Monday, December 07, 2020

Rocky start at South Dakota School of Mines didn’t keep Josh Boyer from Dolphins success | Opinion


DECEMBER 04, 2020 11:22 AM, 

UPDATED DECEMBER 04, 2020 12:57 PM

His first game as a defensive coordinator, Josh Boyer watched his defense give up 43 points to Black Hills State.

And before his assignment was done that 2005 season as the man in charge of the defense at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Boyer’s players allowed 40 points to the University of Mary, 42 points to Dakota State, 44 points to Valley City State, and 46 points to Dickinson State the penultimate game of the season.

Coaching at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City is not a typical stop en route to the NFL. Coaching 24 miles from Mount Rushmore and watching your defense get rocked on a regular basis definitely isn’t.

More likely it’s a chapter in a book on how to become a banker.

“I remember Josh, he so badly wanted his defense to play well,” said Tom Rudebusch, who has been with the SDSMT athletic program since 1980 as its play-by-play man, as Sports Information Director or running the athletic foundation.

“I remember after a couple of games he was shaking his head, asking, ‘Why do they do these stupid things?’ And I thought, ‘Welcome to football.’ I don’t know how to put this, but Josh did a very credible job with not a lot of talent. He’s got more talent today than he had back then.”

Rudebusch says no SDSMT football player has ever made an NFL roster. And although basketball coach Mike Riley went from coaching basketball at the school to working for the Golden State Warriors, no football coach ever made the leap to the NFL, either.

Except for Boyer.

Boyer went from coaching the Hardrockers that year when his defense allowed 339 points in 10 games to working for the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots the next season.

“Basically how it happened is Dean Pees was the linebackers coach for the New England Patriots, I believe in ’04 and ’05,” Boyer said this week. “I coached for Dean at Kent State. I was a graduate assistant. I worked heavily with the secondary with him, pretty closely with him, and after the ’05 season, Dean was made the defensive coordinator at New England and he called.

“That’s basically how I ended up at New England. It was really kind of by word of mouth, and I just went in there as a quality control coach and kind of worked my way up through the system that way.”

So Boyer, a summa cum laude graduate of Muskingam College (Ohio) in 2000, got a break based on who he’d met. But he kept his post based on what he contributed.

That’s definitely the case now as the Dolphins’ first-year defensive coordinator.

The Dolphins’ defense, last in scoring a year ago, is the NFL’s second-best scoring unit now, allowing 18.6 points per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the league, yielding 17.1 points per game.

So the Dolphins have shaved two touchdowns per game off their points allowed after giving up 30.9 points per game last year.

And, yes, the Dolphins had a significant infusion of talent in the offseason. But it’s Boyer, a defensive coordinator for the first time since that fateful 2005 season, that has brought Miami’s defensive talent together.

“He’s done a great job, really, the entire year,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores noted after last weekend’s 24-3 victory over the New York Jets. “I think often times you give me too much credit. Josh has done a great job the entire year.”

Talk to players on the Dolphins now and Rudebusch who dealt with Boyer near the start of his career and the pictures they paint of the coach are eerily similar.

Different times and football universes but the same guy.

“He’s aggressive,” Dolphins slot cornerback Nik Needham said. “He’s big on details. He stays on your [butt]. He pushes you to be the best player you can be, which I like. Always, every day, he’s just never letting up. I think that’s what translates into the game and creating that relentless effort that we all try to play with.”

Rudebusch said, “He was a very energetic guy. He was a guy who paid a lot of attention to detail. I do remember that about him.”

Boyer was the cornerbacks coach when Dolphins safety Eric Rowe joined the Patriots in 2016. The two moved from New England to Miami in 2019.

“The attention to detail is really the same as Flo,” Rowe said of Boyer. “Like him and Flo are basically the same person. They have the same mindset, the energy they bring every day, the attention to detail within the defense, any scheme, technique, fundamentals, all that.”

Flores was already in New England when Boyer joined the organization in 2006 but the two were coaching assistants at the same time in 2008. So communication between them is often easy.

“We’ve had years worth of conversations about defense and coverage and structures and fronts and protections and pressures,” Flores said. “I don’t know how long it’s been — 14 or 15 years — of these same conversations.”

And because the two speak the same language, the conversation between them in January to discuss Boyer succeeding Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator after Graham left unexpectedly was kind of quick.

“We had some people coming over to our house and it was a pretty quick conversation,” Boyer said. “He basically just kind of said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ I said, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you want me to do.’ And then it was getting ready for the dinner party that we had coming in. So there wasn’t a lot of worry.”

Yeah, that makes Boyer sound like a happy-go-lucky sort. It makes him sound easy-going. Maybe he is at home when he’s in holiday party mode.

But at work he’s a driven person.

“Whatever my job is, whether it’s a position coach, coordinator, you take it very seriously,” Boyer said. “You work hard at it. I always feel like you can get better.

“Usually you feel like whatever you’re doing, that it’s not good enough and to me personally, I think if you ever got to the point where you’re like, ‘Hey man, this is easy,’ then it’s probably time to call it quits or be done because I think you can always be better.

“I don’t think things stay the same. I think they get better or they get worse.”

The Dolphins defense has been improving so far. The first game of the season was not a good look as the New England Patriots ran for 217 yards. The second game was not good in that the Buffalo Bills passed for 410 yards.

It may have felt like playing Black Hills State all over again.

But Boyer’s unit has found its personality and, with Cover Zero blitzes and other strategies meant to attack and confuse, the defense is kind of taking on Boyer’s personality.

“It’s aggressive,” Rowe said. “He definitely has an aggressive mindset, which I like. I like being the aggressor instead of being passive and kind of just playing back. He wants to dictate what the offense does, so kind of have the defense run the game.”

Boyer’s defense will be thoroughly tested the final month of the season, with a game against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the rematch with New England looming.

And the folks in Rapid City will be cheering for Boyer.

“It was great for someone to move up like he did,” Rudebusch said. “We were all excited about it. We’re all excited for him.”

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, left, talks with coach Brian Flores. CHARLES TRAINOR JR CTRAINOR@MIAMIHERALD.COM


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