Dolphins coach Tony Sparano considers John Bonamego "a really good friend" with a tremendous work ethic. Bonamego has coached special teams for two decades, including the past dozen years in the NFL. His players swear by him.
None of that was enough to save Bonamego's job in the wake of a Monday night meltdown against the Patriots.
Darren Rizzi, in his second season as a special teams assistant, was promoted to replace Bonamego as special teams coordinator Tuesday. The move came less than 12 hours after three special teams gaffes led directly to 21 points in the Dolphins' 41-14 loss at Sun Life Stadium. Those three second-half touchdowns came in a span of 16 minutes.
"I truly appreciate everything Bono has done for us," Sparano said. "I think he's an outstanding coach. It's a hard decision to make because he's a heck of a guy, and I know how hard this guy works. Nobody works harder than him at what he does."
Immediately after Monday's loss, the Dolphins' fourth straight at home dating to last season, several players owned up to the special teams mistakes and defended Bonamego.
"It's not him, not at all," said rookie cornerback Nolan Carroll, a core special-teamer. "I don't want anybody to think it's him because it's not. It starts with the players on the field. He can only do so much for us. It's our job to execute."
That didn't happen Monday night.
"It was just a blow to the gut, man," Carroll said. "We practice special teams probably 20 minutes every practice. Everything's detailed, even when we're in meetings. It's like 30- to 40-minute meetings. We constantly practice on it."
--John Bonamego, hired away from the Saints when head coach Tony Sparano joined the Dolphins in 2008, is believed to be the first Dolphins assistant fired during the season in the franchise's 45-year history. Changes have been made close to the start of the regular season, and Don Doll was essentially demoted (but not fired) in 1976 when Bill Arnsparger came back from the Giants to resume his role as Don Shula's defensive coordinator, but veteran Dolphins employees believed Tuesday's dismissal broke new ground for the franchise.
--Sparano also challenged his players to improve their performance, adding he wouldn't hesitate to work more starters into the mix until the special teams improve. The Dolphins entered Monday's game ranked 29th in the league in kickoff coverage and figured to sink even lower after allowing a 103-yard touchdown return to New England's Brandon Tate to open the second half. The Dolphins also had a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, and they allowed a blocked punt for the second consecutive week. The Dolphins have had four punts blocked since the start of the preseason.
"Our players also need to take responsibility," Sparano said.
--New special teams coach Darren Rizzi, 40, ran special teams for Sparano at the University of New Haven for three seasons in the mid-1990s and later served as head coach there and at the University of Rhode Island, where he played tight end. Rizzi also spent time coaching special teams as part of his duties at Rutgers from 2002-07 under former University of Miami assistant Greg Schiano.
"This is one of the reasons I brought Darren here: He's a very smart, intelligent guy that I think has his own way of doing things," Sparano said. "I think that's important, that he'll have his own spin on the special teams area. He's a high energy guy, a lot like (Bonamego) in that situation. Very detailed, very similar that way."