NFL coach John Bonamego

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A longtime special teams coordinator, John Bonamego recently ascended the NFL coaching ranks thanks to his dedication to teaching the fundamentals.

After a long career as a special teams coordinator in the National Football League, John Bonamego says there is one thing he’s most proud of.

“I have never had a previous relationship with the coaches I’ve worked for,” he says. “In every case, they found me. I was recommended and hired based on the merits of my work.”

Bonamego, 57, was hired by the Los Angeles Rams in February 2020 as special teams coordinator and has since taken on the role of senior coaching assistant. “I’m helping out on special teams, offense, defense. I do research for projects that are football related. Right now, I’m finishing up looking at all the turnovers and fumbles throughout the league — where they happen, how they happen, the whos and whys.”

Coaching during the pandemic was “very weird,” Bonamego says. “Like a lot of things, once you get into the rhythm and flow of the season, you don’t really think about it. I think it really tests your ability, and tests your team’s ability, to adapt to change.”

Bonamego’s NFL resume includes stints as special teams coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 2019 and from 2013-14; the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 and from 1999-2002; the New Orleans Saints in 2011 and from 2006-07; the Miami Dolphins from 2008-10; and the Green Bay Packers from 2003-05. He also worked at the college level in the late 1980s and ’90s, and was head coach from 2015-18 at Central Michigan University, his alma mater, from which he received an honorary doctorate in 2009.

Sept. 25, 2006, was an exceptional day in his career. It was the first game the Saints played at the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Saints safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt in the end zone, and cornerback Curtis DeLoatch turned it into a touchdown. The play sparked a 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

“It really symbolized the rebirth of that city,” Bonamego recalls. “Everybody who was there will always hold that as a very special event and time in our lives.”

Bonamego’s father served in the U.S. Army, and his mother was a Red Cross station manager, so the family moved around a lot, including a stint in Vicenza, Italy. Bonamego played football at several positions in high school and college. At one point, he was a player/coach with Italy’s Verona Redskins, where he made “a lot of good friendships,” he says. He was a college coach before joining the pros.

“I have always loved football. I love the team aspect and the physicality. I guess I always dreamt of playing professionally,” he says. “I think at some point, I realized I wasn’t going to be talented enough to play, but I wanted to stay involved in the game.”

His coaching style is that of an “organized teacher” who focuses on the fundamentals of the game, he says. “A lot of times, people are more talented than everybody else around them (before getting to the NFL). When the talent around you is at your level, you have to come back to the fundamentals. Everybody can always improve.”

As for the head coaches he has worked with, he has “a lot of loyalty” for Tom Coughlin, who first hired him in Jacksonville, and he “loved” his time with Sean Payton in New Orleans. In Detroit, James Caldwell “treated everyone so well you almost never wanted to work for anybody else,” and Matt Patricia, “another proud Italian,” taught him a lot, he says.

Bonamego fought cancer and had his five-year all-clear checkup in August. His trip two summers ago to visit family in Northern Italy with his wife and three children “was maybe the best two weeks of my life,” he says.

As for his future plans, he wants to go back to Italy when he’s done coaching professionally, and maybe coach and live there for part of the year. “That would be a lot of fun,” he says.

The above appears in the May 2021 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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