IRVING, Texas – Monte Kiffin remembers well the chain of events that allowed then-USC defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to join forces with him in Tampa Bay, long before the duo would rejoin paths in Dallas.
Kiffin became the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator in 1996, where he led a group chocked full of future NFL head coaches, including then-position coaches Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards.
“That’s a pretty good staff to start with,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin, head coach Tony Dungy, Smith and Edwards gathered with general manager Rich McKay as they were putting their cast together. They heard about a talented defensive line coach on John Robinson’s staff at Southern California and decided to investigate.
“We went out and interviewed him,” Kiffin said. “Coach Dungy really liked him, so he had me interview him at the combine after he hired me, and we just hit it off. The rest is history. He was a special guy. That staff we hired with Herm Edwards as the secondary coach, he’d come from Kansas City, but Lovie was a college coach from Ohio State. We all just came together, put it all together, and went on from there.”
Marinelli stayed with the staff in Tampa Bay for 10 seasons as the defensive line coach from 1996-2005, also picking up the title of assistant head coach in 2002. The all-star staff led one of the premier defenses in the league throughout that span, finishing in the top 10 in total defense nine times in that 10-year span.
They also finished as the league’s top defense twice, including in 2002, when the Bucs would go on to win the Super Bowl, sacking Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon five times and picking off five passes in that game. Tampa Bay ranked in the top 10 in sacks five different seasons during Marinelli’s tenure as line coach.
“Rod’s an icon,” Kiffin said. “He’s something else. Everybody will see it. He’s tremendous. We’ve been together 10 years, and then he went to Chicago and did a great job with Lovie.”
That transition from Tampa Bay to Chicago didn’t happen immediately. Marinelli spent three trying years as the head coach in Detroit, compiling a 10-38 record in that span. But Marinelli soon returned to a role on defense he’d always excelled at, teaming up again with Smith on the Bears.
He coached Chicago’s defensive line and served as an assistant coach in 2009 before becoming the Bears’ defensive coordinator the next three seasons, helping guide one of the most revered defenses in the league the last few years.
Chicago led the league with 24 interceptions and also ranked in the top 10 in sacks and forced fumbles in 2012, while finishing with the league’s No. 5 total defense. Four different Bears players finished with at least six sacks, led by Julius Peppers’ 11.5.
Marinelli resigned from his post in Chicago after the Bears let Smith go at the end of the season. It didn’t take long for him to fly down to Dallas to interview with the Cowboys’ staff, including owner Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett.
Kiffin was ecstatic when he found out he’d be able to work with Marinelli again for the first time since 2005.
“It was really special,” Kiffin said. “He came down and had an opportunity to go a lot of places. When he interviewed down there, he really liked Mr. Jones and Stephen, and of course the head coach, Coach Garrett. They all hit it off, so we’re pretty fired up.”
Now the process begins for the “Tampa 2” masterminds to turn a 3-4 defense into a 4-3 defense they’d perfected in Tampa Bay.
“Coaching is teaching to get your players better,” Kiffin said. “The first rule of getting better is show up. When you show up, you better get coached. So that’s our job. It’s like a teacher. If you’re a bad teacher, it’s not going to be stimulating. But you show up here, you’re going to get better.”
Former Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Stephen McGee has signed a future contract with the Houston Texans. McGee was not on a roster this season after the Cowboys cut him Sept. 1, days before the season opener.
The former Texas A&M standout, a fourth-round pick in 2009, had tryouts with several teams during the season, including the Packers and the Patriots. But no one signed him, and he spent the season working out in College Station.
The Texans also signed former University of Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who was on their practice squad this season. Their two returning quarterbacks are starter Matt Schaub and backup T.J. Yates. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is a former A&M quarterback, like McGee.
McGee played in three games in his three seasons in Dallas, with one start. He completed 46 of 82 passes for 420 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Cowboys went with only two quarterbacks this season. Tony Romo started every game, and Kyle Orton served as his backup.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have found their new replacement for special teams coach.
After a statement that was released by the University of Auburn on Friday, Rich Bisaccia will head to Dallas to replace Joe DeCamillis and coach the Dallas Cowboys special teams.
Bisaccia joined Auburn’s staff as running backs/special teams coach on Jan. 3 but has been released from his contract and will join the Cowboys to reunite with former Tampa Bay assistants Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli.
“Rich had an offer that he felt he could not turn down and we wish him nothing but the best,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Friday in a statement.
For the last two years, Bisaccia served as the Chargers special teams coach. Having worked with Norv Turner, a close friend of Jason Garrett, it’s likely he was highly referred on that front as well, along with his ties to the new defensive coaches.
Bisaccia spent nine seasons in Tampa Bay as special teams coach from 2002-10, working alongside Kiffin and Marinelli.
The past two years, San Diego has been around the middle of the league under Bisaccia’s guidance. The Chargers ranked 15th in punt return average and 13th in kickoff return average this past season, however, they did have three punts blocked.
The Cowboys did have a key punt blocked and returned for a touchdown this season in Seattle, but had just a total of three blocked in DeCamillis’ four years with the club.
Last year, the Cowboys were up and down on special teams, including two losses where the kicking game proved to be costly. Against Seattle in Week 2, the Cowboys lost a fumble on the opening kickoff that resulted in a field goal, followed by the blocked punt for a touchdown that put the Cowboys in a 10-0 hole early.
Against the Ravens, a game the Cowboys lost by just two points on a missed field goal in the final seconds, they allowed a 108-yard kickoff return to Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones.
On the flip side, the Cowboys did find a dynamic returner in Dwayne Harris, who averaged 16.1 yards per return, which ranked second in the NFL. Dan Bailey made 29-of-31 field goals, including all 26 from inside of 50 yards.
The Cowboys had also looked at hiring Bruce DeHaven and Alan Lowry, who were both recently let go from their previous teams. Both had also served as the Cowboys special teams coach at one time. DeHaven was here four years with Bill Parcells from 2003-06, while Lowry was on the Cowboys’ staff from 1982-90, including the first five years as the special teams coach.
Looking back at the Cowboys’ 2012 draft and the obvious name that jumps out is Morris Claiborne. The LSU cornerback was clearly the best defensive back in the draft and arguably the draft’s best defensive prospect overall.
The Cowboys had him as the top defender and second overall player (behind only Andrew Luck) on their board and traded a first- and second-round pick so they could move up and select him at No. 6 overall. Claiborne appears to be a nice piece for the foreseeable future. But what else did the Cowboys get out of the other six selections they made?
According to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, they didn’t get much. Kiper regraded each team’s draft on Thursday and the Cowboys’ original C+ grade was moved down to a C.
“Despite getting a very good player in Morris Claiborne, this draft looks worse after a full season,” Kiper wrote. “You can’t just say the trade up to get Claiborne at No. 6 was a brilliant move, because that’s analyzing the pick in a vacuum. In terms of overall value, the Cowboys got Claiborne at the cost of a valuable second-round pick. So while the fact that Claiborne is a good one is a credit to Dallas, he also came at the cost of a pick that would likely turn into a starter. (Dallas has landed Bruce Carter, Sean Lee, Mike Jenkins, Anthony Fasano and Marcus Spears in Round 2 in recent years.) And beyond Claiborne, there isn’t much here.
“Tyrone Crawford looks like a depth addition, and Kyle Wilber isn’t a future starter. The one guy you might point to is James Hanna, who caught 8 passes and showed some upside down the stretch. But overall, the draft is about Claiborne, a very good player, but one who came at a cost. I just can’t say there’s anything here of significance beyond that selection.”
Kiper was correct that Carter (2011), Lee (2010) and Fasano (2006) were second round picks made by the Cowboys, but Mike Jenkins (2008) and Marcus Spears (2005) were both selected in the first round.
The Cowboys’ other three 2012 selections that weren’t mentioned included safety Matt Johnson (135 overall), wide receiver Danny Coale (152) and linebacker Caleb McSurdy (222). All three missed the majority of the season with injuries.
The Philadelphia Eagles (B+), Washington Redskins (B+) and New York Giants (C+) all finished with higher grades than the Cowboys.
Editors comment: Too early to put a final grade on this draft class. Consider the source … coming from an outsiders point of view. Mel Kiper is hit and miss, just like any ‘so-called expert” in this area. If you agree with the C, which I think is a little low, that’s a reasonable rate of success in this inexact science called the NFL Draft. The grades should improve as these players complete their 2nd and 3rd seasons. By then, you’ll have a better overall picture. For more information or a reminder of the Dallas Cowboys 2012 NFL Draft, click HERE.