Blonde hair, a wide smile and rare kindness.
Steve Spagnuolo came up to me introducing himself!
Who would have ever said that I would meet up with the defensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs in Italy? The occasion came up at the Venom Camp, a meeting strongly desired and well organized by Bart Iaccarino who, with the help of Brock Olivo and the Varese Skorpions football team, succeeded for the first time in Europe in bringing an entire NFL coaching staff (in addition to Spagnuolo, there was also the entire coaching staff of the Chicago Bears) for three days of intense work that included participants from different European countries.
Located in Varese, one hour north of Milan, the camp was made to attract European athletes to meet NFL coaches and get advice from the best of the best. This experience was truly one of a kind.
At this occasion, Coach Spagnuolo kindly shared a bit of his time to answer our questions.
Hello Coach Spagnuolo, let’s begin, shall we? You started your career alongside Andy Reid in Philadelphia. How was it to reunite with him?
Yes, that’s right, I was coaching from 1999 to 2006 with Coach Reid in Philadelphia, we won a lot of football games and I enjoyed working for him then. I’m happy to be back with him now.
It was terrific reuniting with him because it’s a real relationship, when you know what the boss expects, what he is looking for, how he functions day to day, it’s always an easy and smooth transition and I think it’s been easy and smooth for the both of us, because he knows the way I do things, and I certainly know the way he does things, he’s the boss, we’ll do the things his way and I’m used to that.
You know when I became a head coach, I did a lot of things in the way Andy Reid did it because I believed in what he did, so it’s been a natural smooth transition for me.
What attracted you to the Kansas City Chiefs?
A lot of things, the relationship with Coach Reid of course, but also the opportunity to work with great players there, they got a good football team, they were four inches away from getting to the Super Bowl last year as we all know. I mean, the people who work there, and Andy especially, are people that I am comfortable with, so it was just a natural thing to happen.
I took a year off last year, which was very beneficial and challenging, but it was very rewarding at the same time. It was hard to be out of football, but when you get a chance to sit back and see the games when you are not deeply involved with one team or another, you see a lot of things you never saw before, so that was beneficial, and that helped me take this final decision to go work for the Chiefs.
So what’s your coaching style?
Coaching style? I don’t know if I have a coaching style. It’s more what I believe in, coaching is teaching. I mean everything can always get better with good teaching, and I think one part of it all is having to show my respect to the players I work with. If they know you respect them, I think you will get that same respect back. And I think in this particular team, we have a great group of guys overall. I think my style is a lot of energy, being aggressive during games, teachings and get everybody on the same page.
That was a part of my next question… Given that you are a religious man, and it’s no secret the NFL is a big business, do you manage to give those kids some guidance through practice or meetings for example? I guess it can be hard for some of them to stay focused on the game and the end goal sometimes…
I think the guys understand that I am a strong Christian and I have faith. I share that once in a while but I don’t force anybody into it. I just hope through my actions that I am reflective of who I am supposed to be.
You know, I would say this, there have been a number of times when players came after meetings asking questions about faith, and I enjoy that part of the job. Being a coach in the NFL is a big business, lots of money and we all know that — but we are still men with men working together. It is not just football. As men in this world today, we have a responsibility to be great leaders and reflective of what we are. And I think most guys understand that and try to be that, however there’s always going to be somebody who goes off the trail…
But there’s a great number of players that appreciate the game as it is, and know they are lucky and blessed with the profession they are in. I think they recognize it and a lot of those guys help people, they are involved in charities people and fans don’t even know about, most of them understand that they have to give back to the community!
Talking about the defense, you know that last year was a bit of a disappointment, how different will it be this year? What will you bring to this new defense?
I don’t know if that will be a lot different… The whole thing about the 4-3 or 3-4 defense really pertains to base defense, and in today’s football we don’t play a lot of base defense, we usually have a lot of what we call sub defense, with nickel and dime, I think a great number of defenses in the league play that way 70% of the time. So everybody is kind of playing the same way.
I think there will be a couple of nuances and changes with this new group of players. There will be some carry over to what they did last year, but we will find out later, we have a lot of new players in the defense now. We’ll find out what each of them are very good at and try to feature those qualities on the field.
Are there any players that impressed you during the minicamp?
Well, a lot of them did actually! We brought new players like Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, a couple of new corners in, a couple of DBs, the D-line is great with players like Alex Okafor, who is a real good surprise, so hopefully we can mix and match all of those guys and come up with something good.
New faces will bring something special. Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland are still there, they are two strong football minded linebackers, so that’s very helpful, but I think it’s not always easy to bring a lot of different players together, and head them in the right direction the first year. That will be a challenge!
It feels pretty good right now but we haven’t played any opponents, we haven’t played real football, we haven’t had pads on, so we are just waiting for the training camp in July to get a feel about all the guys. It will take a while through training camp and pre season games before we really know what we have in our hands.
Any new emerging leaders among the new and young players?
I have got my eye on them, there’s a couple of them here and there, but I will lay low on who I think they are. Because I like to see them emerge on their own, I think that leadership really does not start until you get in the games against a real opponent, so I am really curious to see early in the preseason who will come out of their shell.
And what about practice, how is it to go against Mahomes?
Yeah, that’s a challenge! We got a little bit lucky because Travis Kelce was hurt, Tyreek Hill was not there for the spring, and we know how talented they are. Going against a quarterback like that everyday, though, makes us a lot better; when good people can play against other good people, they just elevate each other. So the guys in defense embrace that and they like the competitiveness on the field.
Which offense do you fear the most for the season to come?
Well, right now, I would say Jacksonville, that’s who we play first. The schedule comes out and I just focus on the first game, that’s your first challenge. If you look at any other game than that one, then you are in trouble. This one is an away game, first game of the season, it will be very warm, they got a good quarterback in Nick Foles and some great talent in offense, so the Jaguars are the first ones I’m looking at now.
Do you have any insight on the 18-game season versus 16?
To be honest with you, I don’t really have an opinion about that, that’s for the league to figure out, whatever they put out there, we will do it, it does not matter. It’s more of a player vs. ownership topic, that’s really not my domain.
I am just happy to be in the league, and I am willing to coach as many games as they want … I’m okay with it!
FINAL THOUGHTS: All I can say is that Steve Spagnuolo is a determined and passionate coach. He’s passionate about the game and more importantly about his players.
Already focused on the first game of the season and reinforced by new defensive weapons, we’ll see very quickly what the defensive coaching staff is all about.
As of now, his professionalism shown this weekend in Italy is a very good sign for the future of the Kansas City Chiefs.