Who is Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke?

Matt Burke became the new Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator after Vance Joseph was hired by the Denver Broncos as their new Head Coach. He's the franchises third DC in three years. (Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins)
Matt Burke became the new Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator after Vance Joseph was hired by the Denver Broncos as their new Head Coach. He's the franchises third DC in three years. (Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins) /

Matt Burke has taken over the defensive coordinators job in Miami but not a lot is known about Vance Joseph’s replacement.

The Miami Dolphins announced the hiring of linebackers Coach Matt Burke as their new Defensive Coordinator just one day after Vance Joseph jetted off to Denver. The rapidity of this hire points to a wider master plan that brought both Burke and Joseph over from Cincinnati and onto Head Coach Adam Gase’s staff.

Relatively little is known about Burke, yet he is the man tasked with turning around one of the league’s worst defenses. Especially if the Dolphins hope to make the post-season a regular fixture in South Florida.

Playing Days:

Hardly anything is known about Matt Burke’s playing career aside from the fact that he played safety at Dartmouth. Dartmouth is a top-20 academic school (Wall Street Journal has them 16th) and Burke played on part of the undefeated Ivy League championship team in 1996.

Coaching Career:

1998 – 2003, Bridgton Academy/ Boston College/ Harvard (Assistant Coach)

After graduating from Dartmouth with a degree in Psychology, Burke spent the next five years working as an assistant coach at the College Level. He completed a Masters in education during his time at Boston College and spent just one season at Harvard before the NFL came calling.

2004 – 2008, Tennessee Titans (Admin Assist, Defense quality control coach)

Burke cut his teeth in the NFL under Head Coach Jeff Fisher and DC Jim Schwartz. He followed Schwartz from Tennessee to Detroit when the Lions made him their new Head Coach.

2009 – 2013, Detroit Lions (LB)

Burke served as Linebacker coach on a Lions Defense that was light on talent at Linebacker. The positional coach was, however, able to get the best years of football out of three of his key starters. Stephen Tullock (who was with Burke in Nashville) played MLB and averaged 82.4 (PFF) during his 3 seasons with Burke as his coach. Tullock made PFF’s 2011 All-Pro team and averaged a grade of 71.11 the rest of his career.

DeAndre Levy enjoyed the 2nd best year of his career in 2013 as Burke helped get the most out of the up-and-down 3rd Round pick. 2007 2nd Round pick, Justin Durant, played two seasons in Detroit and averaged 64.1 under Burke (61.6 average the rest of his career).

2014 – 2015, Cincinnati Bengals (LB)

Burke coached under DC Paul Guenther and worked alongside former Dolphins-DC Vance Joseph. He came to Cincinnati following a glowing recommendation to Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis from Philadelphia Eagles DC Jim Schwartz.

Burke helped nurture young undrafted LB Vincent Rey who was thrust into a starting role due to injuries in 2014 and 2015. While Rey initially struggled, he soon began to develop and the result of his coaching was evident in the 2016 season. Rey excelled in 2016 and emerged as a key playmaker for the Bengals Defense.

Burke had to adjust as he was without leader Vontaze Burfict for most of 2015 and 2016. He was forced to instead rely on Rey Maulauga to be the inside thumper that Burke likes at Linebacker. Maulauga averaged a PFF rating of 75.9 in his two years under Burke, compared to his 52.2 grade the rest of his career.

2016, Miami Dolphins (LB)

With the Dolphins we know that Miami struggled again with run Defense and were repeatedly carved up due to the lack of athleticism at Linebacker. Burke was able to help resurrect the career of Kiko Alonso, playing the former Bills star at MLB.

Burke was tasked with trying to turn Donald Butler, Spencer Paysinger, Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull into productive players and effective starters. Matt Burke had to work with a Linebacker unit that suffered numerous injuries and who’s two presumed starters, Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, missed the majority of the season.

2017, DC: Part of a master plan

While Burke has never coached a Linebacker who has been elected to the Pro Bowl, he has made effective use of the limited tools at his disposal during his career. Former players and coaches seem to repeatedly praise his knowledge, energy and toughness. Head Coach Adam Gase spoke glowingly of Burke earlier this off-season and hinted at some semblance of  a master plan that brought both Bengals LB coach Matt Burke and DBs coach Vance Joseph to Miami:

"“I really felt like we had two defensive coordinators on that side of the ball. We were very fortunate to be able to get him. He had plenty of opportunity to go others places and decided to coach linebackers for us when it was critical for our success this past season and for myself, so it was an easy decision for our organization and me to elevate him to this position” – Adam Gase"

It seems odd that he would choose to follow DBs coach Vance Joseph, if the Dolphins did not have some sort of succession plan in place. Joseph impressed the Denver Broncos during his Head Coaching interview back in January 2015. Joseph was a hot name heading to Miami in 2016 and it was highly likely that he would end up a Head Coach somewhere else, either in 2017 or 2018.

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Matt Burke and Vance Joseph worked closely together in Cincinnati and share a similar Defensive philosophy. The continuity between Dolphins DCs should be hugely advantageous as the players won’t be tasked with having to learn a third system in three years.

Burke has so far stated that he will keep Joseph’s 4-3 front, and this should entail keeping the Wide 9. While the transition from Vance Joseph to Matt Burke should be fairly seamless, it is highly likely that he will have his own wrinkles that he wants to throw into this Miami Defense.

The Dolphins gave up a franchise-record 6,122 yards in 2016 yet still won 10 games and made the playoffs. DC Vance Joseph was extremely creative with his scheme as he tried to hide Miami’s deficiencies at Linebacker and in the secondary. The Dolphins allowed the 4th most yards in the NFL, yet bunkered down in the Red Zone and allowed only the 18th most points. Miami was forced to adopt a ‘bend but don’t break’ approach in 2016.

How will Burke’s appointment effect Miami’s draft policy? I believe after getting a first hand look at the weakest area on Miami’s roster, Linebacker is a certain lock to be addressed in the first three rounds. It is highly likely that the Dolphins will look at taking a LB at either No.22 or No.54. The Dolphins have already taken steps towards improving their Defense, locking up Kiko Alonso – someone Burke considers a core piece – on a long-term deal.

"Burke sees Linebacker Kiko Alonso “as a core piece of the future” according to the Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley"

They also brought in a thumper inside in MLB Lawrence Timmons from Pittsburgh. Burke know’s the deficiencies in this group and that Miami need to get Linebackers who can excel against the run but are also efficient in pass coverage. The Dolphins will most likely target Temple LB, Hasson Reddick at No.22 or look at Florida’ Jarrad Davis, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt or Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan depending on who is still there at No.54.

Matt Burke was not a splashy hire, but the continuity he brings and his reputation around the League as a highly intelligent football coach should help the Dolphins. He is tasked with trying to turn around a Defense that has struggled since switching to a 4-3 back in 2012. While some may worry as this is Burke’s first job as a coordinator at any level, the Dolphins had success last season with a young and inexperienced coaching staff.