Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rod Marinelli Lauded

At Sporting Chance Press, we like to look at the positive people in sports. Bears Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach Rod Marinelli has come a long way after the lows he experienced in Detroit a few years ago. I can remember watching him coach the really bad Detroit Lions in 2008. Detroit had five losing seasons before Marinelli arrived and he was unable to turn things around. The Lions were so bad for such a long period of time, you had to wonder if Marinelli could recover his reputation or if his NFL career was over. In his last year, the Lions went 0-16. At one point, 15 of the Lions starters were on injured reserve. As bad as it got, I remember that the TV announcers still seemed to have plenty of good things to say about Marinelli.

Generally, before a coach gets a Head Coaching job, he has made his mark on a very good team. This was certainly true in Marinelli's case. Marinelli proved himself in a successful ten-year stint as defensive line coach in Tampa Bay (1996-2005) including duties as assistant head coach for the last four of those. It was the remarkable Tony Dungy who pulled Marinelli out of Southern Cal where he was defensive line coach, and brought him to Tampa. Coincidentally, Lovie Smith was also joining the organization at that time. According to Dungy, both Smith and Marinelli had "all the qualities I was looking for--strong character, mental toughness, strength, passion and commitment to teaching the fundamentals."

When Marinelli joined the Bears in early 2009, although he had a few extremely difficult years in Detroit, he had received high marks for his time in Tampa. Marinelli had 14 NFL seasons under his belt--mostly good. In Detroit, mental toughness had certainly been needed. If you go further back in Marinelli's life, you find that he also did a tour of Vietnam and no doubt that experience strengthened him.

It could not have been easy however for Marinelli. The Bears defense includes a number of the best players in the NFL and it must have been difficult to gain their respect after Detroit. The 2009 season was no cake walk for Chicago Bears coaches anyway.

I find it especially enlightening to hear people talk about the value of NFL coaches who are good at teaching the fundamentals. According to Dungy in his book Quiet Strength, Marinelli became convinced that the most important ingredient in a good pass defense was a defensive line that put pressure on the quarterback each and every play. A defensive cannot consistently succeed with blitzes and it would be impossible for defensive backs to cover all the variations of pass patterns--consistent pressure was key.

According to the Bears web site, Marinelli's first coaching job was Rosemead High School-his alma mater. He attended college briefly before going to Vietnam and when he returned stateside, he earned All-America honors at California Lutheran.

Marinelli is certainly a defensive specialist. He began coaching at the college ranks in Utah State in 1976 where he stayed for six years and then did a one year stint as offensive line/special teams coach in 1982. He coached the defensive line at the University of California from 1983-91 including two season as assistant head coach.

Lately, there are more people singing his praises and it seems to be consistent. “I think he’s the best,” Julius Peppers was quoted as saying today. “I’m a little biased. But you can go around the league and ask a lot of people that would say the same thing. He’s a great teacher, great motivator and we all learn from him every day.”

From most accounts, the defensive wheels are rolling pretty well for the Bears this year. As new players move through the system, Marinelli's skills at coaching the fundamentals only become that much more valuable. I'd like to see him have a nice long run with Bears.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey and other fine books.

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