Longtime NFL special teams coordinator and former Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego told ESPN on Friday he is retiring from coaching.
Bonamego, 59, spent 19 years as a special teams assistant or coordinator in the NFL and another 16 as a college coach, including a four-year stint as the head coach of his alma mater from 2015 to 2018. He spent last season as a senior special teams analyst at Iowa State.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Bonamego told ESPN. “But [my wife] Paulette and I, we’re super excited about the next chapter of our lives.”
Bonamego spent the majority of his 35-year coaching career as an NFL special teams coordinator with the Jacksonville Jaguars twice (2002 and 2012), Green Bay Packers (2003-05), New Orleans Saints (2006-07), Miami Dolphins (2008 -10), Detroit Lions twice (2013-14 and 2019) and the Los Angeles Rams (2020). He was a senior coaching assistant with the Rams in 2021.
Six current NFL special teams coordinators either played or coached under Bonamego during his career, including Atlanta’s Marquice Williams, Tennessee’s Craig Aukerman and Cleveland’s Mike Priefer.
In his NFL career, he was also the decision-maker to go for a punt block on one of the most iconic plays in New Orleans Saints history, Steve Gleason’s blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons in the team’s first game back in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. Bonamego went to then-Saints head coach Sean Payton on Atlanta’s first punt of the game and suggested going for the block, something Payton agreed to. It remains something Bonamego remembers out of all the plays he has called.
“Definitely I would say that was probably the biggest play,” Bonamego said. “Without question.”
Bonamego, who is moving from coaching to working in business development for BSN, a sporting goods apparel and equipment distributor, spent the majority of the last two decades of his career in the NFL except for the four seasons at CMU, where he went 22- 29 from 2015 to 2018 before being let go following a 1-11 season.
Bonamego took the Chippewas to three straight bowl games and won the MAC West in 2015. That year, Bonamego also survived tonsil cancer, working while going through radiation treatments at the University of Michigan. He was deemed cancer-free in November 2015, as Central Michigan won five of its last six games to win the division. Among the players he coached at Central was Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush.
After a year as an assistant at Mount Pleasant High School, Bonamego had early-career college coaching stops at Maine (1988-91), Lehigh (1992) and Army (1993-98) before moving to the NFL as an assistant special teams coach with the Jaguars from 1999 to 2001.