No NFL head coach has ever had to endure what Rod Marinelli did last season: an 0-16 record.
Other coaches might have packed it in, bolted for another job, criticized the players, the front office, the media, whatever.
Marinelli's passion and respect for the game wouldn't allow that.
At one point he said he felt blessed to be the Lions' head coach. Even after the final loss, the one that put the Lions in the record book, Marinelli took the high road.
"I felt they gave it their best," he said of his players. "I felt I gave it my best, but sometimes your best isn't good enough."
Marinelli was fired the next day. On his way out, he said that, if the subject of the NFL's first ever 0-16 season were brought up in the future, "I'd accept it and move on. I wouldn't give an excuse, and I wouldn't give an explanation."
On the day of his firing, Marinelli could have implied that former team president and CEO Matt Millen saddled him with the worst talent in the NFL, but he didn't.
"I've said it all year long, ‘It starts with me,'" he said. "You can't go 0-16 and expect to keep your job."
That Marinelli was immediately pursued by other NFL teams as soon as he became available shows the high regard in which he's held, despite the 10-38 record in his three years as the Lions' head coach. In the 10 previous seasons as the Buccaneers' defensive line coach, Marinelli's linemen had 3281/2 sacks, more than any group in the NFL.
Despite opportunities with the Texans and Seahawks, Marinelli chose to reunite with Lovie Smith, a friend, colleague and roommate from back in their days together in Tampa on Tony Dungy's staff.
Smith called the addition of Marinelli as the Bears' defensive line coach/assistant head coach, the team's most important addition in free agency. Some coaches might not welcome that kind of pressure, but the 59-year-old Marinelli has been doing this long enough — this is his 37th year in coaching — to know it's part of the package.
"As soon as you put these shoes on," he said, "that's what you get."
Marinelli's passion for the game obviously hasn't diminished. Even something as mundane as last week's minicamp had him jacked up.
"I like the details," he said. "I love to work, I like the practice. And I like the rush."
And true to his word when he left Motown, Marinelli isn't ducking the topic of last season. You can't help but wonder how someone with such passion could endure the criticism and the scrutiny of such a season without losing it. Marinelli, intense but soft-spoken, has a ready explanation.
"The only thing I can say is I have a great respect for our game," he said. "I think we all owe a certain respect in how it's played and how it's performed because there are a lot of people watching. Young players are watching us, kids are watching us, and it's all about how we do our business. It's easy to do things well when things are going well. When things get tough, I think you have to have a certain standard, a certain respect for how we approach our job and our profession."
There is no indication that the experience of that historically awful season has diminished Marinelli's passion and respect for the game.
"The game of football has been great to me," he said. "When I was a kid coming up, it was great to me. I think we all owe a certain respect on how this thing should be handled and the class it should be done with in good times and bad times. There are a lot of eyes on you, especially when it's bad. You have a great opportunity to show people how you conduct yourself in a tougher situation and to have respect for this game."
The former Saint is running with the first team at free safety, a position that has been a problem area in recent years for the Bears, who have had plenty of strong safety types but struggled to find a player with the speed and range that Bullocks has flashed.
"We've known about him for a while," coach Lovie Smith said. "We looked at him quite a bit when he came out in the draft (out of Nebraska)."He has good size. He's started in the league for a long time. He has excellent speed. When we got a chance to meet him, he seemed like the guy who would fit in with what we were trying to do. It was good to see him make a couple plays."
"It's important for me to play like a No. 1 receiver," Hester said. "That's my biggest goal. I feel like I have the ability to play as a No. 1 receiver, and I'm feeling real good and confident. Kyle (Orton) is coming out here throwing great passes and organizing the receivers and putting them in the right spots. That's what it's all about, being on the same page as the quarterback."
Asked if Hester could be a go-to guy in the passing game, coach Lovie Smith seemed comfortable with the idea.
"You talked to Devin, right?" Smith said "What did he tell you? He told you he was the No. 1 receiver, right? He definitely has No. 1 receiver-type ability. At the end of (last) year, Devin was definitely playing like a No. 1 receiver and I'm excited about this second year of him being a full-time wide receiver."
In his last six games last season, Hester caught 25 passes for 347 yards. At that pace over 16 games, he'd have 67 receptions for 925 yards.
"It wasn't as long for me as it was for (rookie running back) Matt (Forte), who played like 20 games," Williams said. "But still it was a long year mentally because of going through the surgery and all that. It was a lot all in one year, but I'm ready to roll now."
Williams was asked if he had any lingering health problems.
"No, there's nothing wrong," he said. "You want to examine me or something?"
"He always has the ‘why'," Brown said. "When you say ‘why,' he has that answer for us. That's one thing that really sticks out. He definitely knows what he's talking about."
To Marinelli, coaching means teaching. And it doesn't matter if he's working with high school kids or multi-millionaire professionals. Players have to know why he wants them to do things his way.
"As a teacher, at any level, no matter where you're teaching, that's really important," Marinelli said. "If it's grey and blurry and you don't explain the why to it, it makes it a little more difficult," he said. "When it's clean and clear, and he can see why you're doing it a certain way, then they'll be like, ‘Oh yeah, now I understand why I'm doing this,' and you have a chance to get a guy to maybe play a little bit faster."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have a great passion for this game. I have a great passion for fundamentals and the details that go into it. Be exact. I'm demanding in certain areas. I just think doing the simple things correctly and doing the obvious things correctly down in and down out is important. I've always kind of put my stamp on that." — Bears defensive line coach/assistant head coach Rod Marinelli.
What will the Lions do with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft? Well, they're leaving their options open and trying to keep the best poker face they can.
"We're going to look at every possibility that we can to improve our team, and we're going to go in with an open mind," coach Jim Schwartz said at the NFL owners' meetings in Dana Point, Calif. "We talked about the No. 1 pick. Would you trade it? Maybe. Would you be comfortable with picking a quarterback there? Maybe. Would you be comfortable picking a left tackle there? Maybe.
"I think at our point where we are as an organization, we need to be open to everything. We're not at the point where one player is going to put us over the top, so we need to look at the big picture, not the small picture."
General manager Martin Mayhew said he is open to trading the No. 1 pick and has already had talks with a few teams about trading down from No. 20. He said he is more inclined to trade back in the draft than trade up because there is more value in doing so.
Referring to the No. 1 pick, Mayhew said: "There hasn't been a lot of interest in acquiring that pick at this point. But I would think that if there's interest in doing that, that it would come later as we get closer to the draft. I think if there is interest it will come at that point. I think it's a little early right now for somebody to have made the decision to go after that pick."
The Lions will put Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford through a private workout March 31 in Athens, Ga. The next day, they will attend Southern California's pro day. They don't plan to put USC QB Mark Sanchez through a private workout, but they hope he will agree to make some of the types of throws they would like to see.
What is Schwartz's response when people say the Lions need to take a quarterback?
"I think that's paramount," Schwartz said. "We need to find a quarterback. I've been on the record saying quarterback is the most important position on the team. But there's a lot of different ways to get that quarterback."
So will the Lions play it safe at No. 1 and take a left tackle like Baylor's Jason Smith or Virginia's Eugene Monroe or a linebacker like Wake Forest's Aaron Curry?
"I might go for it on fourth-and-one every once in awhile," Schwartz said. "I don't know if safe is part of the criteria for the No. 1 pick. You want to feel comfortable with the guy and things like that, but I don't think that when you look at that, you say, ‘Hey, look, this is safe.' Safe choice, a little bit, sounds like compromise."
The new rules should shrink the pool of free agents. Lewand dismissed the idea of owners backing up Brinks trucks to pay free agents. "Who are you backing the Brinks truck up to get?" Lewand said. "Who?"
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just said to him, ‘Detroit, at some point they're going to win. At some point, they're going to win and win big. I don't know when it's going to be. But at some point, it's going to happen.' Hell, I'd want to be the quarterback of that, too, when that happens. That would be a great place to be whenever that comes around." - Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, on what he told Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, a candidate to be the Lions' pick first overall.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins didn't report for the start of the Packers' voluntary offseason workout program March 16, though he apparently had a reasonable excuse.
Collins and wife Andrea are expecting their third child this spring.
Although the delivery wasn't believed to be imminent, Collins decided to stay put at home in Florida until the baby is born because he reportedly isn't happy that Green Bay isn't talking contract extension with him.
"He's got it on his mind," head coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "That's obvious to everybody. It's important, really, in my conversations with Nick, we both agreed, you need to separate football from business. And, that's what we're going to do here in the near future."
Collins, a second-round draft pick in 2005, is entering the final year of his rookie contract with the team on the heels of a monster breakout season.
A year after not having an interception, a forced fumble or a fumble recovery, Collins had a career-high seven interceptions to tie Packers cornerback Charles Woodson for the NFC lead. What's more, Collins tied a Green Bay single-season record with three interception returns for touchdowns and led the league with 295 interception return yards, a club record.
Collins earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl and was a starter for the NFC team.
His absence at the outset of offseason workouts at the Packers' Lambeau Field headquarters came after he was in attendance there the previous weekend for the team's annual Fan Fest. Collins didn't sound at the time as though he anticipated a new contract being consummated before next season.
"This is where I started; this is where I want to finish," Collins said. "But, this is a business. Hopefully, things get worked out. But, if not, I'm always going to be a Packer, in my heart."
Collins is scheduled to earn a base salary of more than $3 million next season.
He is one of several Packers starters eligible for free agency in 2010. Although general manager Ted Thompson has $29 million in salary-cap money at his disposal this year and plans to spend most of it on contract extensions for current players, Collins seemingly will have to wait in line behind the coveted likes of wide receiver Greg Jennings and Pro Bowl defensive end-turned-linebacker Aaron Kampman.
Nickel back Tramon Williams, who has yet to sign the team's tender as an exclusive-rights free agent, also could get a long-term deal.
Green Bay has a marquee season opener for the second straight year. It beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-19 at Lambeau in one of two Monday night games on Sept. 8 last season, which marked the starting debut of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers also will be playing on Thanksgiving Day for the second time in three years, drawing a familiar holiday rematch at the rival Detroit Lions on Nov. 26.
The complete season schedule is expected to be released by the league in early April.
McCarthy, who wasn't in attendance for the NFC coaches breakfast March 25, reportedly had a personal matter to tend to, which wasn't considered to be serious.
The addition of linebacker Brandon Chillar and the loss of defensive back Frank Walker in free agency last year was a wash, so no compensatory choices went to Green Bay for the first time since 2005.
The Packers have four picks in the first three rounds of the draft, including the overall spots of nine (first round), 41 (second), 73 (third) and 83 (third). Their draft slots in the final four rounds are 109 (fourth), 145 (fifth), 182 (sixth), 187 (sixth) and 218 (seventh).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A big national game, that's a great way to start the season. We're at home, against the (Chicago) Bears. I'm sure our players and fans will be excited." — Head coach Mike McCarthy to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the Packers' 2009 Sunday night season opener at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13.