Cowboys Coaching Search: A Longer Look At The Projected Monte Kiffin Hire

Stephen Dunn

All signs point towards Monte Kiffin, one of the pioneers of the vaunted Tampa 2 defense, joining the Dallas Cowboys as the replacement for ousted defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The reactions have been varied and often apocalyptic. Take a deep breath, and a deeper look into what this may mean.

It was, actually, rather fun. When more and more reports emerged that the Dallas Cowboys had targeted Monte Kiffin to become their new defensive coordinator, there were some incredible responses. I think at least one or two writers came very close to blowing a few blood vessels.

Well, despite the reassurances by some that Jerry Jones has either totally lost his mind or completely emasculated Jason Garrett, the expected Kiffin hire is actually interesting. It may or may not lead to improved performance, but it does show that the team has decided to go in a totally different direction.

One of the main topics of discussion around this move has been whether this is Jerry Jones taking control again to make impulsive decisions. The information that Kiffin was at the top of the list for Dallas caught many by surprise, but Bryan Broaddus mentioned his name on Tuesday.

And there is some anecdotal evidence that a change was in the works as far back as the Thanksgiving loss to the Washington Redskins, when there were some quiet questions being asked about potential coaches. Despite many who assert that the recent comments by Jerry Jones concerning the early season defensive issues were just so much justification, there is evidence that Jones at least, if not others, was starting to feel that the Rob Ryan defense was not working out at least a couple of months ago.

And after another 8-8 finish with no playoff spot for the Cowboys, it seemed that something had to be done. Just who had what percent of the decision is more or less idle speculation. The facts seem to be that Jason Garrett will remain for another year as head coach at least and anyone else on the staff is subject to dismissal. And at least from outward appearances, Garrett is a part of the decision making on new hires.

Things could still fall through at this point, but it looks close to being a done deal. Assuming it does happen, what does it really mean?

Once the wild overreaction died down a bit, some intelligent articles emerged. Dan Graziano did a concise piece on just what a Kiffin hire would mean for the Cowboys. He weighs the pros (Sean Lee and Bruce Carter would likely work well in the system) and the cons (Demarcus Ware, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne maybe not so much). His summation, though, cuts to the heart of the matter.

Kiffin is 72 years old, and that's a concern among Cowboys fans who wonder if his best coaching days are behind him. But he's been on the radar of a few teams this offseason (Andy Reid supposedly talked to him about being defensive coordinator in Kansas City), and he's still well regarded in NFL circles as a top defensive mind. Above all, bringing in Kiffin would signal that the Cowboys have a definite plan about what to do on defense. And that matters.

There is no doubt that Kiffin is highly respected for his past accomplishments in the NFL. The big issue that has come up repeatedly among both rational thinkers and those who have decided that this is the final sign of the apocalypse is his rocky time working for his son Lane at USC.

Kiffin, to put it bluntly, failed at USC, where he was the defensive coordinator for his son, Lane. This past season, the Trojans finished 60th in total defense, allowing 394 yards per game. They also surrendered 24.31 points per game - the 40th-best average in the NCAA. Against Oregon's offense - a machine that NFL coaches have looked to for inspiration - the Trojans were steamrolled. They conceded 62 points and yielded 730 yards.

Oddly, that failure at the college level (which was both a different environment and a program that was having significant challenges, thanks to the way Pete Carroll treated) may be a major motivation for Kiffin to reestablish his NFL reputation. At least that is the take former Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Derrick Brooks has.

Brooks knows one thing: Kiffin will be more motivated than ever after four years in the college game coaching for his son and a disappointing departure from the Bucs in 2008.

"Our defense once he made that announcement he was leaving, it's on record we didn't play well," Brooks said. "That doesn't sit right with him. I know that bothers him. He is motivated in that sense. He wants to earn his reputation back."

There are also some issues that will be addressed just by going to the 4-3 defense. One is that this may signal that the Cowboys are going to let Anthony Spencer move on to another, and likely very costly, contract. With the team already having to figure out how to shed something on the order of $20 million in cap hit, Spencer was a major issue to resolve. As several writers pointed out on Twitter today, he is no longer a must have if Kiffin is hired. Broaddus plainly predicts he will not return. Besides the alignment of the front seven, another way Kiffin's approach varies greatly from Rob Ryan's is that he stresses simplicity. John Lynch gives an explanation that should provide hope to everyone who wanted to throw a lamp at the flatscreen when the Cowboys could not get the proper number of defenders on the field.

"I think what he did was revolutionary on defense in terms of what we did. I think the beauty of it was the simplicity. We didn't try to trick people. He believed in doing a few things and doing them, and learning the intricacies so well that it was kind of a deal where, 'Here it is. Go ahead and stop it.' You have to great players to do that. I know that. At times that seemed to denigrate the role of the coordinator, but I thought to the contrary. I thought that was brilliance of him."

While we are still waiting (as I write this) for a final decision, it is obviously too early say if this is a good move or not. I will say one thing: I don't like the multiple implications that one of the reasons this was a bad hire was Kiffin's age. If he is still mentally sharp (something I would hope the interviews and research would at least try to determine), why should he not be given a shot? He is not the one going out there to play. He would be using his brain, and just a half-dozen years ago, this was considered to be one of the best defensive minds in the league. Why throw away talent just because of the number of birthdays someone has had?

Of course, I am not that much younger that him, so maybe I am prejudiced.

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