FRISCO, Texas – Rod Marinelli remembers the disillusion.
“Everything that I believed in at one time didn’t work,” the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator said of his season coaching the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008. “Everything I’d been doing my whole career.”
Marinelli rebounded from the winless campaign that got him fired to coach three seasons with the Chicago Bears (two as defensive coordinator) and six-plus with Dallas, where he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2014.
Days before the 0-2 Miami Dolphins visit Dallas in the wake of two blowouts, Marinelli considered the year he led a team that lost its first two games like this Miami squad has – then 14 more. During the year, he never lost his composure.
“You go around [sulking], how are you going to be the source of energy?” Marinelli said. “In a leadership role, you’re the source of all energy. … And how do I come out to practice every day? I came out strong, with belief and conviction. Whack. I came out the next week. Whack.
“It just didn’t matter.”
TACO CHARLTON: Dolphins claims Cowboys’ former first-round pick
QB CHANGE: Dolphins make switch vs. Cowboys
NFL NEWSLETTER: Sign up to get football news delivered right into your inbox
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has intimate knowledge of being on a winless team. (Photo: Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports)
When Marinelli arrived in Detroit, the Lions hadn’t won seven games any of the previous five seasons. He improved his 3-13 2006 record to 7-9 before the first 0-16 season in NFL history hit. He’s not proud that his Detroit team cobbled together just one win in its last 24 games under his direction or that after a Super Bowl title while defensive line coach in Tampa, Marinelli’s career head coaching record stalled at 10-38. But Marinelli does take pride in how his 2008 Lions competed.
“You look back – those guys played hard. I mean extremely hard,” Marinelli said. “And the thing I kept telling them is: This is a great life experience for you. We want it, and we’re not getting it. So we roll over and we just keep working.”
The Cowboys expect a Dolphins team arriving as 22.5-point underdogs to do the same. Dallas’ 35-17 and 31-21 wins over divisional opponents contrast how the Ravens trounced Miami 59-10 in the season opener, before the Patriots buried them further with a 43-0 rout in Week 2. But the season is young, and talented players still suit up for Miami, Cowboys players said.
“No team is coming over on Sunday and just lay down and let you get away with the win,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “So we’re going to come out fighting.”
Wide receiver Amari Cooper agreed.
“I feel like a lot of us have been on teams that have gotten beat like that,” he said. “I don’t think that really defines you, especially not in the first two weeks. I know when I was on a team that probably got beat like that, I didn’t feel like we sucked. I just felt like we had a bad game.
“And that’s how I feel about the Dolphins: I don’t feel like they suck.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders.