Kevin C. Cox
In a whirlwind week, the Dallas Cowboys wound up with Monte Kiffin to replace fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The move stunned many, but when you look at the bigger picture, there are some very logical reasons why he was hired, and why it happened so fast.
With the now official start of the Monte Kiffin era for the Dallas Cowboys, we can look forward eagerly to every lame joke about old people ever told. Just get used to it.
But, outside of a few regulars here (you know who you are), you don't come here for bad humor and insulting comments. Kiffin's hire raised a lot of eyebrows, leading people to wonder why he was hired, and what led to it happening so quickly.
Call me a hopeless Cowboys loyalist, but I am not buying the idea that this was some kind of whiskey-induced Jerry Jones impulsive decision. I think this is something that was in the works for some weeks, if not longer, and I think Jason Garrett was involved the entire way. He may have been pressured to be more receptive to having someone else call offensive plays, but I think he was getting pretty fed up with a level of confusion and turmoil that was clearly evident even to those of us watching on TV when the Dallas defense took the field. There were a couple of points that came out of the official announcement that reinforce my suspicions that this was something that Garrett was involved in all the way. First, from Garret's remarks:
"I know Monte from spending time together with him with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had a chance to see him coach up close on a day-to-day basis. His ability to teach everything - from the smallest fundamental details to the big picture of the overall defensive scheme - was always very impressive to me."
It certainly sounds like Garrett, in his typically understated-to-the-point-of-being-comatose way is claiming a little responsibility here. And Kiffin backed his play.
"I came away from the interview process with Jason with a feeling that Dallas is the right place to be. He has this team headed in the right direction. They're close, and I am confident that there are quality pieces in place for us to be able to get the job done."
Now, as some have mentioned on Twitter, this may be partly a PR move, but still, it is encouraging that there was a lot of mention about how things were going on a coach-to-coach level and nothing about Jerry Jones.
If you feel this was an unfair surprise to Rob Ryan, well, obviously, when the team still had a chance to make the playoffs, it would not have been a good time to tell Ryan "Say, you might want to keep a couple of good real estate agents on speed dial". But I think the owner, his son, and the head coach were making plans well in advance to move to the "different philosophy" that the team has embraced. It was interesting that there were some Tweets out there about the Cowboys corporate jet flying around the country a few weeks back. Several of the "real journalists" talked about how it was a head coach search. I wonder if Los Angeles was one of the stops? And I think that line about "teaching fundamentals" may be the most important point to understand in the whole situation.
In light of this, it was interesting to read this point from an article the National Football Post had up on January 4th. (Thanks to our resident master of worldwide cyber-omniscience, OCC, for pointing this out.)
Some teams, even some in the playoffs, are talking with their assistants about signing extensions. Why is this? Many seasoned head coaches feel there is a shortage of good offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and offensive line coaches, and they are afraid their valued assistants will be poached if their contracts are allowed to lapse. As a result of this, one general manager predicted that salaries of coordinators and offensive line coaches will skyrocket this year.
When addressing the question of why the Cowboys picked Kiffin, there is certainly reason to think that the team did consider some other options.
Had Mike Zimmer not been under contract, Cowboys would have thought long and hard about making him top DC target.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 11, 2013
There seems to be a similar issue with Ray Horton. Both he and Zimmer are basically locked up by their current teams unless they are offered a head coaching position. In a similar vein, there are currently unemployed former head coaches like Lovie Smith and Romeo Crennel with outstanding defensive credentials, but they are not going to be interviewing with anyone about a defensive coordinator job until they are sure they would not get another head coaching gig. The Cowboys were not really in a position to wait and see just who might be available in light of the previously mentioned talent shortage out there. By getting Kiffin signed, they will be able to figure out who they might want to keep as assistants (Jerome Henderson and Matt Eberflus are both being mentioned as possibilities) while getting the jump on finding replacements as needed. Dallas will be able to make offers to assistants looking for a new job while many teams are still deciding who they are hiring for a head coach.
There was also some competition for Kiffin, if the reports that Andy Reid wanted him in Kansas City are accurate. It is a good sign that reportedly he was not interested in the Chiefs job, but has said he likes the situation in Dallas. He will even be able to make a pitch to Henderson and Eberflus, if he chooses, to stick when they might want to follow Ryan to whatever new job he gets when his five minutes finally expire (rumors as I write this are that the Rams may be working a deal with him). I know the team may have contracts to fall back on, but do you really want a coach you forced to stay on board?
Looking at the overall NFL landscape, Kiffin may have been the best option available for a rapid move to allow the team to get a jump on everyone else. Given his ties with Garrett, and the fact he can now also fill the role of an older, wiser mentor for Jerry Jones (see, I told you the age jokes were coming, even from us), he does make more sense than a lot of the knee-jerk, Jerry-is-an-idiot commentators might think. Outside of him, the team could have gone with a college coach, but even in light of the years he spent in the wilderness at Southern Cal, I think Kiffin is a safer bet than a coach trying to move up with no NFL experience. And the Tampa 2 has almost legendary status in the NFL. Given that supposedly only a couple of teams play it, I still seem to hear it mentioned every week by broadcasters and the various "experts" trotted out on cable and pre-game shows.
I certainly can't say I am certain that this move is going to work for the Cowboys. But it should be very interesting and possibly quite entertaining to see how it all plays out. And maybe, maybe, Kiffin can work his magic again, and turn Dallas into a top 10 or even a top 5 defense next year.
Can't say he will. But no one can say he won't either.