How Mark Donofrio hopes to find a match with Wisconsin insiders after their late arrival | college football

On the one hand there was a team in a difficult place at a difficult time. On the other hand, he was a coach whose desire to be part of a team once again reached a boiling point.

The University of Wisconsin soccer team needed a new indoor coach for the second time since the 2021 season ended. It was in May — after spring practice, after the players had begun building bridges to a new coach — and the Badgers had what would have been a transition. hard.

“Who still has the experience, the knowledge, the character, the training style, and the right culture?” Defensive coordinator Jim Leonard recalls thinking. “Who is there?”

In Houston, Mark D’Onofrio was removed for 3 1/2 years from his last job in college football. This figure was starting to feel uncomfortable.

“I was longing to come back,” Donofrio said. “I think my family knew I was eager to come back. I was looking for a place where I thought I could add value and could help the players.”

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D’Onofrio saw the news of Bill Sheridan’s mid-May resignation from UW following a report linking Sheridan to possible NCAA recruiting violations in the Air Force two years earlier. D’Onofrio worked on his connections to see who could give him a kind word in the UW.

Three weeks later, he was in Madison to explain to coach Paul Krist, Leonhard and others how his experience working with various schemes at seven schools since 1999 could fit the Badgers’ short need.

It ended up fitting both sides, and the Badgers got someone who didn’t need a lot of runway to get off the ground and D’Onofrio back in the game he said was so good for him.

“I definitely hate the way we got into this, but I feel really fortunate to have him with us,” Crist said.

Crist was clear that anyone who was ready to join another college team less than three months before fall camp began wasn’t the type he was looking for to fill his crew. D’Onofrio didn’t have this baggage but he knew he was stepping into a potentially fragile situation.

Bob Bostad spent five seasons coaching the UW insiders but moved on to lead the offensive line after Joe Rudolph left for Virginia Tech.

Sheridan began establishing himself with the team during the Spring Ball but hasn’t gotten much behind him due to allegations of a recruiting violation.

The in-house full-back was already in flux due to the departures of Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, mainstays whose playing meant there wasn’t much learning on the job for the crew that returned for the 2022 season.

D’Onofrio said his approach when entering the picture as the third coach in the position in less than a year was to let the players tell him what kind of coaching helped and what didn’t.

“Don’t make a change just to make a change,” he said. “At the end of the day, something that’s been working really well, let’s stick with it. I’ll learn to speak and the things I need to say instead of making it confusing to the players.”

3 stops as coordinator

He’s gone through enough changes in his college football coaching career that it’s not a difficult adjustment on his part.

D’Onofrio, 53, got his start coaching quarterbacks at St. Peter’s College, a non-scholarship team from Division I-AA in his home state of New Jersey in 1999. After a year in Georgia, he found a place for new Rutgers staff coach Greg Chiano in 2001.

He then moved on to Virginia, Temple, Miami and Houston, where D’Onofrio served as defensive coordinator for the last three stops. He was fired after the 2018 season by Houston, who finished last in FBS in passing defense.

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This is where his college training journey stopped. He’s used the past three years to help out with his son’s soccer team and connect with friends in the coaching career by watching videos and giving feedback.

D’Onofrio is now back in Wisconsin, where his professional football career began and ended, and he developed relationships with players and coaches.

Introducing a new voice to employees, Leonard said, could mean beneficial changes in the dynamic. UW also has offensive coordinator Bobby Engram, D’Onofrio’s one-time teammate at Penn State, and new linebacker coach Al Johnson in its top ten assistant coaches squad this season.

“The timing is unique but it suits us,” Leonard said of D’Onofrio. “He is hard-nosed. He has trained his men hard. He expects a lot from his teammates but loves them. He will do anything to help the players reach their maximum heights.”

Junior Spencer Little D’Onofrio called the player’s coach.

“He loves to hang out. He loves talking to us, and getting our reactions,” Lytle said. “We’d love to hear what he’s going to say as well, in terms of everything. He really helped everyone in the room, from beginners to seniors, learn to defend well and better than we even thought we did before.”

Shorten the profession of professionals

It would be easy to conclude that D’Onofrio’s two-and-a-half year history with Wisconsin in the ’90s doesn’t inspire his fondest memories.

Thirty years ago, he was entering training camp as a second-round pick for the Green Bay Packers. His arrival was delayed because he had not yet agreed to the terms of the contract.

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Then the setbacks began, the first of which was a muscle strain in a warm-up before his first practice. He was hyper-pronounced on his first pre-season quarterback against New England at Milwaukee County Stadium, drawing flags on back-to-back plays.

However, D’Onofrio had a season-opening starter before his career took a sinister turn in Game Two of the season, September 13, 1992, in Tampa Bay.

It was an unforgettable 31-3 loss for the Packers, years later notable only because it included Brett Favre’s first feat with the team – the Hall of Fame quarterback’s pass that caught him losing 7 yards after veering off him again. Pirate line man.

Running D'Onofrio

Head coach Mark D’Onofrio leads the center back’s interior during the first Badgers camp training on Wednesday at Camp Randall.

Jake Kokorowski, State Journal

D’Onofrio left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury on that wet 90-degree day in Florida. A photographer later took a picture of Donofrio sitting with his left leg heavily wrapped and his forehead curved over his right hand. This was the last time he wore a military uniform at a professional football match.

Al Hazmoun put him in injured reserve two days later, hoping that a month or two of rehab would put him back in the lineup. But it was a grotesque torn hamstring that eventually required extraordinary surgery in February 1993.

His recovery was progressing well but he was not back at full speed when D’Onofrio suffered a second blow later in the year. This was a lower abdominal muscle injury from a weightlifting session. It required a surgical repair in September 1993, which ended his hopes of playing this season.

By May 1994, it was all over. D’Onofrio failed physically with the Packers and was waived with injuries. He was 25, reportedly reached a $150,000 settlement with the team, and could take out a $1.25 million insurance policy for an injury that ended his football career.

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Time allowed D’Onofrio to get a comprehensive picture of that period of his life.

“It was just as detrimental as it happens to someone who is working their life to get to this point,” he said. “But I just look at that, from that point on, I’ve had the opportunity to move on to other things. And then eventually you look at it from the perspective that, hey, I’m not going to have the kids that I have, I’m not going to be married to the woman I’m marrying, all these kinds of The things.

“And maybe I wouldn’t have a coaching career, would I? Maybe I wouldn’t take the coaching and be able to influence all the life that I think I’ve been able to influence. I definitely look at it from that impression.”

It’s now a change in D’Onofrio’s perspective, a change of perspective. He chose to take a fresh look at the ratings of UW players starting with the camp opening last Wednesday. There is a chance for more linebackers to gain playing time by standing in practice ahead of the September 3 season opener against Illinois State.

While he was looking for his next college job, D’Onofrio wanted a job he felt he could stay in for a while.

“This is one of the main programs in the country, and the full-backs who played here have been amazing,” he said. “So coaching quarterbacks at the University of Wisconsin was one of those opportunities that you live for if you do what I do.”

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