PITTSBURGH – In his 33 years, Brennan Marion has been through a lot and seen a lot.
The Pittsburgh native has journeyed all over the country with stops in California, Oklahoma, Florida, Arizona, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Hawaii to find himself back home after being hired as Pitt’s wide receivers coach in February, replacing Chris Beatty who took a job with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Marion, who most recently served in the same position at Hawaii under former Pitt coach Todd Graham, is excited for the opportunity to coach in his hometown.
“This was always one of the destination stops where you want to be, obviously back home,” Marion said on Wednesday.
He previously has said coaching at Pitt is a dream come true.
“Pittsburgh to me is a very special place,” Marion said. “Obviously, everything that I’ve taken out in the world since I left western Pennsylvania, you know the toughness is what drives us here. We come from a lot of different, tough circumstances and backgrounds, and we’re able to go out into the world.”
Despite his young age, Marion has risen quickly in the college coaching ranks. Prior to his stint at Hawaii, Marion was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at William & Mary in 2019, after two years in the same positions at Howard.
Marion, who grew up in Homewood and is a graduate of Greensburg Salem High School, left western Pennsylvania to attend junior college in California, beginning with Foothill College in Los Altos Hills in 2005. After a year at Foothill, he transferred to De Anza College in Cupertino. At De Anza, Marion experienced homelessness after housing that was promised was not provided. In a 2019 interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, Marion said he and other teammates in the same situation would sleep in the team’s locker room, the press box and a teammate’s car, among other places.
Despite the lack of housing at De Anza, Marion led California’s junior colleges with 1,196 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns and 60 receptions in 2006.
His standout year at De Anza led to him transferring to Tulsa and playing for Graham from 2007-08. Marion began to draw attention from NFL scouts, but went undrafted after tearing his left ACL in the Conference USA championship game. The Miami Dolphins signed Marion as an undrafted free agent, but he tore the same ACL again in training camp.
It was then that he got his first coaching opportunity.
“As I was rehabbing my knee, I went over to James Logan High School in Union City, California. Coach (George) Zuber gave me an opportunity. He said, ‘just go out there with the kids and do that stuff that you guys were doing at Tulsa, you were the No. 1 offense in the country. Just run that stuff and help them out,’ ” Marion recalled.
“Ultimately, I had three or four kids living with me. Those kids really came from rough environments, rough situations. You know, I thought my life was hard. I had a kid from Oakland living in a car with his dad.”
Forming relationships with his players cemented his love of coaching.
“Those kids really saved and changed my life. The football part, it’s always been easy for me. I mean, I love that, I think about that nonstop all day,” Marion said. “But the relationship piece was big. That’s what really got me into coaching.”
Building relationships with his receivers at Pitt is what Marion is currently focused on. The 2021 receiving corps will feature freshman All-American Jordan Addison, as well as veterans Taysir Mack, Jared Wayne, Shocky Jacques-Louis and Tre Tipton. Sophomore Jaylon Barden and incoming freshman Myles Alston could also figure into the Panthers’ offensive plans.
“The only way that I’m going to get them better is by creating that relationship with them, and that’s what we’re doing now,” Marion said.
Despite the obstacles he’s faced and a once-promising professional career cut short, Marion feels he’s found his calling as a coach.
“I didn’t think that my career would end that (fast). I didn’t think it would happen that way,” Marion said. “Like we just talked about, I went from being projected a first or second round pick, I tore my ACL. Then I get to the starting lineup again on a professional team, and then I tear my ACL again. I’m like, ‘Man, I know if I stay healthy, I’ll be good’ but then when that didn’t occur, when I first started coaching out in California … it just changed my life. I really didn’t even think about playing football anymore.
“Once I started coaching, it was like, man, this is it.”