INDIANAPOLIS – The formation of Shane Steichen’s first coaching staff with the Indianapolis Colts has taken a significant hit.
Bubba Ventrone, the teams’ special teams coordinator the past five seasons, is leaving the Colts to assume a similar position with the Cleveland Browns. He also has taken the title of assistant head coach to Kevin Stefanski.
It was believed Ventrone would remain as one of the team’s valuable coordinators. He and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, along with several assistants, were in attendance as the Colts introduced Steichen as their new head coach last week.
That obviously changed.
The Browns set things in motion this week by firing special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and requesting permission from the Colts to interview Ventrone, who still was under contract. After taking time to attempt to work things out and convince Ventrone to remain in Indy, the team allowed him to meet with Cleveland.
That quickly led to a relocation, and a significant void in Steichen’s staff.
Ventrone was part of Frank Reich’s initial staff in 2018 and quickly developed into one of the NFL’s premier special teams coordinators.
According to Rick Gosselin’s trusted special teams rankings, Ventrone’s group ranked in the top 10 in four of the past five years: No. 8 last season, No. 2 in ’21, No. 4 in ’20 and No. 10 in ’18.
Several special teams contributors were among the league’s best during Ventrone’s tenure. George Odum was first-team All-Pro in 2020, long-snapper Luke Rhodes was first-team All-Pro in ’21 and a second-team selection in ’20, and Ashton Dulin was second-team All-Pro in ’21. Rhodes also was named to the Pro Bowl in ’21.
This past season might have been one of Ventrone’s best as a coordinator. He lost punter Rigoberto Sanchez to a torn Achilles in training camp, and the team cut placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship following a costly missed field goal in the season-opening tie at Houston.
Ventrone, 40, undoubtedly views Cleveland as the next step on his journey to be a head coach. He was one of the 13 candidates put through an initial interview when the Colts began searching for Reich’s replacement. He was not given a second interview.
“Yeah, I do aspire to be a head coach at some point, whether the time is right in the right situation, wherever that may be,’’ Ventrone said in December. “I do aspire to be a head coach at some point.’’
He pointed to having to interact with the entire roster while forming his special teams units.
“I feel like I’m in tune with both the offense, defense . . . I know all the personnel,’’ he said. “They are in all my meetings every week. I have pretty good relationships with all those players.’’
Ventrone is returning to familiar ground.
He was an accomplished special teams player during a 14-year career that included four seasons with the Browns.
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