FRISCO, Texas -- Rod Marinelli is entering his 23rd year as an NFL coach. He is entering his sixth season with the Dallas Cowboys and fifth as the defensive coordinator.
There is next to nothing he has not seen, from perfection -- a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- to imperfection -- a winless season as head coach of the Detroit Lions. He has coached Hall of Fame players and players signed on Tuesday of game week and needed in uniform by Sunday.
Of all the things the Cowboys have done this season -– keeping Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence on the franchise tag, adding value free agents, remaking the wide receivers, selecting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the recent draft -- there is one move that Marinelli believes is the best. That is adding Kris Richard as the passing-game coordinator after he was let go by the Seattle Seahawks.
“I think he might be as good as any acquisition coming in,” Marinelli said. “I mean that now. This guy is really good. He did a terrific job in Seattle. You know that. The résumé is in the tape. But he brings energy, a great deal of intensity, the toughness, but he can relate really well to these players. That’s what I really like. ... I just love him. This guy is special. I mean, he’s special. ... You know that 'it'? He’s got ‘it.’”
Richard was Seattle’s defensive coordinator from 2015 to '17. Before that, he worked directly with the “Legion of Boom,” the famed Seahawks secondary that included Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.
The Seahawks chose to purge not only big-game players but coaches as well, catching some by surprise. With Matt Eberflus choosing to become the defensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, the Cowboys quickly opted to add Richard in the passing-game coordinator role.
Jason Garrett and Marinelli knew of Richard but did not know him before the interview. They quickly saw the energy of a former NFL player (2002-07 with four teams) mixed with the acumen of one of the better coordinators in the game.
“Just how he interacts and what he can bring, and I think the players are getting a glimpse of that here the last couple of weeks when he’s been around them in the meeting room and out on the field,” Garrett said. “He’s a demanding guy. He’s an inspirational guy. He’s a very good teacher. He knows his stuff inside and out, and I think he’ll have a positive impact on the team.”
Richard quickly became enamored with Marinelli’s style as well.
"I love Coach Marinelli,” Richard said. "It will work because I think we're cut from the same cloth. There's a standard of excellence, there's a level of commitment, there's a definite love that I see from him. And hopefully he sees it from me. From the sounds of it, it sounds like it's really cool he does. I love this guy. And it was from Day 1. Just recognizes what he offered me, and really it was a book on his life. Never even had to ask for it. That shows me a guy who cares about others elevating around him and him trying to make everyone around him better.”
The Cowboys moved Eberflus into the passing-game coordinator role, in which he oversaw the back seven defenders, while Marinelli worked with the defensive line. The same will hold true with Richard and Marinelli.
They will use the offseason to see what mixes best between Marinelli’s philosophy and what Richard likes to do, but there are many similarities.
“I do think the DNA of our defense is the DNA of the defense where he comes from,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys don’t have a cornerback like Sherman, but they like the potential of Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. They don’t have a safety like Thomas, although there remains the possibility that he could become a Cowboy. They hope to have linebackers like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright in Sean Lee, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. They like their pass-rushers, such as Lawrence, David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton and others, the way Seattle used a rotation with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark.
The “Legion of Boom” was the moniker of the Seattle secondary, and Richard wants the entire defense to live up to that “standard of excellence and a standard of love and a standard of brotherhood.
“That's all it meant,” he said. “It was each one, teach one. Everyone cares for one another, and everyone can count on one another. More than being accountable, it was about being dependable. Mistakes and all these things happen: ‘Oh, I'm accountable. That was my fault.' Well, how about being dependable and not allowing the mistakes to happen? It was kind of going above and beyond the relationship factor and being real with one another. Create a real brotherhood. Be true to one another. It doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be around or be a part of the team, but it does mean you create relationships that do last. That’s what it’s about. It’s about creating relationships that last, that create football life. That’s what it was about.”