Through all of the changes over the years for the Miami Dolphins, there has been one constant besides long snapper John Denney: special teams coach Darren Rizzi. Rizzi’s special teams made a difference in the outcome again on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. They came up with a turnover and a partially blocked a punt and pinned the Bills back on field position when needed.
The Dolphins have been very fortunate to have Rizzi and his special teams over the years. They are consistently one of the most reliable areas for the Dolphins over the years, even with all of the changes with players on coverages and kickers and punters. Rizzi seems to get the most out of his units year in and year. I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t get consideration for a head coaching position? I know he coaches special teams, but so did John Harbaugh and he’s been the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens since 2008 and won a Super Bowl. Rizzi has also served as the assistant head coach the last four years including the year under interim head coach Dan Campbell. It could have been easy for him to leave with all of the head coaches coming and going the last eight years, but Rizzi stayed. He is always animated and fired up on the sidelines. He’s always coaching and getting the most out of his players.
This past off season the Dolphins lost two of their best free agents in Damien Williams and Michael Thomas. It was thought the coverage units would take a step back, but they didn’t. Rizzi has coached this team up and their coverage units continue to do well. His units almost always come up with a timely big play: a blocked punt, a recovered onside kick (they recovered four last year), or the occasional fake punt when needed. Rizzi’s units are well disciplined and well coached. He gets the most out of his units despite all of the changing of personnel game in and game out.
Rizzi also finds talent and identifies players. This past off season the Dolphins lost kicker Cody Parkey and Rizzi went out and scouted the kickers in the draft. He came away convincing the team to go with undrafted kicker Jason Sanders rather than a veteran kicker. Sanders is 16 for 17 on his field goal attempts–not too shabby for a position that was a question mark going into the season. A year ago, the Dolphins had a kicker in Andrew Franks who had two good seasons, but the week before the opener Rizzi felt they needed an upgrade and they signed Parkey. Parkey went on to have one of the most accurate seasons in team history as the kicker. He also has found upgrades at punter as well. In 2015, the Dolphins cut Pro Bowl punter Brandon Field for a rookie named Matt Darr and he had two very good seasons as punter until last year when the Dolphins found another upgrade in Matt Haack. Rizzi isn’t afraid to give his input on finding someone better, no matter how good or productive his current kicker or punter is or has been. Rizzi has an eye for talent at his craft.
I get Rizzi has never been a coordinator, but if the Dolphins make a change at head coach, I might consider Rizzi. He has a passion and fire the team needs at times and isn’t afraid to express how he feels. If the Dolphins do go elsewhere at head coach they will probably risk losing Rizzi and that could be a blow to the special teams. I know special teams is a small part of the game, but it’s an important element of the game. Games change with field position on coverages, kickoffs, and punts. They can also change the tide of the game. The special teams turnover on Sunday against the Bills helped swing the tide and the Dolphins scored on a short field when they were sputtering. Special teams has been the only thing the Dolphins have done well over the years and Rizzi should get the credit and recognition he deserves for it. The Dolphins should consider themselves fortunate to have him.