The AFC West is home to several noteworthy defensive coordinators. Question is, how do they all rank within the division?
The offensive firepower in the AFC West cannot be understated. The reigning Division and AFC Conference Champion, Kansas City Chiefs, deploy one of the most potent attacks of our lifetime. The San Diego Chargers can score in bunches with Justin Herbert and the underrated, Keenan Allen. The Las Vegas Raiders give a balanced, diverse attack that can at times, look unstoppable.
And the Denver Broncos have… A really good core of receivers.
But I digress.
Having an adequate mind on the defensive side of the ball is pertinent. This is especially true with so many potent offensive units in one division. So, which franchise currently employs the best coordinator in the West?
#4 Renaldo Hill, Los Angeles Chargers
Coming in at number four is Renaldo Hill. A former defensive back in his own right, Hill spent 10 seasons in the NFL before retiring and diving into coaching. He previously coached defensive backs for several NFL teams and colleges as well. Most notably, he was with the Miami Dolphins in 2018 and the Denver Broncos from 2019-20. However, this will be Hill’s first gig as defensive coordinator.
Hill comes in with a strong relationship with new Chargers head coach Brandon Staley. This kinship should help make this a smooth transition for both parties. At the same time, this being his first crack at the role, we’ll see if this will be ‘his’ defense or merely an extension of Staley.
#3 Ed Donatell, Denver Broncos
Ed Donatell is the most seasoned name on this list with 29 years in the coaching ranks. Donatell has manned the sidelines as a secondary coach for the 49ers, Broncos, Jets, and most recently the Bears.
Also, he previously held down the position of defensive coordinator for the Packers (2000-03) and Falcons (2004-06). Donatell had early success in Green Bay before a decline in unit performance, which continued during his tenure in Atlanta.
Donatell settled nicely into a role as a secondary coach, ultimately becoming the partner in crime of defensive wiz and current Broncos head coach, Vic Fangio. After first working together in San Francisco, Fangio and Donatell would continue their partnership in Chicago and now with the Broncos.
The Broncos have had to rely heavily on their defense while the offense attempts to draft the next Paxton Lynch. This oftentimes has left much to be desired, despite a commitment to assets on that side of the ball. One could also question how much true responsibility Donatell has when Fangio is the head coach.
#2 Gus Bradley, Las Vegas Raiders
Gus Bradley is a player’s coach that helped architect one of the most fearsome defenses of the last decade with the Seattle Seahawks. The Cover 3 scheme Bradley would help implement is still being used as a blueprint throughout the league today. Bradley got his start in Tampa Bay as a quality control coach and then, as linebacker coach (2006-08) before becoming the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks (2009-12). After a stint as the head coach in Jacksonville (2013-16), Bradley would head to the Chargers in a return to the defensive coordinator role (2017-20).
L.O.B. is one hell of a header to place on your resume, but Bradley helped a Chargers team stay afloat that struggled with injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Bradley’s one of the most consistent coaches in the division with the proper pieces around him but has seen big letdowns when the personnel leaves a bit to be desired. This was an issue Bradley had in Jacksonville and a problem he could run into in Las Vegas.
#1 Steve Spagnuolo, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have such a talented offense and a Hall of Fame coach directing it, that it becomes easy to forget that until Steve Spagnuolo came around, the defense was a severe issue in ‘KC.’ Spags has had stops in Philadelphia (1999-06), New Orleans (2012) and Baltimore (2013-14), as well with an infamous stint with the Rams (2009-2011) and most famously with the Giants (2007-08, 2015-17).
While giving Spagnuolo a head coaching gig is like giving Maggie Simpson a revolver, his ability to mold a defense is unquestionable. Spagnuolo helped turn the Chiefs into a true Super Bowl contender and one of the stingiest defenses from a scoring standpoint. Last season excluded, Kansas City has gotten a lot out of a defense that has some notable holes.
No matter how you choose to slice it, Spags is the most accomplished coordinator with the most recent history of impactful success in the division.
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*Top Photo: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press