Rod Marinelli giving the Cowboys' D credibility

Rod Marinelli has quickly won the respect of his players on the Cowboys' defense.

IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff is showing its age. And that's a good thing.

New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, a spry 73, has been reunited with the 63-year-old Rod Marinelli. The two were part of a remarkable coaching staff in Tampa Bay for a decade, and they will try to replicate some of that success with the Cowboys. Kiffin is regarded as the architect of the famed "Tampa 2" defense. But these two men will essentially be co-defensive coordinators this season. All it takes is watching one practice to realize how prominent a role Marinelli will play.

Marinelli, who spent the past four seasons with the Bears after a disastrous run as head coach with Detroit, has quickly won the respect of his players. The Vietnam veteran has a "gimpy swagger" to him, according to head coach Jason Garrett. And Garrett was speaking in a literal sense, because Marinelli has a pronounced limp. In fact, I'd heard so many folks reference the limp that I asked Marinelli on Tuesday whether it was an old football injury. He politely deflected the question, saying "it does its thing, I do mine." And he's never discussed his one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, either.

During the organized team activities that have been open to the media, Marinelli's military influence has been easy to detect. He appears to be the most energetic coach on staff, and players appear to feed off his enthusiasm. Off the field, Marinelli is fairly soft-spoken. It's not likely he'll provide the juicy sound bites that Rob Ryan delivered on a weekly basis.

"He coached Warren Sapp, one of the best who ever did it," said Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher recently. "So every day I'm either texting him or asking him, 'Coach, how was today's practice? What do I need to work on?' He'll text me back and say either 'more get-off [or] better hands.' With a guy like that you soak up all you can for him. I'm looking forward to seeing how I play this year."

Players seemed to enjoy being around Ryan, but the utter lack of discipline that showed up in games was stunning. On several occasions, the defense couldn't get the correct number of players on the field. The Cowboys hope to simplify things by transitioning to a 4-3 scheme. And Marinelli wants to make it clear that everyone at the line of scrimmage needs to pressure the quarterback. He refers to defensive linemen as "rushmen." And he even changed the sign on his unit's meeting room to drive home the point.

"In the four-man front, you try to identify a position or men with one thing they got to be able to do, and that's that," Marinelli told reporters last month. "It's very clear. It's all part of what we are. We make sure we understand it and we just go on from there."

The Bears finished with 41 sacks and a league-leading 44 takeaways in 2012. Incidentally, five of those takeaways came in a win over the Cowboys. Garrett has done everything in his power to emphasize takeaways since taking over midway through the 2010 season, but the Cowboys have continued to lag in that area. It will be interesting to see how defensive ends Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware perform with their hands on the ground. Too many times they were asked to drop back in coverage while playing outside linebacker. That will be a rare sight in this new scheme.


Former associates of Kiffin's and Marinelli's such as Mike Tomlin and Herm Edwards rave about the Cowboys' new assistants. Edwards has said that Marinelli will have the biggest impact on the Cowboys' defense. He's widely regarded as one of the best teachers of fundamentals in the league. And that's something the Cowboys desperately need. Marinelli says he asks himself the same question before he leaves for work every morning:

"How do I add value?" he told "I have a great passion for this game, and that passion is directed into my teaching. This is a special opportunity."

This is a destination job for both Kiffin and Marinelli, in part because they're nearing the end of their careers. But you wouldn't know it by watching them.

"I know they're old," said linebacker Justin Durant. "But you forget about that immediately when you're around them for a little bit.