By now it's painfully obvious that Jerry Jones wants the Dallas Cowboys next defensive coordinator to have previous head coaching experience. That doesn't explain why they interviewed current defensive line coach Aden Durde and intended to interview defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. before he followed Dan Quinn to Washington, but it would've been an odd look if they didn't take a look at internal candidates.
All signs point to the Cowboys hiring an external candidate. As of Wednesday morning, that list of candidates consisted of Ron Rivera and Mike Zimmer.
There have been whispers that Dallas has interest in Wink Martindale, but the former Giants defensive guru hasn't taken an interview.
Zimmer is the clear standout of the bunch and seems to be the favorite, but the Cowboys threw fans a knee-buckling curveball on Wednesday when insider Josina Anderson reported that Rex Ryan (!) interviewed for the vacancy.
Cowboys reportedly interview Rex Ryan for defensive coordinator job
It was expected that Mike McCarthy entering a lame duck year would hurt the Cowboys chances of interviewing up-and-coming defensive minds. But are we even sure the Joneses want a rising star?Their list of candidates suggests they want an old-school coordinator that will serve as a second head coach to the defense. We all know McCarthy has zero influence on anything defense-related.
While Ryan is a brilliant defensive mind, it's almost been a decade (eight years) since he last coached in the NFL. There's no denying he can coach and make a variety of personnel work, but you have to question how far he's been away from the game over the last eight years.
Ryan went to two two AFC Championship Games in six seasons as the Jets head coach. His defenses carried those New York teams.
In nine of his 10 seasons as the Ravens defensive coordinator (2005-08) and Jets head coach (2009-2014), Ryan's defenses finished top 10 in yards allowed. That includes eight top-10 finishes in rushing defense and five top 10 finishes in total points allowed.
Ryan's resume speaks for itself, but again, it's been a full 10 years since he had a top 10 defense. What makes Zimmer a (somewhat) compelling candidate is his history of producing top-level defenses and the fact he coached as recently as 2021. Last April, Zimmer even helped out Hue Jackson with a football clinic at Grambling State.
Ryan has worked as an analyst for ESPN since he was fired by the Bills in 2016. To the best of our knowledge, that's the closest he's been to the game.
Maybe Ryan is still capable of calling a great defense. The Cowboys certainly have the personnel to be great. However, given how long it's been since he last coached in the NFL, the question isn't whether Ryan lost his fastball. It's if he's even capable of stacking up against the offensive minds that gave Dan Quinn fits in the biggest moments.