Rod Marinelli, who demanded so much out of the Bucs' defensive line over the last decade, is the new head coach in Detroit
Three years after being realigned right out of the Black-and-Blue division, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem bent on taking it over again.
Well, actually, the Buccaneers involved in this incursion to the north are now full-blooded Vikings, Lions and Bears; they are obviously now loyal to their new teams. Still, they are certainly taking the experience they gained in Tampa into battle in the NFC North, formerly known as the NFC Central.
The Buccaneer influence in that division is now almost complete. As of this week, Rod Marinelli is the new head coach in Detroit. The week before, Mike Tomlin took over as defensive coordinator in Minnesota. And two years ago, Lovie Smith became the head coach in Chicago. All three are former defensive assistants for the Buccaneers, Marinelli and Tomlin as recently as this month. Smith was the Buccaneers' linebackers coach from 1996-2000.
All three, as well as Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Herman Edwards, honed their considerable coaching skills under Monte Kiffin, the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator for a solid decade. They all helped fashion the most consistently excellent defense the NFL has seen over the past two decades, a unit that has finished in the league's top 10 for nine straight seasons, one shy of the league record.
Kiffin himself has drawn serious head-coaching interest on several occasions, most recently when the St. Louis Rams wanted to interview him for their vacancy earlier this month. But he has chosen to stay and in the process helped launch an NFL invasion.
Kiffin knows as well as anyone that his partners in defensive construction didn't have to follow any particular path to the top. Marinelli, for instance, has been the Bucs' defensive line coach for the last 10 years, though he has also been the assistant head coach since 2001.
"I've been with Rod Marinelli since 1996 and I think this is a great choice by [Detroit General Manager] Matt Millen," said Kiffin. "You don't have to be a defensive coordinator to be a good head coach. Herm Edwards was in the same situation here when he went to the New York Jets and you can see where he has had an extremely successful career as a head coach."
As has Smith, who did take the defensive coordinator step before heading to Chicago, filling that post in St. Louis for three years. Smith was named the NFL Coach of the Year this season, as he led his Bears to the NFC North title and the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Bucs were fortunate to replace Smith with another outstanding coach in Joe Barry, and Tomlin proved to be an exceptional successor to Edwards. Now the Bucs will be looking for several new coaching talents to work alongside Kiffin, and the track record suggests they will succeed in their hirings. Still, it isn't easy to replace these coaches who are so coveted around the league. Bottom line: that's the price of success.
As defensive end Simeon Rice puts it, contemplating a separation from the position coach he calls a legend: "I'm extremely happy for him, but I'm extremely sad for me."
Similar thoughts were expressed throughout One Buc Place after the Lions' hiring of Marinelli.
Said Head Coach Jon Gruden: "We are very happy for Rod. He is a great coach and we are really going to miss him.
Added linebacker Derrick Brooks, who has thrived under Smith and Barry and seen such players as Rice, Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland do the same under Marinelli: "It's very hard to lose someone after 10 years of seeing him almost every single day, but at the same time I look forward to what the guys in Detroit [are going to have] and the opportunity they have with him leading them."
This is not a unique situation, of course. The New England Patriots will be on their third defensive coordinator in three years next season because the last two have been plucked by the Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel) and the New York Jets (Eric Mangini) to be head coaches.
It's not even unique in Buccaneer history to have so many head coaches on one staff. In 1978, one year before the team's historic worst-to-first rise in '79, Head Coach Jon McKay's staff included Abe Gibron, Joe Gibbs and Wayne Fontes. Gibron had previously been a head coach with the Bears and Gibbs and Fontes went on to top jobs in Washington and Detroit, respectively. The Bucs still thrived, making the playoffs in three of the next four seasons.
It is true, of course, that those four years were followed by almost a decade-and-a-half of struggles, a down period under previous ownership that temporarily turned the Buccaneers into a franchise that wasn't very highly regarded. That's a distant memory now after a decade of almost unbroken success, and that success is manifesting itself in a growing family tree of coaches around the NFL.
"It's kind of funny," said Brooks. "In 1996, no one thought the Bucs had anything in this building or a chance to be successful. That's one of the advantages that Rod had, that he came to a franchise that at that time was the laughingstock of the league. He saw how we built, and how we kept doing the same things over and over. We became what we repeatedly did. Now we're one of the more talked about and more successful franchises these past few years."
And its influence continues to spread.