Marion Hobby was born in Irondale, Alabama, which is just outside of Birmingham.
He always dreamed of becoming a football coach. His passion for the game and his 6-4, 269-pound frame led him to the University of Tennessee. He switched positions from defensive tackle to defensive end ahead of the 1989 season and made the AP All-SEC first team. The Volunteers went 11-1 and beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
That year Hobby caught the attention of NFL teams and scouts thanks to his ability to get to the quarterback. Minnesota drafted him in the third round (74th overall) of the 1990 NFL Draft. They traded him to the New England Patriots, where he’d play for three seasons.
In 1995, Tennessee-Martin gave Hobby an opportunity to follow his childhood dream of becoming a football coach. The journey took him throughout the south with stops at Tennessee, Ole Miss, Clemson (twice), New Orleans, Jacksonville, Miami and now, Cincinnati.
The Bengals officially hired Hobby to be their defensive line coach last week, but they've been on his radar for a while. The longevity of Marvin Lewis’s career stood out to the veteran coach.
“I’ve always known about Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis was there for 16 years," Hobby said in an exclusive interview with AllBengals. "I watched his success there before Zac took over and Mr. Brown said he feels like Zac is leading them in the right direction. There are some pieces to the puzzle that he could definitely add to it, but I feel like we’ve got good leadership in place.”
A jump from the South to the Midwest would require a conversation with his wife, Constance, one that many coaches are familiar with.
“We are in our first year as empty nesters so she was excited about it. We have never really been to the Midwest and I started researching it and started talking to my friends about it," Hobby said. “I’m going to run everything by my wife. I tell her to sleep on it, we talk things out— the pros and cons of it, and that’s the nature of the beast. But when you’ve got your best friend in your corner, which is usually your spouse, it makes things a little bit easier for us as coaches especially when they’re on board."
Hobby was preparing for the Dolphins' season finale when he found out that the Bengals were going to move on from former defensive line coach Nick Eason.
“My head was down and I was grinding and some guys said ‘You know Cincinnati’s D-Line job is open and I was like, oh really?’" Hobby recalled. "I just started researching it and other guys said, ‘hey, I know that’s a good staff up there’ and then I started inquiring about it, it just kind of piqued some interest."
In the ultra-competitive world of the NFL, players and coaches are drawn to teams that they think will be a good match for them, but they also look for teams that have the potential to win. There was a phrase that Hobby continued to hear over and over again, and that sparked his interest in Cincinnati even more because it signified to him that the Bengals were ready to win.
“It starts at the top, I mentioned coach (Zac) Taylor before, just what everybody had to say about him as the head coach and what people had to say about Lou (Anarumo) as a defensive coordinator, and Mr. Brown," Hobby said. "Everybody’s on the same page. I kept hearing that over and over again that it’s going to be a good team, it’s just a matter of time."
The coaching staff wasn't Hobby's only reason for coming to the Queen City. He's known DJ Reader for years and coached him at Clemson.
“I was just talking with him about his first year there. He was hurt early in the year (quad injury)," Hobby said. "Just sitting down and talking about the dynamics of the place and how close we are and how he feels like I could help them. He’s excited about me being there, so it’s big time.”
Hobby and Reader have known each other for more than a decade.
“I remember him walking in as like a sophomore [in high school] maybe and I’ll tell you he was probably 6-foot at that time. He looked like a little kid," Hobby said with a laugh. “He came to camp one year and then the next time I saw him again a few years later he was at Clemson and I was like, ‘whoa, this is not that same little guy.'"
Reader remembers his days with Hobby like it was yesterday.
“I’ve known coach Hobby when I was at my worst, and just a young kid, and he has watched me become a man,” Reader said. “It’s not just a player-coach relationship. I can talk to him and talk to him like that. So I told him what I thought. I think we are a good team and a team on the rise. I think we need a little bit of help, but I think the way we are trending is in the right direction and I was just honest about it."
Before the hire was made, Lou Anarumo asked Reader for his input on which defensive line coach would be the best fit for the team. Given his humble nature, this caught Reader by surprise.
“They talked to me about what they were going to do, and there were a couple of guys that got brought up [that] they thought about, and they were talking to and Hobby came up,” Reader said. "I told them how I felt about him and I left it at that. I don’t feel like I’m important enough to be making those kinds of decisions. I’m here to play ball, but I’m super excited they went with the guy I’m familiar with and a guy that I know. I wasn’t going to demand something different, I’m not that player.”
Following conversations with Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, head coach Zac Taylor and some of the other coaches, Hobby decided to go all-in with his decision to come to the Midwest.
“I like who likes me," Hobby joked. “You hear about something open and you either inquire about it or not. That’s the way it’s always worked for me. Even with Clemson, there was a mutual interest. It’s kind of like dating, you take a girl out and if she doesn’t like you, then you guys are friends."
Hobby built a strong relationship with Jacksonville in 2017. That year the Jaguars rolled out a star-studded defense. They finished 10-6, won the AFC South and fell just short to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
The defensive line featured players like Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, Yannick Ngakoue, and Dante Fowler. They finished with 55 sacks, 83 tackles for loss, and 105 quarterback hits.
“Everywhere he’s been, the line has improved," Reader said. “I watched him heavily develop guys at Clemson, the years in Jacksonville, and the last two years at Miami. I feel like they had really good fronts."
In 2019, Hobby joined the Miami Dolphins, but the defensive line didn’t show the type of production needed to contribute to a winning season. Miami finished with just 23 sacks, 48 tackles for loss and 48 quarterback hits.
Things turned around this season. The Dolphins won five more games than the previous year (10) and the sack numbers nearly doubled (41). They also finished with 69 tackles for loss and 99 quarterback hits.
This type of turn around showed that players were buying what Hobby was selling. His ability to build relationships and create a consistent environment helped get more production from his position group.
“You coach them all the same with technique and fundamentals and what’s expected from their position," Hobby said. “At every level we are dealing with young men on all different levels so I think sometimes when you get into the professional levels people forget about the leadership part of it, not only holding them accountable but them holding you accountable as well. When they see you working as hard as they are, and you’re after the same goal, which is all about winning and having success, I think they usually buy-in."
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, Hobby will reunite with Reader and begin a brand new quest with the Bengals. They both plan on having a winning season in 2021, and for Hobby, there's just a touch of added motivation.
“You come home after a big game and I know that hamburger tastes a whole lot better when you win than when you lose. I know that."
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