Joe Marciano celebrates after the Texans' inaugural win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Joe Marciano leads a double life and his players know both men. He's the Texans' tough-talking special teams coach on the field and the gentle, single father who leaves practice to attend to his autistic son.
Players see him on the job as a lightning rod of energy, charging around the practice field, demanding the best from his players. He splices boxing fights and race car crashes into training videos to inspire the controlled violence and effort he expects.
Then, they see him walk off the field into the world of autism, an affliction where a child's fantasy is more plausible than reality; where beautiful children can't vocalize to their parents how much they love them or to even look into their eyes.
Autism causes moments of tantrums because mommy and daddy don't understand that the yellow gummy bear is not in it's proper place or that his or her little people toys must be located at all cost.
Marciano makes the transition from barking coach to caring dad appear seamless. But, even this bare-knuckles Pennsylvanian acknowledges reality.
"It's hard," he said. "But once you realize it's hard and difficult and you accept it, it becomes a little bit easier."
"It's a tough profession to raise children in," kicker Kris Brown said. "It's a testament to Joe's other side of who he is as a person. As hard-nosed and demanding as he is out here, Joe is loving and caring with Joseph."
Marciano has been with the Texans from their inception and he praises management for permitting him to be a tough coach and attentive dad.
"They've allowed me to get my work done and go spend time with my son," Marciano said. "They've made it an easier transition.
"I sacrifice during the season. I spend all day here on Tuesday, all night on Tuesday and try to get all my work done for the whole week so I can go home a little early on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Basically…I can spend five or six hours with my son. I'm a little tired the next day, but it's all worth it."
Marciano's profile as an NFL coach gives him a venue to reach out to parents of autistic children. He speaks to many parental groups. He is a spokesman for Autism NOW and Autism Speaks.
"We all go through the same thing," Marciano said. "They (kids) are developing, developing, developing until all of a sudden from 15-16 months to 2 ½ years old they hit a wall. They have drastic changes in their lives and you wonder what is happening."
Marciano aimed his coaching toughness at autism. He got Joseph into early training. He didn't whine. He didn't say `why me?' He did what he wants his players to do: He charged.
"What I like to do is get involved with parents, especially when they have their early diagnosis, to give them hope," Marciano said. "We were told to start teaching your son sign language because he might never talk. That is so far from truth. I like to get with the parents to give them hope that with early intervention and being persistent and demanding discipline, that your child can reach their potential, whatever that might be."
Marciano's special teamers respect their coach's style.
"When we step off the field he's a different person, he's with his little boy, it's like this tender care side that comes out of nowhere," linebacker Shantee Orr said. "That's like all of us. We come out here and have to beat each other in the head, but when we get home with our families we are regular people, caring for everyone."
Joseph's autism turned Marciano into an activist for autism awareness.
"There are more autistic kids out there than people realize," he said. "Making people aware is what I'm all about. To hear a grown man come up to me with tears in his eyes and say, 'I needed to hear your message, I needed to be a better dad,' you know, the league has helped me to use that as a platform."
Nurturing an autistic child is a difficult job for two parents. Marciano is doing it alone.
"I don't have a wife at home. I adopted Joseph as a single dad," Marciano said. "I don't want Dads to miss out, especially when their children are little, when they are toddlers.
"Give them that bottle, man, that's when you bond. You bond with children when they're looking in your eyes and they need something. They want to know who's looking in my eyes when I need my diaper changed, when I hurt my hand and got a boo boo.
"That's when you bond with children in my opinion. I don't want the Dads to miss out on that and be there.''
Marciano's special teamers respect their coach on and off the field.
"There are days you come out and sometimes you need a little fire,'' Brown said. "If you need that, he'll do it. One thing about Joe, he has a knack for figuring out with each player what will get them going."
Texans special teams have been consistent under Marciano's tutelage. Brown has completed 92 of 113 field goals under 50 yards over five seasons and 131 of 132 extra point attempts. Punter Chad Stanley leads all NFL punters since 2002 in placing punts inside the 20-yard line with 135.
"It's a violent game and special teams is controlled violence," Marciano said. "Guys run 50-60 yards and hit the wedge is no different from a car hitting a wall on the race track. I mix it up and try to have a little fun with it. I use different film to jack the players up.
"Our goal for special teams is to be a top-five group," he said. "We have quality returners, the best returning group we've had here. We have a solid kicker in Kris. We've got a battle going on for our punting position between two salty veterans.
"I think we can be a top-five group as far as the punting, kicking, returning and covering aspects. We've got the right guys."
Whether challenging his players to charge the wedge or telling a parent to keep his chin up, Marciano is full speed.
"He can get a little wild at times," long snapper Bryan Pittman said. "He's definitely a genuine personality. He's a strong individual, but he's awesome at what he does. He's been doing it a long time and he knows what he's doing."
Adds Orr: "He's very emotional. That's good to have in this game. He expresses his feelings, what he's feeling at the time when we make a big play and when we don't make a big play. He gives us the energy and lets you know to keep on fighting and make the next play better than the last."
These are the same lessons Marciano teaches Joseph.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.