According to The Athletic writer and FOX Sports reporter Bruce Feldman, the Wisconsin Badgers have found their new inside linebacker’s coach. Former Houston and Miami (Fla.), among other stops, defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is dusting off his coach’s clipboard and will join the UW staff.
Source: Former Houston DC Mark D’Onofrio is expected to join Wisconsin’s staff. The Badgers do have a linebacker coaching vacancy.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) June 6, 2022
The Badgers were in the market for a new defensive assistant at this odd juncture of the offseason because former ILB coach Bill Sheridan resigned after only a few months on the job due to an ongoing investigation for violating NCAA rules from his time coaching at Air Force.
D’Onofrio, who has been out of coaching since being fired as the defensive coordinator at Houston in 2018, brings many, many years of linebacking experience, both playing and coaching, to Madison. The native of New Jersey starred at linebacker for Penn State from 1988-1991 before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft. Sadly, a hamstring injury ended his career after just two games.
His coaching career started in 1999 as the linebackers coach at Saint Peter’s, who you may remember from this past March’s men’s NCAA Tournament, and then quickly moved on to Georgia as a defensive assistant the next year. In 2001, he joined the Rutgers coaching staff as the linebackers coach before spending the next two seasons as the Scarlet Knights’ recruiting coordinator as well.
In 2004, he jumped to UVa where he spent two seasons coaching tight ends, inside linebackers and special teams. While in Charlottesville he worked under defensive coordinator Al Golden and D’Onofrio would follow him to Temple in 2006 (he was the defensive coordinator and associate head coach there) and then to Miami (Fla.) in 2010, where he had the same job responsibilities.
Golden’s tumultuous tenure in Coral Gables ended in 2015 and D’Onofrio also got canned. After taking a year off, he popped back up in Houston as the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach for Major Applewhite’s Cougars. He was fired after two years and hasn’t coached since then.
There are a lot of people online, mainly Houston and Miami fans, that are highly skeptical of this hire for Wisconsin and I found a thread on a Cougars message board from 2019 about how Hurricanes fans tried to warn them about D’Onofrio when he was hired. There was also a link to a story in The Athletic ($) about a few former Canes players being upset with Golden and D’Onofrio and how they operated. There is also a post from the Miami SB Nation site, State of The U, back in 2012 talking about how disappointing D’Onofrio’s defense was.
In that State of The U post, however, there was an interesting note about how unheralded players seemed to improve under D’Onofrio at Temple (DL Muhammed Wilkerson and S Jaiquawn Jarrett as examples) and make it to the NFL. He also coached NFL Pro Bowl LB Ahmad Brooks (Virginia) and AP All-American LB Denzel Perryman (Miami) among others who earned all-conference honors at his various stops.
The Badgers have a young and unproven crop of inside linebackers this season and since D’Onofrio only has them to focus on, instead of the entire defense, perhaps he can develop them into All-B1G players.
Anyway, I’ve already written over 550 words on an ILB coach who hasn’t even been announced as signing a contract with the Badgers so let’s call it here.
UPDATE, 6/10/22, 4:18 p.m. CT: on Friday afternoon (June 10) UW sent out a press release officially announcing the hiring of D’Onofrio as the ILB coach.
“I’m excited to have Mark join our staff,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s very passionate and brings great energy. He has a wealth of experience, both as a player and coach. That experience will help players, especially those in the inside linebacker room. Mark’s an excellent fit for our staff personally and philosophically. I can’t wait for him to be able to get around our players and I’m excited about their opportunity to learn from him.”
“My family and I are thrilled to join this program, and I want to thank Coach Chryst for the opportunity,” D’Onofrio said. “As a coach, and as a fan of college football, I’ve admired the culture at Wisconsin for a long time. This is a place that fits who I am as a football coach. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to work with players of such high caliber and high character, and I’m energized to contribute to such a tremendous coaching staff.”