Smith was last in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000, when new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was the Bucs’ defensive line coach. That was just the beginning of a long friendship between the two coaches, who share a deep mutual respect.
“I miss it, but Rod’s a brother for life,” Smith said. “Sometimes, you can’t be with family members always. That’s how I’m looking at it, but what he’s bringing, he’s just bringing the best possible leader you could possibly be around.”
Smith and Marinelli teamed up again when the former was the head coach of the Bears. After leaving Detroit as the Lions’ head coach, Marinelli joined Smith in Chicago as the team’s defensive line coach and assistant head coach, eventually adding the title of defensive coordinator and leading one of the league’s most feared defenses.
They’re no longer on the same coaching staff, but as Smith said, Marinelli’s a brother to him. And brothers stay in touch.
“You have a brother? How often do you talk? Quite a bit,” Smith said. “That’s how Rod and I are. We talk quite a bit. I talk to my wife an awful lot. Barbara, his wife, she understands Rod and our relationship. Yes, we talk quite a bit.”
Smith would love to be able to talk to Marinelli on his own coaching staff again, but that can’t be the case right now as Marinelli once again earned a promotion from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator, this time in Dallas.
“It’s not about wanting to (be with Marinelli),” Smith said, “it’s couldn’t. Rod had a contract somewhere else. Would I want to work with Rod Marinelli again? Of course. There’s a pact that we formed back at the Holiday Inn Express in Tampa way back in 1996. But you can’t always do that. Again, I’ll be looking from afar knowing good things are going to happen.”
That old Tampa Bay defensive coaching staff, led by the Cowboys’ Monte Kiffin, eventually produced a Super Bowl championship and began a long line of future of NFL head coaches. Two of them, Marinelli and Smith, keep in touch constantly, and Smith knows the value of having Marinelli on staff.
“I don’t know exactly the talent (in Dallas) well enough, but he’s going to bring out the best,” Smith said. “Whatever the potential is there, that’s what you’re going to get from Rod, from all the other guys. There’s going to be clarity with everything that he wants done. There’s no BS to him. It’s in black and white. You hear a lot of people talking about the fundamentals and what you have to do, that’s what Rod does on a daily basis.”
The Cowboys are still in the midst of figuring out the best combinations on the defensive line after last year’s switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense. Smith said that can transition isn’t always smooth and quick. The Cowboys thought they’d have a lot more healthy pieces available when they made the switch last year.
“You want it to happen as soon as possible, but it’s different from place to place on how long it takes, what all you have in place there,” Smith said. “We’ve gone different places and had success early some places, some places it takes a little bit longer.”