(Editor's note: This feature originally was published in 2012, prior to Bill Arnsparger induction into the Dolphins Honor Roll on December 16th of that year, at halftime of a Dolphins win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.)
The first time I met Bill Arnsparger he was the atypical coach. He was an older gentleman and didn’t dress like a coach and he didn’t act like a coach. He seemed more like a college professor. I soon found out that’s kind of the way he approached defensive football. He was an innovator.
When I came here he had already instituted the 53 defense and then he brought Bob Matheson down as an outside linebacker and created the 3-4. I think for him the 3-4 gave him so many different options of blitzing guys, pairs of guys, different guys from different angles and different cover schemes.
He was just very much an innovator in the game. He was Coach Shula as a defensive coach. He was demanding, he was a perfectionist, he expected you to know your job and be where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there. It was somewhat stifling as a defensive player because we had to be so disciplined. He left very little room to freelance. No spin moves, and if you had contain you had contain, and if you had a gap you had that gap, and if you didn’t maintain it you heard about it.
To me the snapshot that really tells you what he’s all about is when we were in New York playing the Jets. We were down to four linebackers in a four-linebacker scheme and A.J. Duhe pulled a groin in pregame warmups. Now we only had three linebackers. Bill immediately left the field during pregame warmups and went into the locker room. By the time we got in the locker room he had kind of reconstituted the whole scheme.
He brought one of our safeties down, Mike Kozlowski, and turned him into a hybrid safety/outside linebacker. He made some other scheme changes along the line and kind of just restructured the whole defense. We ended up shutting them out in the first half. We’re talking 45 minutes or less to kickoff and he made that work.
The thing I remember most about that game is coming in at halftime after shutting the Jets out and seeing him standing there with tears in his eyes. It was really the first time we felt like a real team with him because it was a combination of him scheme-wise and the players picking it up and executing without ever practicing it. We were just kind of throwing it out there on the fly. That to me is the snapshot of Bill Arnsparger.
I came into the league in 1976 and I was a down lineman in college. They made me a linebacker with the Dolphins and I would go down in a three-point stance in passing situations. We were getting ready to play the Baltimore Colts. Bert Jones was the quarterback at the time and they had a lot of good receivers. Since I had the ability to cover as well as rush the passer he came up with a scheme where I would rush the tackle, grab a hold of him, he’d blitz two linebackers on both sides of me and I would hold on to the tackle so he couldn’t move out to get these guys and then I would drop in coverage. The first time we did it we ended up with a safety on Bert Jones and that to me is the beginning of what has since become the zone blitz, and that was probably in 1977 when we did that. He was very much ahead of his time for sure.
Bill was one of those guys that every player would like to play for inasmuch as he looked at his 11 guys and he said, “What do these guys do best individually? I’m going to create a scheme that fits what my guys do and not what I have as a snapshot of what I have as my scheme.”
I didn’t realize how good he was until he left. He commanded respect right away because of what he had done before we got there and you had smart guys on that team. When I came in, Jake Scott was here, Dick Anderson was here, Nick Buoniconti was here and these guys in the meetings, it was a collaboration. They would work to put things together and it was a very educational time for me.
The other thing I think about with Bill is he ran the defense. Coach Shula ran the team but he ran the defense. There were times on the sideline where things would be going wrong defensively and Coach Shula would come storming back screaming, “What the heck are you doing?” Bill never said a word. He took his headset off and would say, “If you want to call it, call it. If you don’t, then leave.” And he’d finish the game.
I feel very proud for Bill but I feel proud for his family because I know how much Bill means to his family. He’s a family guy. He loved this football team and his family. It’s great to see him remembered in this way.