Chiefs, Bills defensive coordinators bring head coaching chops to title game

Both teams playing in the AFC title game have a defensive coordinator who flopped as a head coach but who excels as a lieutenant.

Chiefs, Bills defensive coordinators bring head coaching chops to title game

Both teams playing in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game have a defensive coordinator who flopped as a head coach but who has the chops as a lieutenant to help his team and his head coach get to the Super Bowl.

In the third consecutive AFC championship contested at Arrowhead Stadium, it’s Steve Spagnuolo trying to outwit Bills breakout quarterback Josh Allen and Leslie Frazier tasked with prying the Lamar Hunt Trophy from the grip of young Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Both are credited with providing a steady helping hand, a sturdy shoulder and a willing ear to their team’s current head coach.


Spagnuolo, 61, compiled an 11-41 record (.212) as head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11 and as interim head coach of the New York Giants in 2017, when he went 1-3. He joined Andy Reid, 62, in Kansas City in 2019 and played a big role in turning around the defense in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl-winning season a year ago.

Spagnuolo didn’t shy away when asked a couple of weeks ago whether he wanted another crack at a head coaching job.

“Certainly. The fire burns in me for that,” Spagnuolo said. “I had that one opportunity, things didn’t work out. But, yeah, listen, I want to say this: I’m really happy with the job I’ve got. I’m good there.

“But someday I would love that opportunity.”


Frazier, 61, went 21-33-1 (.391) in Minnesota from 2010-13. A defensive back on the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, he was among the first hires by coach Sean McDermott, 46, in 2017.

McDermott has talked about how Frazier’s experience has been invaluable to him, and how he uses him as a sounding board on addressing issues within the team.

Frazier called it “an honor to stand alongside Sean,” and said that while some of their conversations have been challenging, he appreciates his voice being valued. It began with Frazier saying he didn’t want McDermott to make the same mistakes he did as a first-time head coach.

“Now, you have to be an ego-less guy in Sean’s shoes to take some of that conversation and not feel threatened,” Frazier said. “So I just appreciate his willingness to allow me to share my thoughts and then to listen and give feedback. I have to be able to not be prideful if he says no, let’s do it this way or that way to let it go.

“At the end of the day, these have to be his decisions. I’m so thankful that I worked with a guy and we could have that type of dialogue and come to a conclusion that’s best for our team and someone willing to utilize my experience,” Frazier added. “That’s not always the case. It’s a business with a lot of egos, a lot of people concerned with who gets the credit.”