Get to know a Lions coach: John Bonamego

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A look at new Detroit Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego.

The Detroit Lions filled their final coaching vacancy last Friday by hiring John Bonamego as their special teams coordinator. Just as we did following the Curtis Modkins hiring, let's take a look at Bonamego's past to get an idea of what kind of coach he will be with the Lions.

Bio

Bonamego, 49, has been a coach since the late 1980s. He actually began his career as a player-coach with the Verona (Italy) Redskins, and he also coached at Mt. Pleasant High School. In 1988, he jumped to the college ranks and went on to work as an assistant at Maine, Lehigh and Army over the course of the next decade. Once he was hired as an assistant special teams coach by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1999, his NFL career began. Ever since, he has been coaching special teams in the NFL, and he has worked for the Jaguars (twice), Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints (twice) and Miami Dolphins.

Here's a full rundown of Bonamego's coaching experience:

  • Verona (Italy) Redskins: Player-coach (1987)
  • Mt. Pleasant High School: JV coach (1987)
  • Maine: Assistant coach (1988-91)
  • Lehigh: Assistant coach (1992)
  • Army: Assistant coach (1993-98)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Assistant special teams coach (1999-2001)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Special teams coordinator (2002)
  • Green Bay Packers: Special teams coordinator (2003-05)
  • New Orleans Saints: Special teams coordinator (2006-07)
  • Miami Dolphins: Special teams coordinator (2008-10)
  • New Orleans Saints: Assistant special teams coach (2011)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Special teams coordinator (2012)

The word in Miami

I asked The Phinsider's Kevin Nogle for his thoughts on Bonamego, and this is what he had to say:

The firing of John Bonamego was a necessary move for the Dolphins in 2010. It came after a disaster of a game against the New England Patriots, when special teams decided to give up 21 points. It was painful to watch, but it was just the culmination of a miserable time under Bonamego. The Dolphins had given up the fifth highest kick return average in the league and the 11th highest punt return average under Bonamego.

Firing Bonamego led to the Dolphins promoting Darren Rizzi, who has fixed the problems the special teams had and made the Dolphins' special teams unit a weapon in the field position battle.

Miami originally hired Bonamego from the New Orleans Saints, where he had been the special teams coordinator. After he was fired, he returned to the Saints, where he was a special teams assistant. Theoretically, he has taken the time to improve his ability as a special teams coordinator. He really is not as bad as it seems when you look at his performance in Miami, but, given how Rizzi was able to (eventually) fix the problems the special teams had, he was not just a scapegoat either. I don't know how well he will do in Detroit. Hopefully he will be able to learn from his past mistakes and be better for the Lions than he was for the Dolphins.

This sort of goes along with my initial reaction to the news of Bonamego being hired. I'm just not that impressed with his track record, especially given how his tenure in Miami ended. You can't pin a special teams meltdown solely on the coach (as we learned with Danny Crossman in 2012), but it's tough to not be skeptical of what Bonamego actually brings to the table after reading Kevin's thoughts.

Jim Schwartz's assessment

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz had this to say about Bonamego when asked by the team's official site:

"We were very fortunate to get a guy as qualified as John," Schwartz said of Bonamego. "He has a lot of experience as well as a lot of experience in the NFC North. (A) very good teacher. Very enthusiastic."

Verdict

I don't think the special teams can get much worse than last season given all of the problems that the Lions had. The coverage units were extremely bad early in the season, and the return game was nonexistent all season long. Will Bonamego be able to improve the Lions' special teams? I think so simply because there's nowhere to go but up. While I remain skeptical of this hire, he is coming into a situation where improvement can be achieved simply by finding a new returner and a new punter. As long as we see improvement in those areas and the coverage meltdowns are kept to a minimum, this should be the last time we even talk about Bonamego for quite some time.

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