Few head coaches in the history of the NFL have been allowed to lose 14 or more games twice in their career, but Steve Spagnuolo was one such exception during his three-year tenure with the St. Louis Rams. Now after starring as the Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator for the past five years, Spagnuolo has something else for his resume: Four Super Bowl championships.
Spagnuolo has been called the most valuable coordinator in the NFL because of the hesitation teams have in making him a head coach again, but now as the most talked-about coach for another Super Bowl, I’m not sure sure about that.
For all his faults as a head coach, Spagnuolo could do the impossible and convince just one league owner that his defense could translate to another team.
Starting his caching career in 1981 as a 22-year-old grad assistant at UMass, Spagnuolo got an internship with the Washington Redskins in 1983 but wasn’t back in the NFL until Andy Reid hired him as a defensive quality control coach on the Eagles in 1999.
Spags, who at the time was working with coaches such as John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott, Ron Rivera, Pat Shurmer, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, and David Culley on a stacked staff, would reach four NFC Championships and one Super Bowl with Philadelphia. In 2007, Tom Coughlin hired him as the Giants defensive coordinator and the “NASCAR package” helped spark pass rushers like Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck to 10+ sacks each.
The Giants stunned the world by upsetting the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, winning 17-14.
After leading New York to a top-5 defense in 2008, the Rams hired Spagnuolo to replace Scott Linehan after a 2-14 season that saw Jim Haslett interim the team to a 2-10 record in the final 12. Though St. Louis somehow managed to do worse under Spagnuolo in 2009, going 1-15, the defense went from bottom-2 to top-12 in his second season and St. Louis went 7-9.
Unfortunately with Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator in 2011, the Rams had the worst offense in the NFL by a wide margin and finished 2-14. Spags was allowed to finish the season but fired and replaced by Jeff Fisher to guarantee more 7-9 seasons ahead.
Going 10-38 should be a death sentence for any head coach but now in Spag’s case I’m not so sure anymore.
He spent one season under Sean Payton in 2012, then two with Harbaugh on the Ravens, then four in a return to the Giants as defensive coordinator. The team allowed the second fewest points in the NFL in 2016.
Out of the league for a year in 2018, a familiar name came calling when the Chiefs needed someone to save the defense from Bob Sutton: Andy Reid asked Spagnuolo to come back to him in 2019 and the Chiefs have won three Super Bowls, four AFC titles, and reached the AFC Championship game in all five of his years as DC. There is no chance that the Chiefs win their third Super Bowl championship with Reid and Patrick Mahomes in 2023 if not for Steve Spagnuolo.
He may be 64 and have a career winning percentage of .212, but there might not be a defensive coordinator in the NFL who knew how to stop the San Francisco 49ers except for Spagnuolo. You can’t hire Spagnuolo as a defensive coordinator, he’s not leaving Kansas City for that. He’s the only DC in history to win Super Bowls with two different teams.
Will a team be willing to hand over the team to him as head coach though because of a desperate act to stop the widespread Shanahan offense?
“I would love [being a head coach again], just because I think you always want another chance at it,” he said this week after his Chiefs arrived for Super Bowl LVIII. “And I loved having a whole team.
“But I’m OK if we keep going to Super Bowls. It’s tough to get a head job when you keep playing in the playoffs this late.”
In a year in which Raheem Morris and Dan Quinn got second chances, it’s hard to imagine why Spagnuolo would be completely ignored. Not one team has requested Spagnuolo for an interview since at least 2019. Rams fans might say, “Yeah, we get it” but three Super Bowl wins later, people can change.