Miami Dolphins' Curt Kuntz successfully jumped from high school to NFL staff
The Dolphins have the best third-down defense in the NFL, and a coach who spent the last eight years as head coach at Struthers High School in Ohio has played a key role.
Curt Kuntz, Miami's assistant defensive backs coach, made the leap directly from high school to Brian Flores' staff before this season. And he's made it successfully.
"He’s very detailed, a very good coach," Dolphins defensive back Bobby McCain said. "Give him his credit where credit is due.”
This week, Flores revealed that it is Kuntz who has led the Dolphins' third-down specific meetings. Obviously Flores, defensive coordinator Josh Boyer and Miami's defensive assistants all collaborate throughout the week.
"As a staff, we put together some ideas and talk through what we think is the best way to handle or try to get our opponent off the field," Flores said. "Those can be long conversations."
But one of Kuntz's specific assignments is to dive deeply — and presumably very, very deeply — into every tendency that an opponent has shown, taking into consideration down, distance, formation, field position, hashmark and personnel groupings.
Kuntz likely watches as much film as Siskel & Ebert ever did.
"He’s very detailed, I’ll say that," Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker said. "He’s very detailed. He tries to get every single thing they do on third down. I guess you can say he transitioned well."
It is pretty rare for a coach to jump from high school to the NFL. And Flores was of course asked about it after Kuntz was hired.
"I think there are good coaches in Pop Warner, high school, college, NFL level," Flores said. "I think there's this idea that because it's a high school coach, he's not ready to coach in the NFL. I just don't agree with that. I think good teachers are good teachers are good teachers.
"That's what coaching is about. It's about putting guys in good position. Teaching the fundamentals, teaching the techniques. In my conversations with Curt, I got the sense that he was definitely that. There are actually a lot of coaches in the National Football League that were high school coaches at one time."
Kuntz's career at Struthers was very successful. He took over a program that had gone nine years without a win in league play. By the time he left, Struthers had four playoff appearances and one league championship.
Earlier in his career, Kuntz was offensive line coach for legendary Ohio high school football coach Thom McDaniels. Kuntz had been a graduate assistant at Kent State before McDaniels hired him.
After he landed the job with the Dolphins, Kuntz called McDaniels.
"I was elated for him," McDaniel said. "I'm not at all surprised. He did a great job for us. Kent State had prepared him well. He worked so hard. He was well-trained in the grind that is required for excellence."
McDaniels is fully aware of the type of time that goes into a project such as third-down research. His son, Josh, is offensive coordinator for the Patriots. He knows the type of project execution coaches like Bill Belichick, Flores and Boyer demand.
"The extent of the detail, the extensive work to leave no stone unturned," McDaniels said. "You have to understand that hours that go into studying and charting these plays. It takes a great deal of patience. It takes an eye for detail. There are so many angles to assess on every play. It takes patience, grit and determination."
The Bills have the best third-down offense in the NFL, converting 50 percent of tries.
The Dolphins have the best third-down defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 31 percent.
Something has to give.
"There is an art to watching film the right way," McDaniels said. "It is an acquired skill. Anything to discover an edge. And I'm sure they are very, very specific. You want to build the anticipation into the player about what to expect. If they know what is more likely to happen, they can play faster."
Kuntz's Ohio connections in the coaching industry run deep. When Kuntz was a graduate assistant at Kent State, the head coach was Dean Pees, for whom Boyer, Miami's defensive coordinator, also worked.
Kuntz coached at Struthers High, where Bill Belichick's dad, Steve, was a three-time captain of the football team. The football complex at Struthers is named for Steve Belichick.
When it spread on social media this week that Kuntz, who spent the last eight seasons at Struthers, was cited by Flores for his role in the Dolphins' successful defense, high school coaches around the country re-tweeted and liked the news.
"Obviously you see we put an emphasis on third down every week for that game plan," Dolphins safety Eric Rowe said. "We break it down by yards, and obviously it’s helped us a lot this year to come off the field and to stop points."