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Ex-Lions coaches relishing career rebirths in Dallas

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Coaching isn’t a forgiving profession. For most, it doesn’t end well. Such was the case for Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan in Detroit, but the two have found new life in Dallas, where they serve as offensive and defensive coordinator for the Cowboys, who at 12-2 have already locked up the top seed in the NFC.

Marinelli coached the Lions from 2006-08. A no-nonsense defensive mind who had a reputation for being an expert motivator, it didn’t translate during his time with the franchise. In his final season with the Lions, the team posted the only 0-16 season in NFL history, at least until the Browns potentially match the infamous feat in two weeks.

After Marinelli was swept out, Jim Schwartz was hired and Linehan was brought on as his offensive coordinator. Over the next five years, he orchestrated the rebuilding of the offense, centered around quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.

Linehan had notable success during Detroit’s rebuild. The team boasted one of the league’s premier passing attacks his final three seasons and few units were more efficient in the red zone. But Stafford’s growth stunted after an impressive 2011 campaign and many questioned whether the coordinator demanded enough accountability for the young quarterback.

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“Scott was great,” Stafford said during a conference call with Dallas media. “I have a lot of respect for him, in how he treated me and how he brought me along. He’s a guy that can adapt to whatever the players he has on his team do best. We threw the ball quite a bit. Now they’re running the ball quite a bit. He’s a smart guy that is going to put his players in position to succeed and probably a big part of the reason why they’re being so successful on offense.”

In Detroit, Linehan had to find ways to cover up for an inferior offensive line and run game. That’s not an issue in Dallas, where the line is considered by most to be the best in football and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL with 1,551 rushing yards.

Linehan has also done strong work with another rookie quarterback, Cowboys starter Dak Prescott. Forced into action with Tony Romo suffered a back injury in the preseason, Prescott has been shockingly efficient, completing 67.7 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“I think he does a really nice job of understanding what his quarterback likes and like to do and puts them in positions where he thinks they’re going to be successful,” Stafford said. “Obviously Dak has some really good pieces around him and he does a good job of getting the ball to all those guys. That’s kind of what Scott preaches, just get it to the open guy and Dak’s doing a really nice job of that.”

Combined, the Cowboys are one of the NFL’s most potent offenses, ranking in the top five in yards, points and red zone percentage.

“They’re well-rounded and diverse,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “They have things to go to. If you stop one thing, they can get to another thing. I think that’s what makes the good coordinators hard to defend. He’s very good at what he does.”

Marinelli has done equally impressive work with Dallas’ defense, a unit that is allowing 18.4 points per game.

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“Well, he’s a great football coach for so many different reasons,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I think it starts with the kind of person that he is and the standards that he has for himself, for the coaches and for the players. He’s relentless in making sure that we all live up to those standards and that’s something that our team and our defense has really benefited from.

“Our defense prides itself on playing with great energy, hustling, hitting, tackling,” Garrett said. “You know, doing the things that old-school defenses do. We work very hard at that each and every day and Rod does a great job leading the defensive side of the ball for us.”

It didn’t work out for Marinelli and Linehan in Detroit, with just one playoff appearance and no postseason victories between them in eight seasons. But they’re doing fine now and they’ll look to impress that upon their former employer Monday night.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @justin_rogers