The Dallas Cowboys had just lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, and the networks were still running endless loops of Dez Bryant catch, when Pro Football Talk published a post titled "Rod Marinelli could be heading to Tampa." In it, Mike Florio writes that "per a league source, Marinelli currently is expected to join the Buccaneers, likely as the defensive coordinator."
But what sounds like "Breaking News" is not in fact breaking news. After all, even the Cowboys' official site was speculating about such a move at the end of last year. And in that context, hearing that a league source "expects" Marinelli to join Lovie Smith in Tampa means next to nothing. Here's what Bryan Broaddus wrote at the time:
I have gone on record to say that I believe that Rod Marinelli will take the opportunity to move back to Tampa and help his friend Lovie Smith at the conclusion of this current season. My thoughts are my own with no outside influence or inside information. To his credit Marinelli stepped up in a difficult situation and did exactly what he knew he could do with this defense. As much as I believe in Jerry Jones’ ability to close deals, this might be his most challenging due to the friendship of Smith and Marinelli.
The fact is that Rod Marinelli's contract is up after the season.
It's also not a big secret that Lovie Smith tried to get Marinelli to Tampa last year, but the Cowboys didn't want to let Marinelli out of his contract and made him the defensive coordinator in Dallas. With his contract up, Marinelli is free to rejoin Smith, with whom he coached in Tampy Bay and in Chicago.
If Marinelli and Smith do want to reunite, they'll have to figure out what to do with Lezlie Frazier, who's the incumbent defensive coordinator in Tampa. But with his experience in Dallas, where the offensive coordinator is called "passing game coordinator", where the O-line coach is called the "offensive coordinator", and where the previous defensive coordinator is called "assistant head coach/defense", Marinelli should have no problem figuring out a few titles that will allow everybody to save face.
Marinelli did an outstanding job turning the worst defense of 2013 (as measured by yards allowed) into a respectable unit for 2014 (ranked 18th) that made it all the way into the Divisional round - even though his units had to make do without a lot of talent and looked very thin on paper. Josh Planos of the Washington Post echoed a popular offseason and preseason sentiment when he wrote that "Dallas very well could be looking at the worst defense in the history of football in 2014."
Marinelli may be the first Cowboys coach whose name makes the headlines, but most certainly won't be the last. Head coach Jason Garrett doesn't have a new deal yet, and neither do offensive play-caller Scott Linehan and O-line coach Bill Callahan, whose contracts expire after this season. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia interviewed for head coaching vacancies last season, and many assistants also have expiring contracts.
Following a 12-4 season, the Cowboys coaching and front office staff will inevitably draw interest over the next weeks as other teams look to fill their vacancies. It's now up to the Cowboys to decide what type of coaching continuity they want to have on their staff.