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December 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reacts after a call in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Dallas won the game 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Times, They Are a-Changin' For The Dallas Cowboys

If the firing of Dallas Cowboys’ running backs Coach Skip Peete wasn’t big enough “change” for you, then I’m sure the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan hit closer to the mark.  Owner and general manager Jerry Jones explained that the move was due to the overall performance of the defense throughout the season, and couldn’t be simply explained away by injuries.

“I thought we could play better before the injuries, and so I factored that in. It wasn’t like we had a lot of injuries out here when we played Chicago. It wasn’t like we had a lot of injuries when we played Seattle. I didn’t like the way we played there.” –Jerry Jones

I think that Jerry might forgetting that this defense was missing key starters (Coleman, Ratliff, Spencer) against the Bears, but that’s neither here nor there.  Jerry promised change – and since he’s not going to fire Coach Garrett or cut/trade Romo, there weren’t a whole of “high impact” areas he could pull from.  The end result is that Rob Ryan was our sacrificial lamb.

This isn’t to argue that I think Coach Ryan is an amazing coordinator, but it is it to say that the change we’ve gotten so far hasn’t really looked the Cowboys issues in the eye directly.

·         Ryan received only one full offseason, with limited cap space, to build the defense in his image.

·         We saw young players begin to develop and move forward under his tutelage.  See Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Barry Church.

·         Even though his team was destroyed with injuries, he brought guys off the streets every week to play substantial snaps – and mostly got away with it.

·         He had the attention of his unit.  When his dismissal became public, several of his players expressed shock, dismay, and confusion through various social media outlets.

Chances are, we’re never going to be privy to the full story of what happened to lead up to his dismissal.  Rob Ryan is a very strong personality, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that there had been behind the scene tension with the mild-mannered Coach Garrett.  One could definitely make an argument that Rob Ryan’s perceived lack of organizational skills (too many/few players on the field, missed assignment, pre-snap confusion) in conjunction with his audacious personality ultimately led to his dismissal.  Perhaps rightly.

Honestly, when I first heard the news I had a bit of a WTF moment because it seemed so out of synch with the issues that needed to be addressed.  The more I thought about it though, it seems clear that Jerry has a clear plan for an upgrade at that position (I hope) because otherwise the timing doesn’t really make sense.  The three potential replacements that have circulated the most are Monte Kiffin, Lovie Smith, and Ray Horton – and honestly I would be happy with any of these three.

Of those three, Ray Horton is the only one known for predominately coaching in the 3-4 defense, so certainly it would make some sense to bring him on, if only for some semblance of continuity in the defensive scheme.  He is also familiar with the Cowboys, having played here in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  The biggest road block with him is that he’s currently interviewing for the vacant Head Coach job in Arizona, so he may not even be available.

Monte Kiffin is widely considered to be one of the greatest defensive coordinators in NFL history and he certainly has the pedigree to earn that distinction.  He is the father of the widely copied Tampa 2 and has been an incredible innovator over his NFL career.  If Kiffin is hired, that would usher in fairly dramatic change as the Cowboys would switch their defensive scheme to 4-3.  While the Cowboys have used a 4 man front at times, particularly in their Nickel package, they would need to make some adjustments with their personnel to accommodate the new philosophy.  In the downside, Monte Kiffin is 72 years old and coming off an extremely rough tenure at USC, serving as defensive coordinator to his idiot son, Lane.  Many analysts have wondered if Kiffin would be able to match wits with modern offensive coordinators and that maybe his time as a preeminent defensive mind have passed.

Lovie Smith would be a very interesting addition in my opinion.  Smith had many of the same challenges that Jason Garrett had while coaching the Chicago Bears.  As a defensive expert, Lovie always had issues with the offensive side of the ball – bringing in new offensive coordinators seemingly every year to try to turn it around.  The Chicago Bears defenses under Lovie Smith have always been very dangerous – one only needs to look at what they did against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year.  The Cowboys would have some of the same challenges personnel-wise as they would with Monte Kiffin, because this hiring would signal a full time switch to 4-3.  Smith is also a very highly regarded coach, so there will be a lot of competition for his services – maybe even offers for HC.  If he’s available, I really think this is the way the Cowboys should go.

I think the switch to a 4-3 philosophy might be a good move.  The Cowboys need to bring in defensive linemen either way, so now might be the perfect time.  It should help the Cowboys defend against the run better and I think it’s really interesting to have DeMarcus Ware with his hand down, going after the quarterback every snap.

More Change Coming?

At the time of this writing, Bill Callahan is still the “offensive coordinator”, but I suspect there might be more change coming.  I’ve always been a fan of Coach Callahan’s work, so I would like to see him stay on to coach the offensive linemen, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s fired.

I think ultimately Jerry is going to have to bring in play-calling help for Coach Garrett so that he can coach the team more as an executive and game manager, as opposed the previous approach of having him primarily focus on the offense.  Ultimately, I still believe in Garrett as both a leader of men and as a football mind.

I know that the season ended in extremely disappointing fashion, but this team was one win away from the NFC East crown and a playoff appearance, despite an atrocious offensive line and an absolute massacre of the defensive unit with injury.

Jerry needed to make changes, both to appease a disgruntled fan base and to hopefully shake some sense/urgency into the team, but I think it would be easy to overreact to the problems and make things worse, so I hope that he proceeds dispassionately and logically.

It will be very interesting to see what the next chapter brings.

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