The Dude Behind the Curtain
Written by Chris Rubio
I used to love asking job applicants this question when I was younger. “Who in your mind was the hero of The Wizard of Oz, and why?” I was always curious to learn about the applicant’s creativity, and surprisingly, more times than not, the Scarecrow was the boring response. I always hoped that someone would give me the only fitting answer: Toto. Toto is the hero for two reasons: One, he escaped when Dorothy was taken by the wicked witch, resulting in Dorothy getting saved, and second, he exposed the man behind the curtain that would ultimately bring them home. Yes, I am aware this is a football site! We are all eager to prepare for the 2023 version of the Chiefs to take center stage. In light of our thin Defensive line, I felt that we should act like Toto and expose the dude behind the defensive curtain, and that is our matchless defensive coordinator, Steve “Spags” Spagnuolo.
So, how did Spags get here? Let’s go back a minute to review a little history. Our defense was exposed after the January 20, 2019, AFC Title heartbreaking loss to the Patriots, preventing the Chiefs from reaching the Super Bowl. More importantly, our defensive coordinator was exposed. When it mattered, the Chiefs’ defense couldn’t stop the opponent.
The Chiefs coordinator was Bob Sutton from 2013-2018. During that stretch, the Chiefs had endured disappointing losses, most notably blowing the 2nd largest playoff lead in league history in 2013 season playoffs after being ahead 38-10 only to lose to the Colts 45-44. After the Patriots heartbreak, one wondered if our defense would cost us every future title opportunity, even with an emerging mega-talent at Quarterback? It was time for a change, and Andy Reid reached for an old, unemployed assistant, Steve Spagnuolo.
Spags was with Andy Reid as an assistant during Reid’s time coaching the Eagles. Spags was in Philadelphia, from 1999-2006. During this time, the Eagles were a perennial NFC powerhouse and were known to be an attacking defense led by Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson. If there were 7 offensive players blocking, Jim Johnson would send 8 defenders to attack the Quarterback. No matter what the offense did, Jim Johnson and the Eagles would send more defenders than blockers to attack the opposing Quarterback.
This attacking style Spags learned as an assistant under Johnson has followed him as we see this aggressive attacking defense on our Chiefs. After 2006, Spags was ready to be promoted to defensive coordinator and found his job with the NY Giants. Who can forget the 2007-08 New York Giants and how their defense, led by Spags, Street-Brawled the Patriots offensive line to win Super Bowl XLII and prevent the Patriots from an undefeated season? To say Spags had a role in that is a huge understatement. Tom Brady was confused and was hit over and over during that game. It was a masterful defensive game plan, and Spags must be credited for that prodigious victory. Spags is credited as the only offensive or defensive coordinator in NFL History to win a Super Bowl title with 2 separate franchises. This is who we are riding with. A behind-the-scenes Legend in a class all by himself! This is the list of coordinators with titles coaching 2 teams. Steve Spagnuolo – end.
So after the disappointing 2019 loss in the playoffs, Andy Reid reached for Spags to be the new coordinator for the 2019 season, and in the 2020 Super Bowl vs the 49ers, with Mahomes struggling for three quarters it was up to the Chiefs Defense to keep us in the game. We all witnessed that they did it for long enough for our Quarterback to reconnect with his mojo and get the victory. In last year’s Super Bowl, the defense did it again. They got two when the Chiefs needed one stop in the 2nd half against the Eagles.
They held the Eagles to a Field Goal at 24-21 (Eagles), then forced a punt at 28-27 (Chiefs). Momentum shifted, and the Chiefs took over and gave Chiefs Kingdom our 2d title in four years.
Spag’s career was long, on his way to connecting with Andy Reid in 1999. Between 1981 and 1999, he held 11 different jobs in various colleges as a coach, including taking 2 separate jobs with the defunct NFL Europe. Think about it: to take his Europe coaching job, think of smaller crowds than any High School football game we attend. When Europeans talk about football, they don’t think what we do. Their version is the roundball. Talk about the long road to success and perseverance! Spags endured 26 years of hard work to achieve greatness in his first Super Bowl victory.
In his early career, he was most often a defensive backs coach, so judging from where we will start the season, possibly without Chris Jones and Charles Omenihu we will need our secondary to carry the defense. I’m counting on Spags to dial-up some pressures with our young, quick, talented secondary.
Who was not inspired by what we saw this weekend with Coach Prime leading the kids at Colorado to victory? That’s what coaching greatness looks like.
Spags is reportedly a man of great faith. In a 2020 interview with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Spags indicated that he shared this message with his players: “Our talents are God’s gift to us; what we do with them is our gift back to God.” If you squint just a little, you can see how great coaches like these guys are great role models worthy of our admiration.
These coaches are using their opportunities to put great messages into the world through their examples and leading their players. Kindness, using your gifts to help others, and using your opportunities to help. In following the standards of these coaches, we can all be the dudes behind the curtain for someone who needs our gifts.
After Toto unmasked the dude behind the curtain, we all found that Dorothy had the power to make it home the whole time. All she needed to do was tap her Ruby Red Chiefs Slippers to get her home to Kansas (Close enough, right?). It’s the night before we open the 2023 season, and we get to hoist the championship banner again at Arrowhead on Thursday night. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be exciting, and we are going to need Spags’ creativity to create pressure, but one thing’s for sure. There’s no place like home! Let’s Go!