Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is gearing up to face one of his best friends on Sunday, in Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith.
Their friendship dates back almost 20 years to 1996, when both were rookie coaches on Tony Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay.
“I came from USC and Lovie came from Ohio State, so just our first year in the NFL,” Marinelli told the team’s official website. “We were the only two in the Holiday Inn Express. Everybody else had the Marriott at the airport with their own room.”
Smith would be gone by the time the push that started under Dungy yielded a Super Bowl win in 2002 under Jon Gruden, but Marinelli was still there, in his first year under the new title of Bucs’ defensive line coach/assistant head coach. He was working directly under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the man with whom he would eventually come to Dallas in 2013.
Even now, that coaching group is talked about reverentially, and a cursory glance at the staff around that time leaves little question as to why.
“It was all football. We’d stay up at night just trying to learn the system,” Marinelli said. “There’s a lot of details in it. So we kind of grew together within the system under coach Dungy and Kiff and the whole thing. I mean, it was a special time, really a special team.”
The friendship is well enough known that when Marinelli became a free agent after the 2014 season, it was assumed by many that he would leave Dallas to work with Smith in Tampa Bay.
“He’s one of my best friends in my life. But I just felt that we got something started here, and I’ve really enjoyed it here, and I’ve been there,” Marinelli said. “Sometimes it’s hard to go back. I’ve really enjoyed myself here. I love the head coach and the organization.”