When John Bonamego left the Detroit Lions in 2015 to become the head coach at his alma mater, Central Michigan University, it was a bucket list opportunity for him to run his own program after spending nearly 30 years as an assistant at the high school, college and pro levels.
Bonamego expected to spend the rest of his coaching career in that position at CMU, but sometimes the best laid plans don’t always turn out how we might hope. Bonamego was relieved from his coaching duties at CMU after a 1-11 season this past year.
It was around the same time Lions head coach Matt Patricia was looking for a special teams coordinator after relieving Joe Marciano of his duties back in November. The familiarity with Detroit, and being an NFL special teams coordinator before, made joining Patricia’s staff and coming back to the Lions a good fit for Bonamego.
Bonamego admittedly isn’t the same coach that left four seasons ago, however. His time as a head coach has changed the way he goes about his business as an assistant coach.
“I believe it made me a better coach in the long run,” Bonamego said Tuesday. “Being on the other side of it, it defines for you a bit more clearly what a good assistant is and a good coordinator.
“Good assistants take things off the head coach's plate, they don’t put them on it, because he has enough things to contend with just with his daily responsibilities.”
Bonamego feels it’s part of his responsibility as special teams coordinator to solve problems instead of bringing them to Patricia. He feels like being a head coach has made him better at the situational aspect of the game, and he believes he has a heightened sense of awareness for all aspects of the game, not just the kicking game.
“I try to bring him maybe more what I see the finished product being, rather than force him to be involved in every step of it,” Bonamego said. “I’ll try to problem solve as much as I can so that when I do have time with (Patricia), we try to make it more efficient. Give him something that’s easier for him to sign off on.”
View photos from the 2019 Haven Redefine Celebration on Tuesday, May 21 at Ford Field in Detroit.
There’s another reason Bonamego decided to rejoin the NFL coaching ranks.
Now that he’s fulfilled his desire to be a head coach, Bonamego says his single focus is to do his part to help the Detroit Lions win a Super Bowl.
“When I left to go to college, that was my only regret,” he said. “I had coached in an AFC Championship (Jaguars, 2000) and an NFC Championship (Saints, 2007). Ended up coaching the Pro Bowl both times. It’s hard to get that close and not have an opportunity.”
A few years ago being a head coach was the itch Bonamego needed to scratch.
“Now (winning the Super Bowl) is the only itch,” he said.