The Rams' model for a young head coach two years ago was to pair Sean McVay with a long-time defensive coordinator that had been an NFL head coach in Wade Phillips. New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, a McVay protégé, sought experience in the league, too, but he also wanted to make sure it was with a coach that knew him well enough that he could carry his message to the defensive side of the ball.
That's why on Thursday Taylor tapped for his defensive coordinator Giants secondary coach Lou Anarumo, a 30-year coaching veteran with the last seven coming in the defensive backfields of the Giants and Dolphins. Anarumo, 52, is well known to the Bengals and Taylor after serving on the staffs of Vance Joseph and Kevin Coyle, former Bengals secondary coaches that became coordinators in Miami.
Taylor worked with him for four seasons in Miami and when Anarumo replaced Coyle four games into the 2015 season Taylor saw his challenge from the same prism. Taylor was also promoted to coordinator in mid-season that year when he moved from Bill Lazor's quarterbacks coach to replacing him.
"Tremendous energy. I always thought he got the best out of his players," Taylor said. "His messaging and what he wanted to do on defense was always crystal clear to those guys. I just like the way he communicated with his coaches when he was the coordinator and with his players through the years I was with him."
Taylor is bent on building a staff of communicators and in Anarumo he gets a guy with a varied background of success. In the last two seasons with two different teams he coached a pair of Pro Bowl safeties in Miami's Reshad Jones and the Giants' Landon Collins and helped develop Miami cornerback Xavien Howard into a Pro Bowler. When Joseph moved from the Bengals to take the Dolphins DC job in 2016, he kept Anarumo and his DBs had a big hand during a stretch they forced a turnover in seven straight games with a total of 19 takeaways that helped fueled Miami's play-off run secured with nine wins in the last 11 games.
Anarumo wasted no time building his staff after he signed early Thursday afternoon. During a break in meetings he indicated the Bengals are sticking to the four-man front used during Marvin Lewis' 16 seasons as head coach and he knows some of those in the not-so-distant past ranked highly.
"Like every team these days, we'll be multiple," Anarumo said. "Whether it be some four down or five down (linemen), I think that's where the league is heading. We'll get into all that as we get going. There are some guys around here that have made plays for a long time. There has been really good defense played here. I'm looking forward to meeting all of them and getting going."
Daronte Jones joined the Bengals as cornerbacks coach last season after working with Anarumo during his final two seasons in Miami.
"Knowledgeable. He's detailed. He's a coach with energy and passion that tries to get the most out of his players," Jones said. "He's got a lot of experience. Being with three different head coaches, he's seen some different things and schemes."
Anarumo got his shot at the NFL with Miami in 2012 after eight seasons coaching the Purdue defensive backs for Joe Tiller and his first two years were eventful. While cornerback Brent Grimes made the Pro Bowl, the Dolphins allowed the second fewest TD passes over 2012-13 while posting the fifth best passer rating against opposing quarterbacks.
His work up from the bottom rung of the coaching ladder (starting in his hometown of Staten Island, N.Y. as a volunteer J.V. high school coach while attending Wagner College) paved the way for his chance in the pros. He worked with Joe Philbin at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, where he coached the running backs, and Harvard, where he was head coach Tim Murphy's assistant and secondary coach.
When Anarumo went to Syracuse in the early '90s as a grad assistant and assistant secondary coach, Coyle was the Orangemen's defensive coordinator as well as an older fellow Staten Island product that helped serve as a model for his career. When Philbin was named head coach of the Dolphins in 2012 and then named Coyle as his DC, Anarumo, the son of a teacher who took him to The Meadowlands to watch their beloved Giants, was a natural.
Coyle became a fixture for the Bengals as their secondary coach for 10 seasons at the turn of the century and became a hugely trusted figure among players and management in a run that included an NFL-best and team-record 31 interceptions for the 2005 AFC North championship. When Joseph, another highly-regarded DBs coach, replaced him in Miami, Coyle came back for two more seasons in the Cincinnati secondary and now he's the head coach of Atlanta in the Alliance of American Football.
Although Coyle and Joseph no longer work at 1 Paul Brown, they are well thought of upstairs. So is another member of that Miami staff, linebackers coach Mark Duffner, the Bengals defensive coordinator before Lewis that coached their lone top ten finish between 1990 and 2008. Joseph interviewed for the head job last month and Taylor knows Coyle and Anarumo from his Dolphins days. His call to New York to tell Anarumo he was interested in him for the DC wasn't the first time they talked during the process. It all makes Anarumo feel at ease in a new setting.
"Having known guys that have been here previously like Kevin and Mark Duffner and Vance and guys that have a spent a lot of time here, it's not foreign to me at all," Anarumo said. "I wouldn't say (the call) was a surprise. I would say in this business you're always on alert for things. We're friends. We've talked since we left Miami. We talk every now and again."
Taylor certainly feels at ease.
"The Bengals' goal is to have people in this building on the same mission," Taylor said. "And that's get the most out of these players and be clear communicators and hold everybody to a high standard and Lou fits that bill. Whether I worked with him or not, he's a perfect fit for what we want to build. He's been around a lot of great coaches and players and these guys are going to play hard for him. He's going to have a clear vision for that defense."