3. JIM LEAVITT
* Current position – San Francisco 49ers Linebackers Coach
If Lake represents the neophyte, then Leavitt certainly represents a more veteran option. Leavitt has coached at both the college and pro level. He has been a positional coach, a coordinator and a head coach. During his three-year tenure as a defensive coordinator for Kansas State, his teams posted six shutouts and had twelve games in total that saw the Wildcats hold their opponents under ten points. From there, he moved on to build the South Florida Rams program essentially from the ground up as their head coach. In twelve years, this “little” school posted four seasons in the top twenty in points allowed. Five of those twelve years saw their overall yards allowed finish in the top twenty.
After a brief coaching break, Leavitt moved on to the NFL to take over the San Francisco 49ers linebacker corps. In the three years as head of this unit, the 49ers have never been worse than fifth in overall yards allowed, rushing yards allowed or third in points allowed.
Leavitt would be a great option as the new leader of the Dallas defense and one that I certainly would endorse. The only negative may be the likelihood of switching back to a 3-4 scheme after trashing that concept last year.
2. ROD MARINELLI
* Current position – Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Coach
The current line coach for the Cowboys has spent almost his entire coaching career in that very position. For eleven years, Marinelli was the line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During this time, the Bucs had an astounding run of ten consecutive years that they finished in the top ten in both total yards and points allowed. In six of those years, his unit was one of the ten best in the league in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed.
After a brief stint as a head coach for the Detroit Lions, Marinelli returned to the defensive side of the ball, leading the Bears defense as coordinator from 2010-2012. In those three years, the Bears boasted a defense that finished in the top five twice in points allowed, interceptions and rushing yards allowed.
Marinelli may seem like the obvious choice because he’s already on the staff, has familiarity with the players and boasts an impressive resume. There are rumors however that he may not be interested in the being a coordinator, choosing to stay as a line coach. There is also a fear that if Kiffin is fired, Marinelli may not respond well as he has a history of loyalty to those he respects most. Ultimately, if Marinelli did accept the position, I believe he would greatly improve upon the failures of this past season.
1. RAY HORTON
* Current position – Cleveland Browns Defensive Coordinator
Horton’s beginnings as a coach in the NFL did not get off to a great start. In his first six years, as defensive backs coach for the Bengals and then the Lions, his units were unimpressive. Still, a great coach, a defensive coach in fact, in Bill Cowher saw something in him and hired him as his defensive backs coach in 2004.
From 2004-2010, the Steelers led the league three times in points allowed. Four times, they finished in the top ten in interceptions and in the top five in least amount of touchdown passes thrown against them. Three other times, they finished in the top ten in passing yards allowed. All of this helped Horton land a defensive coordinator job with the Arizona Cardinals.
In his two years in the desert, the Cardinals improved each year in points allowed, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and total defense. He then landed another coordinator job in Cleveland last year once the entire staff in Arizona was fired. In his one year in Cleveland, the Browns went from 25th to 8th in passing yards allowed and 23rd to 9th in total defense.
So, why Horton over the others? I believe he is the total package. He is a former player (and Cowboy). He is experienced but not old (53 years old). He has experience in the Tampa 2 system that was implemented last year under Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and lastly, he could be the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys if this team fails to get over the 8-8 hump or fails in an early playoff round.