Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series with Durango native and Miami Dolphins’ offensive line coach John Benton, who talked to The Durango Herald by phone Wednesday. The second part will run Monday.
By John Livingston
Herald Sports Writer
Long removed from his hometown of Durango, John Benton still is amazed at the beauty of the town he grew up in.
Benton doesn’t visit much more than once a year. His day job, after all, keeps him pretty busy.
Benton, a 1982 graduate of Durango High School, is in his third stop in the National Football League. He was named the offensive line coach of the Miami Dolphins under head coach Joe Philbin in March after he spent eight years in the same position with the Houston Texans under head coach Gary Kubiak.
Benton began his NFL coaching career in St. Louis working with Mike Martz. He was the assistant offensive line coach in 2004 and was promoted to the lead offensive line coach in 2005 before he jumped to Houston in 2006.
This Sunday, Benton will get a chance to coach in front of several friends who will make the trip to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to watch Benton’s Dolphins play the beloved Denver Broncos.
“It’s funny what paths your life takes. I had no idea this would be what I would be doing,” Benton said Wednesday night in a phone interview with The Durango Herald.
After graduating from Durango High School, Benton went to Colorado State University where he was a four-year letterman on the football team and earned two All-Western Athletic Conference honorable mention honors. In 1992, Benton also was named to the CSU’s All-Century team.
Graduation may have stopped Benton’s playing career, but it sparked his coaching career. He immediately went to work as a graduate assistant with the Rams when his playing days came to a close.
“I knew he wanted to be in football. He wanted to play longer than he played,” John Benton’s mother, Virginia, said Friday in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Then, he wanted to coach right away when that didn’t happen. He’s been doing better and better all the time, and it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Even with all those connections, Benton still didn’t expect to crack the NFL and have so much success. He credited his time coaching the CSU Rams to opening the door to his professional coaching career.
“I fell in love with coaching while playing; I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Benton said. “I worked with great people and learned some great things that certainly helped me out in my career.”
After spending three years as a graduate assistant at CSU, Benton got his first real coaching gig at California University in Pennsylvania, a school Benton admitted he never had heard of. He served as the offensive line coach and the recruiting coordinator until 1994, when he jumped back to CSU to become the offensive line coach. He was the line coach for five seasons and eventually took on the co-offensive coordinator job along with former CSU teammates Dan Hammerschmidt, who went on to be an offensive assistant with the Texans while Benton was in Houston.
Benton’s connection with Steve Fairchild also helped him land a job with the St. Louis Rams. Fairchild, a former CSU player and eventual head coach, was the offensive coordinator at St. Louis when Benton was offered the job there.
Working at CSU alongside head coach Sonny Lubick helped pave Benton’s path.
“I think the world of Sonny Lubick. He’s a tremendous person, a great coach, boss and friend,” Benton said of the longtime CSU coach. “He really did a lot to shape me as a coach, and I learned to do it the right way.”
When Benton played at DHS, Rocky Whitworth was his head coach. Whitworth’s first year was Benton’s freshman season. Whitworth, now the head coach at Glenwood Springs, went on to coach at CSU while Benton was in Fort Collins before going on to coach at Arapahoe, Grand Junction, Grandview, Littleton and Roaring Fork high schools.
“I kind of came up with him and had some success,” Benton said of Whitworth. “Our time was extended, and I kept in touch with him for quite awhile when he went to Carbondale and got into real estate and coached there, but we’ve lost touch the last several years.”
Those who coached Benton marvel at his journey to NFL coach. Marty Moon, a 1976 graduate of DHS who served as Benton’s offensive line coach in high school, is one of the many.
He’s been impressed with the way Benton has turned around the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line a year after the unit was under national scrutiny for a bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Both players no longer are with the team, and former offensive line coach Jim Turner was fired before Benton was brought on board.
“I think Miami is doing so well because of John taking over and changing the culture there,” Moon said in an email to The Durango Herald. “I think it is John’s small-town – Durango – values, morals and work ethic.”
Benton and his wife, Nicole, have two daughters, Gabrielle and Paige. Though they don’t get to visit Durango as much as Benton or his parents, Jack and Virginia, would like. Jack and Virginia still live just south of Durango in the Sunnyside area, in the same house Benton grew up in.
Virginia Benton said she has had to learn a lot about football through the years, and she does worry about the long hours that accompany coaching in the NFL.
“He’s done very well, and I’m very proud of him and how hard he works,” Virginia Benton said. “He works really hard, and a lot of time he spends the night in his office. It’s a lot of pressure, and I worry if he gets tired, but that’s part of the deal. It’s what he signed up for and what he loves.”
For Benton, anytime he gets back to Durango, it is all the stress relief he needs from the hectic football season.
“I love Durango. It always will be a great place, and I was just bragging on it earlier (this week) to the guys around here,” Benton said. “I’m always amazed when I go back. I always forget how beautiful it is. You see it, and it’s always shocking.”