Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dolphins fire special teams coordinator John Bonamego after Monday Night blowout

In a move that will surprise absolutely no one, the Miami Dolphins have fired special teams coordinator John Bonamego just a day after the team's embarrassing 41-14 loss to the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

Bonamego's special teams unit was quite possibly the biggest culprit in the Dolphins' loss last night, as they allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, a field goal block returned for a touchdown, and their second blocked punt in two weeks—all in the second half.
Hired three seasons ago upon the arrival of the current regime, Bonamego has been a special teams coach in the NFL for various franchise since 1999.

While placekicker Dan Carpenter and punter Brandon Fields have both excelled under Bonamego, the Dolphins return and kick coverage units have been consistently problematic.

According to head coach Tony Sparano, assistant special teams coach Darren Rizzi will be promoted to Bonamego's old role, effective immediately.

The Dolphins are on a bye in Week Five, and will face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field the following Sunday.


Background

A tight end at the University of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1991, Rizzi signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent following his collegiate career, but did not play in the NFL.

Rizzi began his coaching career as an assistant at Colgate in 1993, followed by four seasons at New Haven under head coach Tony Sparano—three as special teams/defensive line coach and the final year as defensive coordinator.

Following one season as the special teams/linebackers coach at Northeastern, Rizzi returned to New Haven as the head coaching replacement to Saprano (who was then an assistant with the Cleveland Browns) and led the team to a 15-14 record in three seasons.

Rizzi served as the special teams coach for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights from 2002 to 2007, coaching three players who earned All-Big East honors on special teams and two players who were named the conference's Special Teams Player of the Year.

In one season as his alma mater's head coach in 2008, Rizzi led Rhode Island to a 3-9 record and a 10th-place finish in the CAA.

Rizzi joined the Dolphins' coaching staff as an assistant special teams coach under Sparano and Bonamego in 2009, replacing Steve Hoffman, who had joined Todd Haley's staff in Kansas City.


Analysis

I'm a bit surprised to see Bonamego fired so quickly despite how costly the special teams unit was yesterday, simply because it's not all on the coordinator and in-season coaching moves are never ideal.

The Dolphins have let some key special teams players go within the last year or two, such as cornerback Nathan Jones and linebackers Charlie Anderson, Reggie Torbor, and Erik Walden, who was actually a pretty good player over the past few years regardless of his recent gaffe against the Jets.

Of course, someone had to take the fall for last night's debacle, and it's a lot easier to fire one coach than it is to five some 20 players, many of whom are needed on offense or defense in addition to special teams.

One has to wonder if promoting from within will solve any problems since Rizzi was already working with this problematic unit, but he wasn't the guy calling the shots and may bring his own fresh look to special teams.

It's also a simple fact that finding and hiring a totally new coordinator and getting him to turn the special teams unit around in the next 13 weeks is an unrealistic endeavor, meaning Rizzi is the only realistic option with Bonamego taking the fall for last night.

Rizzi will have the rest of the 2010 season to show what he can do, after which I'm sure the Dolphins will evaluate his performance and determine if they need to look elsewhere for a new special teams coordinator.

The good news for Rizzi is that the Dolphins' special teams probably can't play any worse than they did Monday. The bad news is that he might not have the talent on the roster to save his new-found title beyond this season.


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