As the Detroit Free Press recently stated, 2014 will certainly give Rod Marinelli a golden opportunity to prove his coaching ability. The former defensive line coach inherits a Dallas defense that was among the worst ever seen on an NFL playing field, and that defense is anticipated to be losing its most productive piece from last season, Jason Hatcher. While the task does appear to be daunting, it is one that the new Dallas Cowboys defensive guru has faced before. Marinelli fought this same battle when he assumed the defensive coordinator's job with Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears.
Marinelli tackled this same challenge in 2010. He was the defensive line coach his first season with the Bears, in 2009, before he was elevated to coordinator. In 2010, his first season leading Chicago’s defense, the Bears had seven more takeaways and jumped from 16th in the league in total defense (337.8 yards per game) to ninth (314.3).
His Bears defenses in 2010-12 forced the most fumbles (59), scored the most defensive touchdowns (13), intercepted the third-most passes (65) and allowed the fourth-fewest points (904).
Still Marinelli faces a Herculean task as he attempts to clean up the defensive stable at Valley Ranch. There are "challenges" facing each position group. Up front his "rushmen", who came and went through a revolving door in 2013 due to injuries, face a critical rebuilding job. At linebacker there are questions about Bruce Carter's ability to play in the scheme that Dallas runs and about Sean Lee's ability to remain healthy for a complete season. The secondary features two corners who did not play up to the investments the team made to acquire their services and there is still not a proven center-fielder safety on the roster. Even with a solid 2014 draft, the defensive coaches will have to try to work miracles.
For Rod Marinelli, there is no doubt whatsoever that the defensive scheme that he favors can be successful with the Cowboys and the personnel that he has available
"None. Zero. Done it too long. I believe in it. There are two things: one, when you believe in the system and believe in myself as a teacher. We’ve had great success with it. We know it works." - Rod Marinelli
The two biggest factors that work in his favor are the fact that Rod Marinelli is both a great teacher and motivator. His ability to teach is one reason that his former boss, Monte Kiffin, brought Marinelli to Dallas.
"He’s the best. When you get a chance to be coached by Rod Marinelli, you got a chance to get better," Kiffin said last season. "You get better because he’s a great teacher. Coaching is teaching. Rod gets you better every day, and he does wonders for these guys."
With the constant in and out flow of defensive linemen that we witnessed last season, Marinelli proved that he can teach. In spite of a rash of injuries, he managed to coach up guys off the various scrap piles of the NFL to the point that the Cowboys were able to field something that at least resembled a defensive front four. Even the veteran guys like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher responded to Marinelli's style of motivating and challenging his players.
Whether it was leaving a note in a player’s locker, as he often did with his linemen, whom he called Rushmen, or showing tough love during practices, Marinelli had a way of getting his message across.
Although there is less than a decade's gap between the ages of Kiffin and Marinelli, the younger man has shown a marked difference in his ability to relate to the players in today's NFL. The players respond to Rod Marinelli better than they ever did to Kiffin and that, among other things, is why he is now the defensive coordinator in Dallas. The Cowboys front office and the head coach are banking on Rod's track record of working miracles and a full season of experience in the 4-3 scheme to lead to a marked improvement in the Dallas defense. If Marinelli can get as much out of the full unit as he did his rag-tag group of "replacement rushmen" in 2013, they might have a fighting chance.