After taking detour from his NFL dreams, Brennan Marion is back home to lead Pitt’s receivers


Image courtesy of Pitt Athletics Media Relations

From sleeping in his junior college’s stadium press box to being one of the most well-respected young assistant coaches in the nation, Brennan Marion is ready to lead the wide receivers in his inaugural campaign with the Panthers.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

On paper, wide receiver is a fairly simple position — catch the football.

But some can catch better than others and back in his playing days, not many were quite as good as Brennan Marion, Pitt’s wide receivers coach. Although the position is a job Marion coveted since entering the coaching profession, it took a couple of detours from his original goal to get here.

He initially wanted to play in the NFL — and he did to some degree. But after a career altering injury that forced him to retire before playing a snap, Marion turned to coaching. After having his dreams crushed, instead of festering away with thoughts of “what could have been,” he did what he had done his whole life — work to become the best in his field.

After graduating from nearby Greensburg-Salem High School in 2006, Marion packed his bags and left western Pennsylvania for California with a friend, where he would go on to light up the gridiron at the junior college level at De Anza College. But it wasn’t all peaches and cream.

Marion did his fair share of couchsurfing, bouncing around different houses, apartments and even crashing in the De Anza football stadium press box. All in pursuit of his dream to sign a professional football contract.

“We didn’t have anywhere to stay,” Marion said on ESPN’s First Take in 2010. “We stayed in the locker room, in the press box and different places around the school … we were there to accomplish our dreams and we weren’t leaving until we did that.”

Tulsa’s coaching staff noticed what Marion was doing at De Anza and offered him a spot on its roster ahead of the 2007 season. He embodied the phrase “diamond in the rough” in his time with the Golden Hurricanes. 

He went on to break the NCAA single-season yards-per-catch record, averaging 31.9 yards in 2007, and was named to the All-Conference USA team in both seasons with Tulsa.

Things were starting to come together for Marion — the move to California to play at De Anza and refine his game led him to Tulsa, giving him the spotlight to maybe get drafted to the NFL. 

Marion and his Golden Hurricanes made it to the Conference USA Championship game against East Carolina in 2008. Down three with just more than one minute remaining on the clock, the Golden Hurricanes were driving. In need of a big play, Marion’s quarterback called his number, sending Marion on a corner route breaking toward the sideline.

But when Marion planted his foot in the turf, his knee gave out and he, along with his NFL Draft stock, fell in a heap. The ball floated through the air toward the sideline and the East Carolina defense intercepted it — game over.

Tulsa was the USA Conference runner-up and Marion tore his ACL just months before the NFL Draft. Some may have believed their journey was over and given up. 

Not Marion.

“It reminded me, nothing in my life has ever been easy,” Marion said on ESPN. “I just tightened up my boots and got back to work.”

This outlook on life paid off. The Miami Dolphins signed him to an undrafted rookie-free-agent contract in 2009. But the dream was short lived — the newly signed and snap-hungry rookie re-tore his ACL in training camp.

His NFL career was over before it even started.

Marion had a short stint with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes but ultimately decided to try his hand in coaching in 2010 by taking a job as the offensive coordinator at James Logan High School in Union City, Calif., in the Bay Area. 

After coaching a few high school teams, Marion progressed to the college level in 2015, overseeing the offense at Arizona State before moving on to other offensive-coaching positions with Oklahoma Baptist, Howard University and William and Mary before accepting the wide receivers coach position at Hawaii University in 2020.

As he continued to tour the country through his coaching career, he impressed head coaches, just as he had in his playing days. Marion started to truly make a name for himself in the coaching world after transforming offenses and developing receivers into nationally recognized players, including All-Mountain West wide receiver, Calvin Turner Jr.

The wide receiver coach position at Pitt, close to where Marion grew up, became available early in 2021. With a deep group of receivers and a nationally recognized team, plenty of coaches around the nation had their eyes on the job. But ultimately, Marion shot to the top of Pitt’s list and the job was his.

“We went on a national search to find our new wide receivers coach and, boy, did we ever go national by finding him in Hawaii,” head football coach Patrick Narduzzi said. “We had a ton of interest in this position but Brennan Marion clearly rose to the top.”

Although it wasn’t his initial goal as a hopeful teen in California, Marion achieved one of his dreams, getting to coach where it all started back in western Pennsylvania.

“Dreams really do come true,” Marion said. “I am extremely honored and thankful for the opportunity to return home and serve the football program at the University of Pittsburgh. Coach Narduzzi and his staff have been building something very special. I can’t wait to get back to Pittsburgh and work in our wide receivers room.”

The receiver room welcomes back experience in redshirt seniors Tre Tipton and Taysir Mack. Marion isn’t the only person Narduzzi pulled from Hawaii either, bringing in redshirt senior transfer wide receiver Melquise Stovall.

But the headliner of the group is sophomore phenom Jordan Addison. Addison led the Panthers in receiving yards in his first year and drew national praise, being named to the Freshman All-American Roster by The Athletic and finishing No. 2 in ACC rookie of the year voting. But according to Marion, he wants to reach new heights this year.

“His goals are so high,” Marion said. “All I have to do with him is say ‘come on, man. You want to be a first round pick. You want that pressure. You want to be that guy.’ And he’ll turn it up that way. So it’s just the subtle things with him that get him to take his game to another level.”

Addison knows where he wants to be and Marion knows how to get there. Addison said the former NFL wide receiver has taught him a lot in his first nine months with the team with new drills and lending his wisdom to the young athletes.

“He introduced us to a couple new drills, different releases, different kinds of steps for when you get into your route,” Addison said. “He taught us a lot.”

The sophomore’s work ethic and lofty goals will draw comparisons to Marion’s when he was Addison’s age. But Marion maintains he isn’t reminded of his younger self when he looks at the sophomore — he thinks he’s better.

“He’s a lot more humble than I was,” Marion said. “Talent-wise, for sure. He’s got it.” 

One of Marion’s biggest tasks in his new position is finding more receivers like Addison — driven and talented high school football players with lofty goals. He hit the ground running in the scouting department, landing three three-star prospects, landing him at No. 20 on 247Sports’ list of top recruiters in the ACC. Narduzzi hopes Marion’s youth will help him connect with recruits and land more big name recruits.

“He’s a great teacher of wide receiver play and has outstanding recruiting ties in key geographical areas for us,” Narduzzi said. “He is a high-energy person who builds relationships and connects people.”

But above all else, Marion wants his receivers to do what receivers do — catch the football.

“Number one thing as a receiver is to catch the ball,” Marion said. “Now we just emphasize catching the ball. We do it everyday. There’s not ever going to be a day that we don’t catch the ball. Everything that we do finishes with a catch or starts with a catch.”

Stephen Thompson contributed reporting.