IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith have been the best of friends for nearly 20 years.
It all started in 1996 at a Tampa Holiday Inn Express, where they were roommates as new assistant coaches on Tony Dungy’s new staff. Smith had come from Ohio State and Marinelli had arrived from USC.
They spent night after night talking about the nuances of the Tampa 2 defense, whether it was linebacker drops, defensive line hand placement or the importance of a defensive back’s first step when chasing a runner.
The time forged their friendship.
"We were the only two in the Holiday Inn Express,” Marinelli said. "Everybody else had the Marriott at the airport with their own room.
“It was all football. We’d stay up at night just trying to learn the system. There’s a lot of details in it. So we kind of grew together within the system under coach Dungy and (Monty) Kiffin and the whole thing. I mean, it was a special time, really a special time.”
They won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay, and eventually each became a head coach. Marinelli spent three years with Detroit before getting fired after an 0-16 season in 2008.
Smith coached the Chicago Bears from 2004 to 2012. After Detroit fired Marinelli, Smith hired his friend, and they spent four years together with the Bears.
“You guys have been around Rod Marinelli, so you know what he brings to the table -- same type work ethic every day,” Smith said this week in a conference call. “It’s contagious, and it rubs off on his players.”
When Chicago fired Smith after the 2012 season, Marinelli joined the Cowboys' coaching staff.
His friendship with Smith has never waned. But when he had an opportunity to be reunited with Smith in Tampa, he passed and signed a long-term deal with the Cowboys.
“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.”
And there’s nothing Marinelli would love better than beating his best friend.
“You know,” he said with a smile, “you always go a little harder against your brother."