4 years in the past, the Kansas City Chiefs had been celebrating their victory in Super Bowl LIV. The 31-20 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers was capped off by a defensive stand by the Chiefs, who didn’t permit a rating in all 4 of the 49ers’ fourth-quarter possessions.
That end offered validation for 2019’s rent of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. After being away from teaching for a season, he got here into Kansas Metropolis with a plan to construct a championship protection. Because the staff celebrated its championship in Miami, it appeared like that aim had already been completed: Spagnuolo had maximized the defensive expertise he had been given, forming a protection that did simply sufficient to win.
Now, nonetheless, Spagnuolo is looking forward to his fourth Tremendous Bowl in Kansas Metropolis — and his unit does way more than “simply sufficient.” Over his 5 seasons, Spagnuolo has molded and developed his unit to his imaginative and prescient — and in 2023, it lastly got here into its personal as one of many league’s prime models.
That doesn’t shock a four-year participant like defensive finish Mike Danna, who has seen this course of almost from begin to end.
“From Day 1, I knew Spags was a particular coach — a wizard,” Danna informed reporters throughout a Tremendous Bowl LVIII media availability on Wednesday. “You may see his protection frequently get higher yearly.”
Wanting again at it, it doesn’t appear to be Spagnuolo’s fingerprints began showing on the staff’s personnel strikes till the 2020 NFL Draft — one 12 months after he was employed. In that offseason, the Chiefs acquired core defenders like cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, linebacker Willie Homosexual Jr. and defensive finish Mike Danna. All three gamers have grown noticeably over these 4 seasons, transitioning from function gamers to starters.
And Danna believes that every one the credit score for that belongs to Spagnuolo.
“The best way he coaches his protection to his gamers, the way in which he takes care of his gamers and his teaching workers is second to none,” defined Danna. “That is my fourth 12 months within the system, and I’ve seen this protection frequently get higher and higher. It’s [been] thrilling to see that — as a result of I knew, ultimately, [that] this protection was going to be one of many prime [units] within the NFL.”
That perception reveals up within the gamers’ confidence on the sector. When he first arrived, Sneed was a quiet participant. Now, nonetheless, he has grown into an alpha mentality. Homosexual’s energetic character comes by means of in his play greater than it did throughout his first few years.
As these four-year developmental tasks come to fruition, youthful gamers speed up their development, too. For a handful of younger Chiefs, Sunday’s recreation will likely be their second Tremendous Bowl in two seasons in Kansas Metropolis. That’s one thing that one in all them — defensive finish George Karlaftis — acknowledges as a novel benefit.
“Final 12 months, we had quite a lot of guys that had been first-year starters — not even simply rookies, simply first-year starters,” Karlaftis identified. “The most important factor is making that leap from being a first-year starter to that subsequent degree.
“We had quite a lot of guys that had that have… We got here collectively in OTAs and challenged one another to turn into higher… We knew what we had been able to on the finish of the day.”
This layered growth course of has helped make this younger, ascending Kansas Metropolis protection one of many NFL’s greatest. Trusting the youth of the protection allowed the staff to be comfy after they lower ties with veteran leaders within the final offseason.
That doesn’t imply Karlaftis (and different younger gamers) dismiss the teachings they realized from extra skilled gamers like Frank Clark and Chris Jones.
“I’ve realized to not make the identical mistake from each [defensive line coach] Joe Cullen and Steve Spagnuolo,” stated Karlaftis. “[But] Frank and Chris taught me easy methods to be knowledgeable — and so did Carlos Dunlap. I’ve had quite a lot of nice individuals [mentoring me], and I believe that was a key a part of no matter success I had final 12 months.”
Now, although, this Kansas Metropolis protection appears to be peaking — thanks not solely to the expertise the staff has acquired, but additionally to the way it has been developed and applied by Spagnuolo. 5 years in the past, he was entrusted to construct a championship protection. Earlier than that even occurred, it performed a key function in amassing two Tremendous Bowl rings.
If the Chiefs can win one other championship on Sunday, it will likely be as a result of Spagnuolo’s protection performed a major function in its 2023 success.