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Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli's Coaching Philosophy: Coach The Man First

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn't "do" confidence. But he gets the most out of his players anyway. We take a look at how he does it.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There’s so much going on during camp that sometimes some interesting information simply falls by the wayside as a constant stream of new headlines clamor for our full attention.

"… and here we have Davon Coleman, who gets by Andre Cureton with terrific quickness and a very impressive spin move, which just goes to show that .. Oh, look! Claiborne and Williams are in a fight …"

Obviously, what constitutes "interesting information" will differ from person to person, from writer to writer, and from one clickable headline to another.

Yesterday, I happened across a short interview with Cowboys defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli on in which seemingly out of the blue, Marinelli gave some interesting insight into his coaching philosophy. "Interesting" here means interesting for the hardcore fan, the casual observer probably couldn't care less what a 65-year old coach has to say. In fact, if you search for Rod Marinelli headlines, you will not find a single one based on this interview.

Which is why you’ll find a transcript of Marinelli's take on coaching below:


Q: We always talk about players and how they have to adjust to the scheme and get used to what you guys want, especially last year with the new system. How much do coaches have to know what these guys are good at and use them accordingly?

Marinelli: I think you create the habits every day. What you’re looking for, the standards you want: ‘This is good; this is not good enough,’ so they understand that.

‘You’ve got to get takeaways. You’ve got to get takeaways every day.’ And once they get that feel, then things kind of come together.

"I don’t do confidence stuff."
"I don’t do confidence stuff. Get down and play. Here’s your assignment key. We want you to play fast. We want you to take the ball away."

"Let’s go play. It’s a man’s game. Let’s play it the right way. That’s what I want."

Q: I know you said you don’t do ‘confidence.’ But is part of your job to build these guys back up?

Marinelli: I think you build confidence by telling them the truth: Where we are, what we need to do.

Coach men.

You coach the man first, then you coach the player. You coach a man to do a man’s job. And that’s what I’ve always done.

The confidence comes from truth. Tell them the truth.

‘It’s not good enough. That’s not what I want.’

Q: When you say ‘coach the man, and then the player,’ how does that work?

Marinelli: Responsibility. Accountability. All those things first. The things that it takes to play.

If you go back, when you talk about some great players, a lot of times you never talk about the talent of the really good ones. You talk about what they do. Bad play, good play, their motors, all those things.

And that’s what you try to instill in these guys. You have a bad day? You’ve got to let it go. You’ve had a bad practice, a bad play? Gotta let it go, man up, play the next play.

And so you’re constantly trying to work that part of it. Because I think if you miss that step, the talent has a chance to fail.


On the day Henry Melton signed with the Cowboys, Melton cited Rod Marinelli as a key reason for why he came to Dallas.

"He’s a great guy," Melton said. "I am excited to play for him. He genuinely cares about you as a person — not just what you can do for him on the field. Of course, he cares about that. But he actually does care about you off the field."

When the Cowboys signed Amobi Okoye in July, he was just as excited as Melton was to be rejoining his old coach:

"I call him Master Splinter, because he is Master Splinter," Okoye said. "He’s a heck of a teacher, makes you become a student of the game and a master of your craft."

"He’s by far the best position coach I’ve had and defensive coordinator I’ve had since I’ve been in the pros. He makes sure you know your strengths and your weaknesses and that you’re exploiting your strengths and that you’re bettering your weaknesses."

On Twitter, Jason Hatcher described Marinelli as "my father figure, my mentor." And that was after only one season playing for Marinelli.

Jason Garrett also recognizes the special relationships Marinelli has developed and continues to develop with his players.

"I think that has a lot to do with his ability to coach these guys as well as he does," he said. "He develops relationships with them. It’s not easy when you play for Rod Marinelli. It’s a hard days worth in a really good way. But I think when you’re asking guys to do a lot and demanding that guys do a lot, developing that relationship with them is an important piece to that. They understand that what you’re asking them to do is in their best interest and ultimately in the team’s best interest. Again, he has a great track record of guys at a lot of different levels, getting the most out of them. I think that has a lot to do with it."


Given the way Rod Marinelli describes his coaching approach and philosophy, it's easy to understand why the players, his fellow coaches and the entire Cowboys organization react so favorably to the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator.

And that's despite some formidable challenges he faced as a defensive line coach last year, as Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News wrote back in March.

Marinelli went to work at Valley Ranch last year as the defensive line coach, a job description not unlike a guy being handed a mop and a pail on the Titanic. He was missing three starters almost immediately, and it got worse from there. He ended up using 20 different linemen. Most organizations don’t spend more than 30 players on their entire defense in a season. Marinelli took on more volunteers than the Continental Army and lived to tell about it.

This year, it's safe to assume that the Cowboys players will once again buy into what Rod Marinelli is selling. In 2013, Marinelli coaxed career performances out of George Selvie and Jason Hatcher. If he can get more of that in 2014 from a group that is younger, healthier, and has a higher draft pedigree than the 2013 unit, then good times await.

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