How Mark D’Onofrio stayed involved with football since his last coaching job in 2018

MADISON, Wis. — When Mark D’onofrio last coached for a college football program, he had been at it and on the move frequently since 1999.

That journey took the former Penn State and Green Bay Packers linebacker to seven different collegiate programs: St. Peter’s College (1999), Georgia (2000), Rutgers (2001-03), Virginia (2004-05), Temple (2006-10). ), Miami (2011-15) and Houston (2017-18).

At the end of the latter stop — Houston relieved D’Onofrio of his duties as defensive coordinator in November 2018 — the now-53-year-old, with his family in mind, decided it was time for a break.

“I moved them around quite a bit, so it was the right time for us, and it was the right place for me to be at that point,” he told reporters Tuesday. “And this is certainly the right place for me to be at this point. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here and be part of this program.”

D’Onofrio, the Wisconsin Badgers’ new inside linebackers coach, expressed that sentiment multiple times when he met with reporters for the first time on Tuesday. He also answered questions about what he’s been up to since his last stop. That included a lot of football.

“I did quite a bit. I helped at the youth level when my son was at that age, and I had another son who was at the high school level, so I helped coaches out that way,” D’Onofrio said. “I kept in touch with a lot of guys I worked with over the years that were still in the game. I taped a lot of games, watched a lot of games and a ton of football.

“Certain guys had me watching their games in terms of giving feedback on the weekends. So, I really did watch quite a bit. I also went back through my old stuff and made sure I had everything ready when an opportunity like this one came to interview.”

D’Onofrio has two sons, Jack and Thomas. Thomas, the youngest, will soon begin playing football for nearby Middleton High School.

While Mark has been under brighter lights, helping with youth programs brought him fulfillment and put his career and where football has taken him into perspective. And it wasn’t his first time helping a younger generation of players learn the game. He coached at the Kendall Boys and Girls Club in South Florida between stints in Miami and Houston.

“I did that a couple of different times when my son was in the eighth grade,” he said. “When you’ve been around the game as much as I have been around it — and everything that the game has given me — to work with kids and high school-aged kids and high school coaches, giving them drills and pointers, that was a real opportunity to give back to the game that’s given so much to me.”

A seemingly unforeseen situation led Badgers head coach Paul Chryst to D’Onofrio, UW’s second inside linebackers coach since February.

When Bob Bostad took over as offensive line coach after five years with the inside linebackers, UW hired Bill Sheridan as his replacement. But the 63-year-old announced his resignation in May amid an NCAA investigation into recruiting rules he reportedly violated while on Air Force’s staff.

According to Action Network, he and three others Assistants provided “impermissible benefits” and hosted high school prospects during the COVID-19 dead period in 2020.

Chryst said Sheridan informed him of potential issues at the start of their discussions, but the extent of the situation wasn’t clear.

“We didn’t know the way it would be handled. It’s one of those … I am anxious to eventually tell people what happened,” Chryst said last week. “I can’t right now, but it’s ridiculous.”

The Badgers felt fortunate to find a coach who, like Sheridan, has accumulated experience with numerous programs in several roles.

D’Onofrio has been a defensive coordinator three times — his other two stints came at Temple and Miami — and he’s coached linebackers at six of his previous stops. He also spent time coaching special teams at Virginia.

The Badgers are taking a by-committee approach to special teams this season. Chris Haering spent his first seven seasons at UW as special teams coordinator, but he replaced recruiting director Mickey Turner as tight ends coach in the offseason.

“I love it when you get someone with a whole other background and experiences,” Chryst said Tuesday. “You can pick their brains about things. …For him, it’s a different assignment because he’s been a coordinator. I know he’s looking forward to how he can be the best position coach. He’s had great experiences with special teams too.

“One of the characteristics that drew us to Mark was that he did have coordinating experience. Therefore, he probably knows how to be a better assistant for a coordinator.”

Following three seasons away from the collegiate sidelines, D’Onofrio believes he found the perfect fit at the perfect time.

“I was getting to the point where I was kind of looking for an opportunity,” he said. “But I was looking for the right opportunity. I have a high school-aged son, so I was looking for one that felt long-lasting and not a jump around from year-to-year type of deal.

“This is one of the premier programs in the country. To have an opportunity to coach inside linebackers at Wisconsin was one of those opportunities you live for if you do what I do.”

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