IRVING, Texas – When Rod Marinelli thinks of the best thing Monte Kiffin's done, it's not the 40-plus years of coaching defense professionally and collegiately or the Super Bowl they shared together in Tampa Bay.
It's the job Kiffin's done this offseason, after losing his title of defensive coordinator to Marinelli, and the work ethic he's maintained that the new defensive coordinator finds most admirable.
"I don't think ever been around a guy that took a bump in the road, OK, took a bump, work habits have not changed," Marinelli said. "He's here, the first guy in the morning, the last guy at night, working. 'What can I do, how do we get this better?' He's all about winning.
"Of all the things he's accomplished in his career, which is a lot, this may even be the best thing he's done. All the wins, the Super Bowls, all those things, any young coach or any guy hits a bump in their life instead of going in the tank, man up. That's exactly what he's done."
It couldn't have been easy for Kiffin to give up the title, but it probably helped that he'd be surrendering his defensive coordinator position to the defensive line coach he knows so well.
"Anything's awkward, but then you get going, day one, day two, now we go," Marinelli said. "Back to just normal."
Looking at the practice field during rookie minicamp, it does look like normal.
Kiffin was still out there with Marinelli, only now the latter coach is in charge of running the defense. Kiffin, meanwhile, moved from defensive coordinator to assistant head coach/defense. That may sound like a more prominent title, but it masks a demotion that Kiffin's taken in stride.
According to Kiffin, who will still be up in the booth during games, the change is just fine.
"I know he's a great coordinator," Kiffin said. "He's a darn good head coach, he just didn't get much of a shot in Detroit. But we work so well together."
Kiffin said he had a good discussion with owner/general manager Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett after the season ended. If Kiffin's bothered by the team's change, it certainly doesn't show.
"I'm really excited," Kiffin said. "I'm really fired up. I'm not down one bit, I'm really not. I can't coach that way. I wouldn't stay here if I didn't feel right. If I knew I didn't want to contribute and it wasn't going to be a good situation, I probably would have moved on. But I really like it. I like it here. I like the head coach, but Rod's the guy, and I'm fired up, players are fired up, we're all fired up."
A seamless transition on defense is both beneficial and necessary if the Cowboys are to get back on track.
Dallas finished last in the league in defense last year, allowing 415.3 yards per game. No other team in the NFL allowed 400 yards per game.
Kiffin knows that, and he said he'd be gone if he didn't want to help fix that, even if it's not as the defensive coordinator. He said he signed and contract and felt he owed it to the players and the coaching staff to stick it out.
"If I'm coaching, I'm going to coach my tail off," he said.
The Cowboys, now in the second year of a scheme change to the 4-3 defense, think Marinelli can give the team the defense the jolt it needs. But Marinelli still welcomes Kiffin's ideas and said the former defensive coordinator will still be very involved in the game planning.
"He's got a wealth of knowledge, 'Look at this, watch this,'" Marinelli said. "He watches a massive amount of tape, and he always has. So he'll come in, stay ahead of here. He'll be on other teams right now and staying on it. He enjoys it, he loves it, he works at it. You've got to absolutely respect that work habit."
Kiffin echoed that when answering whether or not he'd put in fewer hours this year because of the title change.
"Are you kidding me? I just love watching tape," Kiffin said. "I really do, man. I'm so excited."
Marinelli said the system won't deviate entirely from what it was last year, apart from some minor tweaks and changes. [embedded_ad]
Kiffin will be up in the box sharing what he sees, but he knows there's a changing of the guard on defense. That's a fact he accepts.
"Rod's the coordinator," Kiffin said. "You say, 'Well, you can have co-coordinators.' You can't have that. Somebody's got to make the final decision, and it'll be fine. It really will.
"He'll lean on me, but I know what my place is and that type of thing. I just come to work every day, and it's a good situation, I'll put it that way."