Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
The big hire for the Dallas Cowboys so far has been new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, but he is just the start. With him on board, there are a lot of other decisions to be made, and some of the biggest ones are his three key assistants on defense.
I think the Dallas Cowboys have moved quickly to replace Rob Ryan with Monte Kiffin to get a leg up on filling out their staff the way they want. On the Monday edition of the Cowboys Break at DallasCowboys.com, this was a topic for discussion as well. The panel for the show, Nick Eatman, Blair Eckerle, Derek Eagleton and Ed Cahill, obviously have more insight into what is actually happening at Valley Ranch than I do, and I thought some of the things they brought up were worth sharing.
Although there are a lot of other decisions to be made and more hires coming, I am focusing on the three main assistants for Kiffin, the linebackers, defensive backs, and defensive line coaches. Dallas has the current coaches under contract, but has given them permission to interview with other teams if they are looking to move elsewhere. This gives the team a bit of control, essentially making sure Kiffin has the option of retaining them if he sees them as a good fit in his system.
A lot of observers feel Matt Eberflus is a future defensive coordinator himself, so he would look to be a coach that the team might want to retain. He gets a lot of credit for getting the most out of the street players brought in to replace Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. But there is no one on the staff that is closer to Rob Ryan, and Eatman made the point that he almost always saw Ryan and Eberflus together in the halls at Valley Ranch. Eagleton said that Ryan talked about Eberflus like he was a son. It seems likely that when Ryan's five minutes officially end and he is hired somewhere else (and rumors continue to link him to the Kansas City Chiefs, although he claims to still be comfortably numb on a beach in the Caribbean and talking to no one about the job, since he will only need those five minutes), he will be taking Eberflus with him. Additionally, Eberflus has primarily coached the 3-4, and Kiffin might want someone with different experience.
This would fit well with the reported interest in bringing Scottie Hazelton to Dallas from USC, where he worked with Kiffin as his linebackers coach. Although Hazelton could also fit in at other positions, replacing Eberflus just has a lot of logic behind it.
Another coach who, like Eberflus, has ties to Ryan before they came to the Cowboys is Jerome Henderson. But Eatman again brought up the rumors that there was a lot of discord on the defensive staff at Valley Ranch late in the season, and he was of the opinion that Henderson was one person who was not at all happy with how Ryan was handling things. Coaching defensive backs is not as scheme specific as the front seven. If Henderson is interested in staying in Dallas, he would be a good source of continuity for the staff to have.
The third primary defensive assistant is line coach Brian Baker. He is also well regarded, and has two attributes that may make him the most likely assistant for Kiffin to retain: He had no previous connections to Ryan, and he has a lot of 4-3 coaching experience. Most of his background is with the 4-3, actually, and while he was coaching with the Minnesota Vikings, he also worked with the linebackers. And based on the picture I found for this article, he already has worked with some players he would see a lot of in the future.
That leaves Ben Bloom, who assists Eberflus and also does defensive quality control, and Joe Baker, who assists Henderson with the secondary. Given their more peripheral roles, there has not been much talk about their future. They do give the team a way to keep some continuity if Eberflus and/or Henderson do leave. With a major shift in scheme, the team would probably want to have someone who has worked with the players to help with figuring out how they fit and which ones may not. Bloom especially seems a good resource to keep on board for the last year of his contract.
Now, I am not Monte Kiffin (although I may pass for him in dim lighting, given that I am not all that much younger than he is), but if I were, I would definitely try to keep Brian Baker and strongly consider Henderson. Eberflus, for all the high marks he gets, strikes me as too much a Ryan guy to keep around, which is why I think Hazelton's name has already cropped up. If those two stay, I would bring in more of my own guys for the other positions, just to have a good balance of old and new, and incidentally to pack the staff with people I know and trust. I think two carryovers from the Ryan days would be just enough.