Steve Spagnuolo has seen it all, and the performances of his famous defenses have given him opportunities twice as a head coach. First, as an outright head coach hire and second as an interim head coach after Ben McAdoo’s time in New York came to a close.

Spagnuolo has had up-and-down performances as a defensive coordinator, but his games in Super Bowl XLII and LIV were phenomenal.

“You’ve got to be who you are and not venture too far from what we’ve been doing,” said Spagnuolo in media availability. “Otherwise, the guys will play too slow. But somewhere in there, especially situational football, you got to have a tweak, something different that you do that they haven’t seen, just to maybe set them off balance.”

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Spagnuolo demonstrated a deep understanding of the changing nature of NFL offenses over the years and also the importance of finding ways to focus amidst the chaos. He told every player that there needs to be moments in the day they turn off all screens and think — for three minutes — what their job is on Sunday.

“If you don’t segment it like that, it’s gonna get all [messy], and they won’t be ready to go,” he said. “So, I’ve tried to educate them that way.”

Those iconic game plans, including the NASCAR package used to foil the explosive and undefeated 2007 Patriots, cannot be the template for their takedown of the Philadelphia Eagles. Nor can their plan to shortcircuit the 49ers’ YAC-oriented passing attack. He knows it and talked about the tension between tailoring a game plan to an opponent and keeping the players on the defense comfortable with what they’ve already practiced throughout the season.

Spagnuolo might get another head coaching opportunity, but for now, he’s settled into a role of being a high-level defensive coordinator, one whose imprint on the game is indelible.

Eric Bieniemy, Offensive Coordinator | Chiefs

Once a central figure in the discussion surrounding the dearth of Black head coach hires, Eric Bienemy has been the coordinator for the league’s most explosive and dynamic offense in the NFL for the past five years — the entire span of the Patrick Mahomes era.

Other Chiefs offensive coaches have landed NFL jobs coaching at a higher level, including Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson, in addition to Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.

When asked once again if he was prepared to be a head coach, Bieniemy responded, “100%.” He’s indicated his level of preparation for the position for a long time and has been public about his desire to take the next step.

Bienemy’s situation is complicated, and he’s no longer a name that appears in many coaching searches. That doesn’t mean Black head coaches haven’t been given opportunities — DeMeco Ryans was a hot name before taking up the Houston Texans head job, and Ejiro Evero made the interview rounds as well and was considered a head coach candidate for the Cardinals and Colts before taking the defensive coordinator job in Carolina. Raheem Morris is still in the running with the Colts, too.

But one wonders how similar complications have impacted white head coaches. Brian Flores has initiated a class-action lawsuit against the NFL for their hiring practices, and though he was a hot name this cycle, did not find a job offer at any level in the NFL last year until Mike Tomlin reached out and offered him a job that Tomlin said was at a level that was “disrespectful to his talents.”

But without head coaching or defensive coordinating opportunities, Tomlin thought, “I’m not going to let this dude sit out” and was the only coach who offered Flores a job on his staff. Flores did get some play in the most recent cycle as a potential head coach candidate before the Vikings hired him to be a defensive coordinator but still has an active lawsuit against the NFL. Steve Wilks, who was the interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers, has joined Flores’ lawsuit.

Bieniemy is no longer in the spot that other hot coordinators are in. He has not had his shot like Spagnuolo, but it seems like NFL interest has passed him by. That interest may pick up again, but it puts him in a unique situation compared to other high-level coordinators.

Shane Steichen, Offensive Coordinator | Eagles

Potentially the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Shane Steichen is in a different spot than Bieniemy, Spagnuolo, and even Jonathan Gannon, who was also in the running for a number of head coaching jobs. While the other three coordinators will almost certainly continue their roles as coordinators next season, Steichen appears poised to take the next step.

It’s not on his mind, he said to gathered media. “In a week like this, you just keep the main thing, the main thing. It’s all about, you know, this game on Sunday. And that’s all that matters,” he said.

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Certainly, he’ll fulfill a major goal of his if he coordinates a winning offense, but it’s undeniable that a win would also make him look more appealing to teams looking to hire him for a head coaching job.

As much as Steichen works to make sure he’s not acting as if he has one foot out the door, he has the opportunity to take the innovative and flexible offense he’s built in Philadelphia and take it elsewhere.

Jonathan Gannon, Defensive Coordinator | Eagles

Gannon is just behind Steichen when it comes to interest from teams as a head coach candidate. Gannon even earned some looks last year and landed a few interviews in the previous cycle. But for now, he’s comfortable having coached a remarkable defense and earning recognition inside the building.

The feeling on him in Philadelphia hasn’t been universal, and he’s been the subject to significant criticism — enough that head coach Nick Sirianni called out Gannon’s doubters in the postgame presser following their Divisional Round game.

“This guy is an unbelievable coordinator,” said Sirianni. “The fact that he doesn’t get respect from our [flagship] radio station blows my mind. It blows my mind. … This guy is an incredible coordinator.”

That criticism hit home in an odd way for Gannon, who recounted an unusual exchange he had. Acknowledging the criticisms he’s received, he said, “we’ll talk to our players about that you don’t want to listen to external factors just like that. It affects the psyche, good or bad. We preach to those guys, ‘I don’t listen to that, I don’t read, I don’t listen to outlets.’ All I’m concerned about is getting better every day and what head coach and owner and the GM and the players.”

He followed that up with, “You know, I think I went into a restaurant one time with my kids. And I started getting accosted one time. I was like, wow, that’s interesting. We just won five in a row,” he said. He added, “But that’s the city. It’s all good. That’s why I love it here, I love that passion that our fans have.”

Certainly, Gannon has acclaim leaguewide, which is why he’s been in the interview cycle. As he waits for his turn to become a head coach, he can see the journey Steichen is taking, just a step ahead of him.

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