IRVING, Texas – Most people would consider a move from defensive coordinator to defensive line coach a demotion. Rod Marinelli isn't one of those people.
The Cowboys' defensive line coach gladly accepted his new position in Dallas. The title wasn't as important as being around coaches that shared a similar knowledge and passion for the game. He has that in Dallas with Monte Kiffin.
"The biggest thing for me is I just love football, and I have to be around good people and guys that have a belief in how you play," Marinelli said.
When former Bears head coach Lovie Smith was out in Chicago, Marinelli decided he couldn't stay, either. Marinelli went to the Bears in 2009 to coach with one of his best friends. He believed in Smith's system, and it wasn't the right fit without him.
"When I stepped down from there, it was my relationship with Coach Smith," Marinelli said. "I just didn't feel comfortable running Lovie Smith's defense without Lovie Smith."
The Bears ranked in the top 10 in sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles in 2012. The combination of Smith and Marinelli running the Bears defense made a lethal combination for opponents, as the Cowboys became well aware of in the fourth game of the 2012 season.
Chicago led the league with 24 interceptions. They returned eight of them for touchdowns, including two against Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Smith and Marinelli clicked, the same way they had in Tampa Bay as position coaches more than 20 years prior.
Smith stayed in Tampa Bay for five seasons in the late '90s, while Marinelli stayed for 10. The Bucs ranked in the top 10 in sacks five different seasons during Marinelli's 10-year tenure and finished second in the league in sacks in 2000 and 2004.
So it would make sense that after serving as the defensive coordinator for Smith in Chicago, Marinelli's next move would be to coach alongside another defensive mind he trusted from long ago, even if that meant losing his coveted title.
Now a member of the Cowboys coaching staff, Marinelli has reconvened with Kiffin, the former Bucs defensive coordinator, for the first time since 2005. The two are already discussing current personnel members, while reminiscing about the talented players on squads of the past.
"It's like yesterday," Marinelli said. "It's unbelievable. I started showing him old clips. I save everything when I travel around."
Those old clips were mostly tapes of players. Marinelli has boxes of them, and they're still being shipped in to Dallas. He said he doesn't feel comfortable without them, and by watching film of some of the old stars in the Tampa Bay system, he has a reference point of what it takes to play a certain position when he evaluates players on his current roster.
"We watch these old tapes and look at it, and you go back and you learn the fundamentals," Marinelli said. "Why were we good? You've got to stay on top of things."
Marinelli's in the process now of figuring out how to implement Kiffin's 4-3 system in a new place. He may have the title of defensive line coach, but he seems more like a co-defensive coordinator and right-hand man when he talks about his relationship with Kiffin.
Both coaches share a strong belief in the need to win one-on-one battles on the defensive line and create pressure to help out the secondary. Marinelli's Bears defense recorded 44 takeaways last season, while the Cowboys only finished with 16.
"The secret is whatever you really want, you have to really emphasize, and it's emphasized every day in practice and it's on our minds," Marinelli said. "If a loose ball's there, we're picking it up. You play hard, play smart and you've got to get the ball."
According to Marinelli, generating takeaways is about keeping quarterbacks flustered in the pocket, whether that results in a sack and fumble, an overthrown ball or a rushed or tipped pass.
"I've always said it's rush and cover," Marinelli said. "The coverage has got to trust the rush. It's important, and I put it on the rush. I put it on myself and on the rush. We have to get pressure. If we rush four, we have to."
He was able to generate that kind of a rush in Tampa Bay and Chicago. But Marinelli's career wasn't all a success story. He faced three trying seasons as Detroit's head coach before his arrival in Chicago, compiling a 10-38 record and a winless season.
Marinelli described that time as a great experience, and he's not kidding.
"I think when I came from Tampa, everything we did worked, so there's a great belief and a great faith in what you're doing," Marinelli said. "I was very fortunate to go through adversity. That's how I look at it, where everything I did didn't work. So everything you believe in was attacked. Well, it's really not a belief unless it's been attacked and you kind of weather the storm through it all, which I did, and I came out of it with a stronger belief."
Now, Marinelli believes he has the pieces in the coaching staff and the personnel to turn the Dallas defense into a revered and feared group. He thinks DeMarcus Ware can be a force after a move to defensive end, and he thinks the Cowboys' defense is athletic and quick enough to make the change to a 4-3.
Perhaps more importantly, he has a comrade he trusts in Kiffin, who he's already won a Super Bowl with.
"A lot of other guys were there with us, but there's a bond and a floor of a belief that there's no compromise on it," Marinelli said. "There's things you may need to do differently here and there through the course of the year, but that foundation, the fundamentals of what we do, is a core belief for us, and that kind of unites us. That's why I want to be a part of this."