Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said there would be changes as result of the Cowboys 8 – 8 finish in 2012. The first axe to fall came down on the neck of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Ryan just finished his second season as the Cowboys defensive schemer. The second straight season of 8 – 8 saw many ups and downs in the defense. Jones said there would be “pain” in the decisions to be made during the offseason, and there was many waves of emotion from the Cowboys faithful. The Dallas brain trust had many reason to keep Ryan, but in the end it was Ryan himself who put the nail in his own coffin before this season even ended.
Anyone who reads this column on a regular basis knows that I have not been the biggest supporter of Rob Ryan during his tenure. The fact is that I had him fired after last seasons 8 – 8 performance and the display of the defense. The Cowboys went out and spent money and used Draft picks to upgrade the shortcomings of the 2011 season. The Cowboys needed help in the secondary, so they signed the best free agent cornerback available in Brandon Carr. Then they traded up in the Draft to grab the best cornerback in Morris Claiborne. The addition of the corners was supposed to stabilize the defense and make them a threat against the pass. The Cowboys proved promising early in the season, but play slipped as the season went on and the Cowboys finished the season 19th out of 32 teams in Pass defense averaging 230 yards against per game. The Cowboys secondary also finished tied for last in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs in terms of forcing interceptions. In total defense the Cowboys also finished 19th in total yards per game on defense.
The stats without context scream for the defensive coordinator to lose their job. The truth when looking deeper into the season the defensive coordinator is not at fault for the Cowboys struggles. Injuries on defense were a huge factor in their demise this season. Sean Lee, the teams leading tackler had his season ended due to injury early in the season. His replacement Bruce Carter was sidelined a few weeks later. By the end of the season the Cowboys were grabbing guys off the street just to fill the middle linebacker role. The Cowboys best player DeMarcus Ware was beaten up towards the end of the season and was a shell of his former self. The amount of injuries on the defense is more than enough of a reason to allow the defensive coordinator one more chance with a healthy roster.
The injury factor could have saved the defensive coordinator, if it weren’t for the other factors involved. Rob Ryan brought this outcome on himself with his antics in the media and on the sidelines during his tenure as a coach with the Cowboys. The first misstep by Ryan was when he opened his mouth to the media disparaging the Philadelphia Eagles offense in 2011. Then the Cowboys played a nationally televised game in Philly where they got blasted 34 – 7. The Eagles players said prior to and following the game that the comments of the defensive coordinator were the motivation behind the humiliating performance. The defensive coordinator was more subdued for the rest of the season. The defensive coordinator seemed to be on his way to redeeming himself, until he disgraced himself, the organization and more importantly the coaching profession. Against Cincinnati in Week 14, a flag was thrown for a personal foul, not on a player, but on the Cowboys sidelines for a Coach interacting with a player from the other team. Ryan cost his team a 15 yard penalty because he lost his “cool” and taunted a Bengal player. After this moment, the only thing that could have saved Ryan’s job was a trip to the playoffs. The final game against the Redskins was a visual disaster. The Cowboys looked like they never prepared for the option, and never made any adjustments the entire game.
Rob Ryan’s fate was sealed the minute that 15 yard penalty was called in the Cincinnati game. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is a no nonsense kind of guy and is “buttoned up” when it comes to conduct on and off the field. He could not have been happy with that display. When changes were announced by the owner, I am sure the first guy on the list was Rob Ryan. Again not a shock here, but the minute it happened I was screaming for Ryan to be fired right after the game. There is no need for those kind of antics, especially if the best the team can do is 19th in total defense and an 8 – 8 record.
On Friday, the Cowboys replaced Ryan with 72 year old Monte Kiffin. Kiffin retired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he spent over a decade as their defensive coordinator. Kiffin is an innovator and invented the “Tampa 2″ defense that has been used by multiple teams throughout the NFL. Kiffin retired from Tampa Bay three years ago to join his son at the University of Tennessee. When Lane Kiffin left Tennessee for USC, Monty followed suit. This season was rough for the USC team and the defense in general. Kiffin was not the one behind the downfall though, as sanctions crippled their depth and defensive players.
The signing of Kiffin means that there will be a drastic change from the 3-4 defense run by Wade Phillips and Rob Ryan over the past 5 years. Serious upgrades will have to be made to the defensive line and the safety position to implement the “Tampa 2″ style. The Cowboys will also have to define a position for DeMarcus Ware in the new 4-3 scheme. Despite the need to fulfill the positions, the change in defensive style should be an improvement for the Cowboys moving forward in 2013.
Jerry Jones said change was coming. He said the change would shock the fan base. The firing of Rob Ryan on Tuesday was certainly that kind of move. Cowboys fans have been on polar opposites of this, from people slamming the team and wanting Ryan back on the team, to people rejoicing in his departure. Ryan’s mouth and his antics on the sidelines wrote his own ticket out of Dallas when the team failed to make the playoffs. The defensive stats did not help his cause either. For all the bellyaching over the firing of Rob Ryan, his replacement Monte Kiffin has a proven track record of coaching defense at the NFL level. Best of all he will not embarrass the organization on the sidelines or in the press clippings.