Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton isn’t big into labels, and he’ll never say “never.” It’s not a “never give in,” kind of thing, as much as it’s “never eliminate your options” thing. He’s not big on fitting things into nice, neat little labels for the sake of the label. Hell, his college coaching career should tell you that.
After 2 years as a Graduate Assistant at Michigan, Sutton got his first job as Linebackers Coach at Syracuse in 1974. After just one season at Syracuse, Western Michigan Head Coach Elliot Uzelac brought Sutton on as Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers coach. Then, after 2 seasons with Western Michigan, Illinois hired him in the same capacity. Sutton spent 3 seasons as the Illini Defensive Coordinator before returning to Western Michigan. This time, however, Uzelac named Sutton Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach/ Quarterbacks Coach. After 3 years in his offensive stint with Western Michigan, he signed on to coach the NC State running backs for the 1982 season. In 1983, Sutton began his 17-season career with Army, where he served as Defensive Coordinator, and eventually, Head Coach.
Just looking at Sutton’s history should tell you that first and foremost, he’s a football coach. In a span of 9 seasons, Sutton coached Linebackers, Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, Running Backs, and also coordinated offense and defense (in 2 stints with the same team). He didn’t ever limit his options. While he has primarily coached D throughout his career, the fact that Uzelac was comfortable giving his former Defensive Coordinator the keys to his offense is telling. So is the fact that Sutton was comfortable taking said keys.
You can see this philosophy manifest itself in Sutton’s defense. Sometimes, the Chiefs blitz. Sometimes, the Chiefs rush 3 and drop 8. Sometimes, the Chiefs run a 3-4, and sometimes they run a 4-3. Mike DeVito, who played with Sutton when he coached in New York, has spoken many times about Sutton’s defense being a “hybrid,” and so far this season, we’ve seen just that.
Thursday, Sutton addressed the media ahead of this Sunday’s matchup against Cleveland. On a few occasions, Sutton discussed absolutes like “always, and “never,” and how that applies to his defense in Kansas City:
“[W]e try to adapt to the situation. We try to keep the offense off balance. The two categories you’d like to stay out of are ‘never’ and ‘always;’ you never do this or you always do that. If you do that, you make the offense account for everything. It is the same for us on defense, when they make us do that, we have to account for everything and that thins you out to some degree.”
What Sutton has done this season in orchestrating what is now the leagues best defense, is keep the opponent guessing. Sutton has kept his options wide open, and by doing so, he’s kept offenses on their heels. By staying away from absolutes like “never,” and “always,” Sutton has created a doubt in the minds of opposing offenses. When playing the Chiefs, teams can’t simply prepare for different blitz schemes. They can’t draw up plays that beat the Cover 2. They can’t game plan for a 3-4, or a 4-3, or a 2-Gap, or a 1-Gap. They can only prepare to play the Chiefs. And for 31 teams in this league, that’s “always” a terrifying thing.