Rod Marinelli: A Brief Look at the New Lions Head Coach

All Detroit is agog over new head coach Rod Marinelli. The daily Detroit Free Press of 28 March published a nice non-story on the sixth guy in six years to sit in the Lions’ Den’s comfy chair. Marinelli, the Free Press informs us in the piece’s very title, is “all work, no play.” As it turns out, Marinelli attended the NFL coaches meeting and wasn’t visibly impressed by the likes of Belichick and Cowher. As it turns out, Marinelli doesn’t care about the composite coaches photo or Detroit Red Wings hockey. (Who the hell asked him about hockey?) It seems Marinelli just wants to get down to work. Sound familiar? Heard any of this brass-tacks all-business kind of mentality before, particularly from a media outlet that seeks to market the blue and silver to the blue collar?

Lions fanblogs and chatrooms are full of a sunny optimism the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Detroit sinceâÂ?¦oh, at least since Mariucci’s hiring. And Simeon Rice has been well quoted with a few choice lines delivered upon the announcement of Marinelli’s new gig in January, hyperbolic statements (“the best coach in the NFL. Period,” etc.) that continue to make the rounds in Motor City media.

But just who is this Rod Marinelli person, anyway?

Marinelli began coaching in 1973 at the age of 24. After various stints at Utah State, California, Arizona State University and USC, Marinelli joined the bigs in 1996 to join the defensive side of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ ballgame. It is from here that the media machine sees fit to take off. The stats don’t lie, right? The fact is, two seasons after Marinelli’s hiring, the Bucs went from 25th-ranked defense to no. 3. In 2002, Tampa Bay was top of the list in points scored against and yards against. Last year, the team again rose to numero uno status in yards against, which begs the question “Can coaches have a contract year, too?” Heck, the words “Tampa Bay” and “defense” are nearly synonymous today, and it’s all due to Marinelli, right?

Well, let’s not be hasty. Yes, Marinelli was a key part of those Buccaneer teams, including the version that missed the Super Bowl by one long Kurt Warner pass and the incarnation that bagged the big trophy three years later. But he was line coach for the first six year, people – line coach! Ergo, Rice’s statements. With the hiring of Jon Gruden, Marinelli was also named assistant head coach, enough of an incentive to keep him in Florida for four more years. The fact that the job in Detroit represents Marinelli’s first outing as a head coach isn’t too surprising; the fact that he got it without ever holding a coordinator position is, a bit.

On the other paw, perhaps the Lions are finally up to something promising after nearly fifty championship-free seasons. Maybe what the hapless cats need right now is exactly what Marinelli offers: A guy interested in straightforward, simple-yet-tricky football. Maybe what they need is a guy who can’t be bothered to buy a proper home in the Detroit area because he’s working too hard. Maybe they need a guy who says stuff like “I think we’ve got some nice cream at the top. We’ve got some very good starting players in their roles. We’ve just got to get guys better, and we’ve got to challenge everybody.” Most of all they need a guy to offer a fresh, insightful perspective to a team that’s been carrying thorns afoot for longer than many of its fans’ lifespans.

For now, folks at the Detroit Free Press and other prose pumpers continue to look for stories about the camera-dodging Marinelli, and doubtlessly we’ll be reading stories about Marinelli’s outstanding work ethic. All the while, he’ll be able to formulate a game plan with no professional baggage, e.g. Mariucci. He’ll need the time with his “nice cream” and out of Detroit will come a nice smokescreen to keep everyone in the dark regarding his game plan. Sometimes bland publicity is better than no publicity.

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