Rod Marinelli joined the Dallas Cowboys on January 18, 2013 as the club’s defensive line coach, and on January 28, 2014, he was promoted to defensive coordinator. Marinelli has 40 years of coaching experience, including 20 in the NFL.
In his second season as the club’s defensive coordinator (2015), Marinelli guided a defense that finished 17th in overall defense (from 19th in 2014) and a pass defense that improved from 26th in 2014 to fifth in 2015. Along the way, linebacker Sean Lee returned from a torn ACL suffered in 2014 to lead the defense with a career-best 156 tackles and his first career Pro Bowl selection, replacing an injured Justin Houston. Second-year pro DeMarcus Lawrence led the team with a career-best 8.0 sacks and was second with 31 pressures. Barry Church notched his third consecutive 100-tackle season, finishing with 136 and rookie Byron Jones led the defense with 12 breakups.
In Marinelli’s second season with Dallas, first as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Cowboys defense made vast improvements in 2014. As a whole, the unit improved from 32nd in 2013 to 19th in 2014, while finishing second in the league with 31 takeaways - the most by a Cowboys defense since the 2006 squad had 31. The defense boasted three players who finished over the century mark in tackles with Barry Church (110), Rolando McClain (108) and rookie Anthony Hitchens (100) - to mark the first time since the 2010 squad had four. Church topped the defense for the second straight year, the first time a defender has led the team in tackles in back-to-back years since Bradie James did it six straight times (2005-10). Hitchens finished third with 100 tackles - the first rookie defender to record 100 tackles in a season since Roy Williams (127 - 2002) - and it was the fifth-best performance on the all-time tackles list by a Cowboys rookie, according to team statistics. Jeremy Mincey led the squad with six sacks and 39 pressures, while fellow 2014 addition R. McClain posted a team-high nine tackles for loss while finishing second in tackles. Bruce Carter led the team with five interceptions to tie the fourth-most picks by a linebacker in a season in team history.
Marinelli’s first season in Dallas got off to a rough start as two-of-the four projected defensive line starters for the 2013 season were limited to one-or-fewer games played for the year, as Anthony Spencer played in only one game due to a lingering knee injury suffered in training camp and Jay Ratliff never played another game for the Cowboys following an injury in training camp that eventually led to his release during the season.
However, Marinelli still made the most of his “rush men” with seven-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware, who shifted to defensive end for the first time in his pro career and collected six sacks, playing in 13 games while fighting nagging injuries all season. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher led the team and all NFL interior linemen with a career-high 11.0 sacks en route to his first career Pro Bowl.
Marinelli’s legendary coaching talent of getting the best out of his players could almost immediately be seen as 18 different players checked in on the defensive line in 2013. The opportunities created due to injury or release helped the Cowboys find free agent gems such as George Selvie - who finished second on the team with a career-best seven sacks - and Nick Hayden, who logged 51 tackles which were seventh on the team.
Prior to arriving in Dallas, Marinelli was with the Chicago Bears for four seasons, serving as the club’s assistant head coach/defensive line coach in 2009 followed by three seasons as the club’s assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2010-12). While serving as Chicago’s defensive coordinator, Marinelli’s unit over three seasons forced the most fumbles (59), intercepted the third-most passes (65), scored the most touchdowns via interception (13) and allowed the fourth-fewest points (904) in the NFL. In the 2012 season alone, the Bears had four defensive players selected as starters in the Pro Bowl (Tim Jennings, Henry Melton, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman) as the defense ranked first in takeaways (44), third in points allowed (277), fifth in total defense (315.6 yards-per-game) and eighth in rushing defense (101.7) and passing defense (213.9).
In 2011 Marinelli’s charges earned four spots on the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster as the club sent Lance Briggs, Peppers, Tillman and Brian Urlacher to mark the second straight season the Bears had at least three defenders represented in the all-star game. Chicago finished in the top-10 in six defensive categories, including second in defensive touchdown returns (six) and red zone takeaways (six) and fifth in overall takeaways (31) and against the run (96.4). The Bears pass rush saw Peppers notch 11.0 sacks for the season, including his 100th career takedown, and Melton earned a career-high seven sacks to tie for third in the NFL among defensive tackles.
Marinelli arrived in Chicago on Jan. 10, 2009 after spending three seasons (2006-08) as the Detroit Lions head coach. He spent his first 10 NFL seasons coaching the defensive line in Tampa Bay (1996-2005). In his last four seasons (2002-05) with the Bucs, Marinelli added the duties of assistant head coach.
Through his 10 years with Tampa Bay, the defensive line accounted for 328.5 sacks - tops in the league during that span among NFL lines. In 2002 Tampa Bay led the NFL in total defense (252.8) and points-per-game (12.3) en route to the club’s Super Bowl XXXVII win. Tampa Bay’s top-five single-season sack totals all came by defensive linemen under Marinelli’s tutelage, and in 2000, Warren Sapp’s 16.5 sacks established a franchise record and still stands as the third-most in the NFL among defensive tackles since sacks became official in 1982. Another of Marinelli’s players, Simeon Rice, holds the club’s next three single-season sack figures, totaling 15.5 (2002), 15.0 (2003) and 14.0 (2005). Rounding out the top-five on the Buccaneers single-season sack list is another one of Marinelli’s charges, Marcus Jones, who racked up 13.0 in 2000. Additionally, Sapp holds the club’s sixth and seventh spot with 12.5 (1999) and 12.0 (2004).
In 2000 Tampa Bay established a franchise record with 55.0 sacks, and Marinelli’s defensive linemen accounted for 45.5. Through Marinelli’s tenure with the Buccaneers, the defense earned the top-six single-season sack totals in franchise history, and from 1999-2003, Tampa’s defenders set an NFL record as the club registered a sack in 69 consecutive games.
Before making the leap to the NFL coaching ranks, Marinelli was an assistant at the collegiate level for 20 years. He coached the defensive line at Southern California (1995), was assistant head coach/defensive line at Arizona State (1992-94) and was the defensive line coach at the University of California (1983-89) before adding the responsibilities of assistant head coach at the school (1990-91). He began his collegiate coaching career at Utah State in 1976 and spent six seasons as the school’s defensive line coach (1976-81) before coaching the offensive line and special teams in 1982. His first coaching job was as an assistant at his alma mater, Rosemead, Calif., High School from 1973-75.
Marinelli was an offensive tackle, starting his career at Utah (1968) and finishing at California Lutheran (1970-72). His collegiate career was split by a tour of duty in Vietnam. He earned All-America honors at Cal-Lutheran in 1972.
Marinelli and his wife, Barbara, have two daughters, Christine and Gina, and four grandchildren.