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Jim O'Neil Brings Energy to 49ers, Wants His Defense to Be 'Relentless'

Jim O'Neil is a "football guy."

The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator's passion and energy for the game was more than evident in his recent sit-down conversation with 49ers Studios.

"I've been told I bring a lot of energy, a lot of intensity," O'Neil said. "It's easy for me though because I love what I do. I enjoy the hell out of coaching football. Every day I wake up, and I'm excited to go to work."

The old "practice what you preach" adage is a modern-day cliché, but it serves O'Neil well in what he tries to accomplish as a coach.

"It's hard to ask your players to be high-energy and be all-in and be present in meetings and work to get better everyday if you're not trying to do the same yourself," O'Neil said. "It's not fake for me, it's just who I am as a person."

O'Neil, who most recently spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, has been coaching in the NFL since 2009. He coached defensive backs for the New York Jets from 2009-12 and linebackers for the Buffalo Bills in 2013.

The coach also played collegiately at Towson University.

O'Neil has taken bits and pieces from his experiences to help him connect with and earn the respect of his players.

"I think it's helped me see the big picture defensively," he explained. "I played defensive line. I've coached in the secondary. I've coached linebackers. When I'm building scheme, I can build it from each position group's perspective. I think it's helped me relate to the players."

The Philadelphia native has a proven track record, both in establishing a quality defense and grooming players to find individual success. In 2014, the Browns defense ranked in the top-10 in scoring under O'Neil's direction despite playing with the league's 27th-ranked offense.

Darrelle Revis, LaRon Landry, Antonio Cromartie, Donte Whitner and Joe Haden are among the players to make at least one Pro Bowl while playing for O'Neil.

"He's obviously from the Rex Ryan tree, and I really think if you look at the statistics from his first year in Cleveland that they did an outstanding job," Chip Kelly said of O'Neil at last week's NFL Scouting Combine. "They had the lowest opposing passer rating and were ninth in scoring defense. They were one of the top teams in takeaways.

"Then you go to last year – this is why you have to look at the whole story – they had a ton of injuries. Joe Haden missed nine games. They lost four or five key guys. But the job they did in Cleveland without a great offense was outstanding."

That's why when O'Neil and the Browns parted ways in January, it didn't take long for Kelly to inquire about the coach's interest in San Francisco's opening at defensive coordinator. The call came randomly on a Saturday afternoon and lasted 20-30 minutes. 

By that Sunday, Kelly informed O'Neil that he wanted to formally interview him for the job.

"I was fired up about it," O'Neil recalled. "Coach was always somebody from afar that I had a lot of respect for, obviously his success at the college level and the NFL level. When I got out here and got around him, us talking, we are just two football guys that only care about two things: coaching ball and winning football games."

O'Neil won't get to interact with his new players in a football capacity until the team begins its offseason program on April 4. The coach did say, however, what trait he hopes the unit will embrace in 2016 and beyond.

"Be relentless," he said. "Be relentless and have fun."

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