PHOENIX — Steve Spagnuolo has coached all over the world. He began in his home state as a graduate assistant at the University of Massachusetts in 1981, before stops at places like Lafayette College, the University of Connecticut, the Barcelona Dragons and the Frankfurt Galaxy. He broke into the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999.
After eight years in Philly, he took his first defensive coordinator position in the NFL with the New York Giants in 2007. His defense capped that first season with one of the most impressive performances in NFL history.
The 10-6 Giants advanced to Super Bowl XLII, where they faced the 16-0 New England Patriots. Many expected quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats to walk over the Giants and complete the first undefeated season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The 2007 Patriots scored 589 points in 16 regular-season games, the most in NFL history at that point.
But in the Super Bowl, Spagnuolo’s defense held the Patriots to only 14 points, and a last-minute Eli-Manning-to-Plaxico-Burress touchdown handed the Giants the championship.
Spagnuolo thus became a popular candidate for head-coaching vacancies. He didn’t take one that season, but did with the St. Louis Rams in 2009. After three seasons there, however, he was fired. Spagnuolo went back to focusing on defense only, and after a few other stops joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.
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Similar to his first year with the Giants, the 2019 Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl, where they faced the San Francisco 49ers, a team averaging 29.9 points a game, second in the league that season. Spagnuolo’s defense held them to 20 in Super Bowl LIV, and the Chiefs collected their first Super Bowl victory since 1970.
Spagnuolo remains the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, and a similar defensive performance is expected when Kansas City faces the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday. He’s tasked with slowing down Philadelphia’s third-ranked offense (389.1 yards and 28.1 points per game).
On Monday during Super Bowl Opening Night, Spagnuolo reflected briefly on his first Super Bowl appearance with the Giants, and how he’s grown since.
“I’m not so sure in the first Super Bowl I gave the glory to God, where it should be and is deserved,” Spagnuolo told Sports Spectrum. “Now I try and hope to do that all the time, because without Him I wouldn’t be where I am. We wouldn’t do the things we do. I wouldn’t have the wife I have. I could go on and on about the blessings I have. I’m certainly indebted to the Lord Almighty.”
To grow and live out his faith in Christ, Spagnuolo is very active in the coaches Bible studies put on by Chiefs chaplain Marcellus Casey. The 63-year-old sees part of his role as leading and being an example for younger coaches and players in the organization.
“I wouldn’t be where I am or have experienced the things I have done if it weren’t for the almighty Lord,” Spagnuolo told Sports Spectrum. “I’m a firm believer in that. I’m blessed beyond reason. He’s been so merciful to me. And I just think knowing that and feeling that is important to me with all the young coaches we have around the guys in the building, [so] I share that with them. So I do try to lead in some way. Marcellus is the leader, but I just try to follow up.”
Throughout his 40-plus years as a football coach, Spagnuolo has leaned on his faith to help him in his coaching.
“I think in those times where it gets really rough, and it does in this business, I always have Jesus to fall back on,” he told Sports Spectrum. “I’ve used Him time and time again. I try to get in the Word every morning because I need that strength to go through the day. Like I said, without Him, without that backbone, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
Because his defenses continue to excel year after year, Spagnuolo is again being discussed as a head-coaching candidate. If that happens, great, he says. But he’s focused right now on taking the field against the Eagles at State Farm Stadium at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday.
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