AC in the AM: A ‘Challenging’ Job For Maalouf

Posted Aug 22, 2017

You don’t hear from them very often – the assistant coaches on Adam Gase’s staff -- but each one has a story worth telling, a journey worth visiting and a level of importance that can’t be overstated. Consider, for instance, the several hats worn by Marwan Maalouf.

His title is Assistant Special Teams Coach and that alone is a full-time job. But on game day, Maalouf takes his responsibilities to yet another level. Guess you could even say he becomes the voice of reason.

Ever wonder what goes into replay challenges? Ever think about the process that leads to Adam Gase going into his back pocket and pulling out that red flag?

It all begins with Marwan Maalouf.

He is in many ways the eyes in the sky, sitting in a box high atop the field, carefully watching each play unfold, waiting for the moment when a call or a ball placement doesn’t seem just right. And then, for about 10 pressure-packed seconds, the weight of the game falls on his shoulders.

It is Maalouf who studies the network television feed, tries to find other replay angles as well, and begins the process that can ultimately lead to a challenge.

“By the end of the game,” Maalouf says, “I’m so drained my wife takes one look at me and says, ‘it looks like you played.’”

Maalouf has been doing this for five seasons. The process is firmly in place. He sees a call that should be challenged. He tells Assistant Head Coach Darren Rizzi in his headset. Within a heartbeat, Adam Gase is linked into the conversation.

“Sometimes when I’m 100 percent sure, I’ll just say you need to throw the flag,” Maalouf says. “Other times I’ll tell him, ‘coach, this will be a close one.’ Then there are other times when we decide to take a time out to think about it. I’ve been pretty good at this so far. I think I’ve missed two in the last five years.”

Think it’s easy? Maalouf needs to know every rule, every nuance associated with just about every situation. He makes a point to watch tape of each NFL game, taking notes about situations that don’t often come up. Rizzi and him are involved in this together. They spend part of the offseason going over every possible situation. I mean EVERY situation. They are a team within the team.

“You almost have to put yourself in the shoes of the head official,” Malouf said. “And, of course, you have to trust your eyes.”

The last thing Maalouf needs is people giving him advice. There’s no time for that so his fellow assistants stay clear. “It’s like I’m on an island upstairs,” he says.

One of Maalouf’s proudest moments came in last year’s game at the Jets. The Dolphins challenged two calls, and won both. Also blocked a punt, which made it a pretty good day for the assistant special teams coach.

One call, in particular, stood out. The Jets threw a second quarter pass from Bryce Petty to Bial Powell for seven yards on a third-and-seven play. A key first down. Kept the drive alive. Kept the Jets hoping. But Maalouf noticed that Powell was stopped inches short of the first down marker. So he called down to Rizzi, and the play was challenged.

“That’s so hard because we don’t have an imaginary yellow line on our television screen that people get to see at home,” he said. “I had a split second to decide.”

On another play against the Jets, Matt Moore’s apparent touchdown pass to Dion Sims was called incomplete. That challenged produced six points.

High-fives in Maalouf’s coaching box? “No time to celebrate,” he said. “Just have to stay focused.”

Despite the success he has enjoyed in the world of challenges, Maalouf remains passionate about his first coaching love, special teams. He looks at coaching as more of an honor than a job. He gets to work for Rizzi, one of the best, if not the best, special teams coaches in the league. “You’ll never hear me complain,” he said. 

Over Maalouf’s past five seasons working with Rizzi, the Dolphins’ special teams have been finished each year in the top half of the annual Dallas Morning News Special Teams rankings, including a No. 7 spot last season. In addition, Maalouf has helped three special teams players earn Pro Bowl invitations and has helped coach four special teams players to the All-Rookie team including, among current players, punter Matt Darr and kick returner Jarvis Landry.

Maalouf was a special teams coordinator in Indianapolis for one season (2012). His desire is to someday be in that position again. Then it will be up to someone else, probably his assistant, to take over that pressure-packed role upstairs.

Would he miss it? He smiled. “It’s such a challenging role, I’m not sure I’d miss it too much.”

The Dolphins, though, would certainly miss him.

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by our columnists and bloggers represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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