Rod Marinelli has spent the past 25 seasons coaching in the NFL, including assignments as a defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and, currently, the Las Vegas Raiders.
He had one unsuccessful three-year run as head coach of the Detroit Lions, including an historic 0-16 record in 2018, which only served to reinforce that he fits as an assistant coach, where he has been consistently effective.
Now 71, Marinelli recently was honored by the Pro Football Writers of America with their Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, which is named for the former Sports Illustrated pro football writer and given for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach.
Long-time Cal fans may remember Marinelli on the staffs of Joe Kapp and Bruce Snyder for what turned out to be one of the longest stints during his nearly half-century long career.
He arrived in Berkeley as a 34-year-old defensive line coach in 1983 — Kapp’s second season and my second one covering the Cal beat. Compact and fiery, he began his college playing career at Utah in 1968, then served a two-year military tour of duty in Vietnam. He returned to play for Cal Lutheran's 1971 NAIA national championship team and as a senior was an NAIA second-team All-American offensive tackle.
Marinelli didn't look like a guy you'd want to mess with, but players seemed to like him and they responded to his coaching. He spent nine years at Cal through the Bears’ 10-2 season in 1991, after which he followed Snyder to Arizona State.
Snyder made him an assistant head coach (along with D-line coach) and after three seasons in Tempe he spent one season coaching defensive line at USC.
Marinelli then jumped to the NFL, and he has never left.As a D-line coach and defensive coordinator, he has tutored the likes of Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Warren Sapp, and won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay.
Marinelli will turn 72 next month, has been married for more than 50 years, has two daughters and four grandchildren.
And so far no one has been able to pry the man off a football field.
Cover photo of Rod Marinelli coaching at Cal in the 1980s courtesy of Cal Athletics
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo