Steve Spagnuolo should be more than longshot for NFL Assistant Coach of the Year

Odds aren't favoring a win for Spags despite the tremendous showing this season by the Chiefs defense.

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs
Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs / David Eulitt/GettyImages

One cursory look at the NFL standings might lead someone to believe that things are largely "business as usual" for the Kansas City Chiefs. Sure there are a few more losses than expected in 2023, but Andy Reid's team is once again positioned atop the AFC West, has punched its postseason ticket, and relies on the same handful of stars to lead it forward.

Such a fleeting glimpse would miss a greater story, however—or at least an unexpected one.

In a year where the Chiefs are everywhere off of the field, they're having a hard time operating as normal on it. Instead of a league-dominating offense propelling the team up the standings, this year featured an upside-down narrative of a winning team anchored by its defense while the sputtering engine of an offense tried and tried (and tried) to solve its issues on several levels.

Odds aren't favoring a win for Spags despite the tremendous showing this season by the Chiefs defense.

This is what makes the job done by Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo so incredible this season. In a season in which Patrick Mahomes might not even make the Pro Bowl and Travis Kelce has been alone on productivity island until Rashee Rice's breakout, Spags and company have kept the Chiefs on the winning side more often than not with one suffocating performance after another. And it's been thrilling to watch the results.

Under Spags' leadership, the Chiefs' defense has gone from an afterthought to a dominant unit league-wide. L'Jarius Sneed is now a household name (for NFL fans at least). Trent McDuffie is already a lockdown corner. A young unproven secondary blossomed in the last two years to become the league's deepest and perhaps best overall unit.

In the second level, the Chiefs have watched one draft investment after another grow into the sort of players that Brett Veach hoped they could be. Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton have become very good starters, with the latter as the team captain. Leo Chenal looks ready for a major leap himself if playing time is cleared in front of him, and Drue Tranquill became a prime asset working in concert with the draftees in 2023.

Up front, Spags has continued to disrupt opposing passers with clever schemes that somehow frustrate despite offenses knowing what he's going to throw at them. It's the way he deploys players in unexpected ways and adjusts his game plan successfully as a game goes on that has the Chiefs ready for another postseason run—at least on his side of the ball.

Unfortunately, the Chiefs ongoing success is likely what's going to keep Spagnuolo from earning this year's award. Current odds have Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson favored to win the award (+250) with Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken next (+600). In comparison, Spags sits at No. 8 overall per oddsmakers (+1500).

Even among defensive coordinators, Spagnuolo is pretty far down the list when you consider what he's done. Jim Schwartz of the Cleveland Browns is third and Dan Quinn of the Dallas Cowboys is fourth overall on the oddsmakers list. Mike Macdonald of the Ravens and Steve Wilks of the San Francisco 49ers are just in front of Spags in sixth and seventh place, respectively.

None of this will matter all that much if Spagnuolo's unit can help Kansas City accomplish the stated goal of the entire team: to repeat as Super Bowl champs. But it'd be nice if the rest of the league could understand just how great this transformed defense has been for Kansas City and how far off the typical path they would be if not for Spags' work.