ALLEN PARK – Mike Martz bellowed and uttered some rough words in the direction of now second string right tackle Kelly Butler. He demanded the offense pick up the tempo. He stopped drills and walked the receivers through the correct progressions and then resumed the drill. A few feet away, Donnie Henderson barked at a defensive back for dropping a potential interception.
"Catch the ball," yelled Henderson, "no excuses."
Obscured by the big offensive and defensive linemen, a smallish figure, looking more like a riverboat captain or a drill sergeant, paced the field, not saying much. Watching, observing, probing, he paced from one drill to the next, clad in a grey Lions t-shirt, blue shorts and the ever present bucket hat.
Rod Marinelli looked more the part of an assembly line foreman than the head football coach of the Detroit Lions, but Marinelli doesn't feel that way at all. He insists that he isn't awed or overwhelmed by his new position. He doesn't feel threatened by the presence of his offensive coordinator who has won a Super Bowl and coach his team to another. He doesn't feel threatened by the presence of one of the league's top defensive coordinators who many observers felt should have gotten a shot at a head coaching job by now if not for the color of his skin.
Marinelli isn't fazed by his position, his surroundings or the enormity of trying to build up on the league's doormat franchises.
He feels right at home.
"I've been in this role, in my mind, forever," said Marinelli of his position as the head football coach of the Detroit Lions. "I always have, I just have. I just believe that I've always prepared for this. I was an assistant head coach for a long period, so I had a feel for what I wanted this thing to look like."
Marinelli says he had a vision of when he finally got the chance to be a head coach in the NFL of how he would run practices, how he would build competition for roster spots, how he would discipline players, how he would deal with the media and how he would win football games.
He says that vision has helped him to hit the ground running beginning from his introductory press conference, to his selection of coordinators, to the way he ran off-season workouts and minicamps. He says that same blueprint will be in place when the team begins its first training camp in July.
"I see a team, I see the vision of it," says Marinelli.
Despite his vision, he realized that he might not ever get a chance to see his vision materialize due to the fact that he was denied many opportunities for advancement as the defensive line coach at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers organization has a long standing policy of not letting their assistant coaches' interview for positions with other teams, even promotions.
However, NFL rules supercede team policies when it comes to allowing assistants to interview for a head coaching position. Individual teams cannot block an assistant from interviewing for a head coaching job. Once Marinelli got a chance to interview, he was not going to allow the opportunity to slip away. His vision, his persuasiveness, his plan sold Lions' VP Matt Millen that his type of ‘hard working, build it from the ground up' approach was the way to get the Lions out of their doldrums.
Marinelli was equally as persistent when it came time to assemble his coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Martz initially had no intention of coaching at all in 2006. His family had convinced him to take a year off, perhaps do some studio work in television and enjoy some well deserved time off after a rocky last year in St. Louis where health reasons forced him to the sidelines and a power struggle with Rams official Jay Zygmunt saw him spend the last portion of the season in a forced exile from his own team.
Martz half-heartedly took a few interviews for head coaching positions, but his heart wasn't in it.
"Rod was real persistent," laughed Martz as he recollected why he took the Lions offensive coordinator's position. "I'm finding out and these players are too, that you cannot say ‘no' to him. When you spend a half and hour with him one-on-one, you either want to coach for him or you want to play for him, I don't care who you are."
What is it about Marinelli that convinced Martz to sign on with the Lions? "He's so easy to talk to and he has a great understanding about you, who you are and what your situation is. The best quality of a leader is a servant's mentality. You never felt like – as a head coach – that he was ever talking ‘down' to you."
Marinelli deflects talk of his persuasive personality by saying, "I was lucky, I was fortunate, whatever you want to call it, to get a staff like I have."
But isn't there a danger of deferring too much to the assistants to the point of where the inmates end up running the asylum? Martz says you don't have to worry about that.
"(Marinelli's) a guy who encourages you, but he lays things out and he's very blunt with you. You have to respect somebody like that."
Marinelli agrees with Martz's assessment. He actually enjoys the give and take that comes back from strong assistant coaches.
"I have no problem with that. That's what I want. I just tell ‘em what I need to tell ‘em."
Part Two on Monday Morning: Players making transition from Mooch to Marinelli.