Before the Cowboys' team plane had even landed back in Dallas following the loss to the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, national reports surfaced that Rod Marinelli would be leaving Dallas and heading to Tampa Bay.
More than anything, the reports were based on assumption – that because Marinelli hadn't re-signed a contract with Dallas, plus the fact that he remains close friends with Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, would be reasons enough for him to leave the Cowboys and join Tampa Bay, a place he coached 10 seasons from 1996-2005.
"No, this is where I wanted to be. I made that clear," Marinelli said after a Pro Bowl practice last week in Arizona. "It's weird. Stuff comes out, but no one ever asks you. I loved it (in Tampa) and I'm closer than all-get-out to Lovie, really close. We have a great relationship. But I couldn't be any happier with where I'm at. I just love our football team, our staff, our ownership. It doesn't get any better."
Marinelli's first season as the Cowboys defensive coordinator saw big changes as Dallas improved from the worst-ranked defense in the NFL in 2013 to 19th overall, based off total yards allowed. However, the Cowboys ranked 15th in defensive scoring and ninth in turnover margin.
While it's easy to say no one saw that coming, Marinelli would have to politely disagree.
"I could see we were going to be better, I could," Marinelli said. "I could see the character through these guys all the way back from camp. Nobody else could see it, but I could. We as a staff really believed in them. They're good guys. These guys really work. Every single week we got better and we worked."
While Marinelli and his defensive coaching staff had plenty of great players last week at the Pro Bowl, none of them on his side were Cowboys, of course. Of the eight players selected to the game from Dallas seven came from the offense and one from special teams.
So how did the Cowboys turn things around without a true star player on defense? Marinelli says it was mere toughness.
"I'm very proud because of how hard they played, how tough they were and how physical they were," Marinelli said. "That's something I admire. I thought they did a hell of a job."
Even though the Cowboys turned it around on defense and made it within a controversial call of possibly playing in the NFC Championship Game against a team they had already defeated, none of that really matters to Marinelli heading into 2015.
"I think you have to start over again. I always say, 'Put your socks back on. Don't miss a beat,'" Marinelli said. "Everything we did with fundamentals … once you think you have them, you don't. You have to re-learn them every year. You re-learn the effort, the hustle, the hitting, the details … and takeaways. You're just not going to start taking the ball away again. You have to go back and work, and strip and go get it again.
"You start again because if you don't do that, you're going to miss steps. You start right back at the beginning again."
One thing that can be assumed is the Cowboys will be just fine with his methods, especially since Marinelli will be the one "starting over" with this defense again.