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Cowboys Defensive Staff Could Be Shaken Up


Jul 21, 2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Rod Marinelli at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In his weekly radio interview on KRLD-FM 105.3 “The Fan,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated he wouldn’t alter the coaching staff. However, the rest of the NFL may have other plans. On the heels of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hiring Lovie Smith as their tenth head coach in team history, reports are flying like sparks off a blown transformer that Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli will join Smith back in Tampa Bay, where the two worked together from 1996-2000.

Marinelli to the Buccaneers isn’t a slam dunk. First of all, the Dallas Cowboys would have to grant Marinelli permission to interview for Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator vacancy, since the defensive line coach is under contract at Valley Ranch through 2014. Teams must allow their coaches to interview for head coaching jobs. The NFL considers position coaches interviewing for coordinator positions to be lateral moves. Therefore, Dallas can exercise a right of refusal and keep Marinelli.

Pundits and fans lambaste Jerry Jones’ football decisions, but the man’s compassion for his players and staff is undeniable. If Rod Marinelli really desires to reunite with Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, there is little evidence Jerry Jones will block Marinelli from interviewing. If the defensive line coach interviews in Tampa Bay, he is as good as gone.

Dallas can request compensation for Rod Marinelli. Yes, Jerry Jones can “trade” Rod Marinelli to the Buccaneers for a draft choice. It would be quite ironic since the Buccaneers traded for Marinelli’s old boss, Jon Gruden. If Dallas got first round picks and millions in cap space for Marinelli, like the Raiders got for Gruden in 2003, it would start the off-season on the right foot.

Selections or not, Dallas would be without one of the architects of the Tampa 2 defense and the chief reason for any defensive success in 2013. Where the training staff failed in keeping the defensive line healthy, Marinelli excelled in getting taxi squad defensive linemen to perform in this system. The Cowboys wouldn’t be able to replicate those results.

If Marinelli goes, commentators see no reason to keep Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys’ aging defensive coordinator. Should Marinelli’s departure force Kiffin out, here are some coaches fans should keep an eye on:

  • Leslie Frazier – The former Vikings head coach was a Dungy disciple from 2005-06 in Indianapolis before succeeding Mike Tomlin in Minnesota, continuing the Tampa 2 defense in 2007. Frazier’s defenses finished sixth-best in total yardage in 2008 and 2009.
  • Ken Norton, Jr. – Norton played for the Cowboys from 1988-93, and he has excelled as Pete Carroll’s linebackers coach in Seattle running the Tampa 2 defense. After four seasons as a positional coach, perhaps the son of a heavyweight legend would like to take a swing at defensive coordinator.
  • Ron Meeks – A former Dallas Cowboys assistant coach in 1991, Meeks’ best work came in Indianapolis from 2002-08 as Tony Dungy’s defensive coordinator installing the Tampa 2 defense. Currently a secondary coach for the San Diego Chargers, the 59 year old still has more coordinating years left.
  • Matt Eberflus – Though considered a 3-4 coach, having come over from Cleveland with Rob Ryan in 2011, the linebackers coach took on defensive coordinating duties during the week in Ryan’s final year in Dallas. While at the University of Missouri from 2002-08, Eberflus visited with then-Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to learn the intricacies of the Tampa 2 defense.
  • Jim Haslett – Isn’t this guy a 3-4 coach, you ask. Technically, yes, but he did serve as linebackers coach on the 1995 New Orleans Saints, where Monte Kiffin ran his Tampa 2 defense for a season. Bringing in Haslett to run the defense would ensure Dallas wouldn’t have to face his confounding defensive looks that gave them fits for four seasons.

If Jerry Jones really doesn’t want to shake up the staff, he will prevent Rod Marinelli from interviewing in Tampa Bay.