Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
While the focus of the coverage on the coaching changes for the Dallas Cowboys has been on who has emasculated who and which hands hold the play sheet during games, the main question should be whether the new version of the staff is better than it was. Early reports indicate that it really is.
Maybe it is because Jason Garrett tends to say "process" about every fifth word when he talks, but process seems to be the main thing discussed in the coverage of the Dallas Cowboys and the major changes made on the coaching staff. Or maybe it is the overall shallow view taken of so many things in our society today. I am more interested in the results rather than who made the first phone call or came up with an idea. And after the round of interviews of the coaches by the media this week, I am getting rather excited about this new staff configuration.
Admittedly, I do look for things that point in a positive direction about the Cowboys. I don't deny being a fan or wanting them to win another Lombardi. There are times when I make a conscious effort to step back from my love of the Star and try to look at the team with a critical eye. But I'm going to go with my fan inclinations today and write about developments that are making me optimistic about the direction Dallas is headed.
I don't recall where I heard it, but recently on a sports talk program someone was talking about how the NFL is a coach's league. The point was that a good coach with average talent could beat an average coach with good talent. Scheme and teaching are the driving forces in the league today. It made sense to me. It also extends to making the right decisions, both in games and for long-term plans.
I think that the Cowboys have made some major upgrades in that respect. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, the team has a much stronger coaching staff than it had last year. Regardless of the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment, Dallas now has not one, but two of the most highly regarded defensive minds of the past couple of decades. It was a combination of a somewhat gutsy move and an unexpected opportunity coming together. The hiring of Monte Kiffin raised a few eyebrows and led to a recycling of just about every old age related joke ever told. The Cowboys were clearly banking on his knowledge and skill still being intact. And the highly entertaining interview he gave made many think that this was not such a bad move at all.
What I don't think anyone could anticipate was that Rod Marinelli would choose to rejoin his old partner in Dallas. A highly respected defensive coordinator in his own right, he surprised almost everyone when he elected to take the defensive line coach position in Dallas rather than remain with the Chicago Bears or seek another DC position. But Marinelli has a different set of values than many, and high on the list are loyalty and working with people he respects and trusts.
The Cowboys' defensive line coach gladly accepted his new position in Dallas. The title wasn't as important as being around coaches that shared a similar knowledge and passion for the game. He has that in Dallas with Monte Kiffin.
"The biggest thing for me is I just love football, and I have to be around good people and guys that have a belief in how you play," Marinelli said.
When former Bears head coach Lovie Smith was out in Chicago, Marinelli decided he couldn't stay, either. Marinelli went to the Bears in 2009 to coach with one of his best friends. He believed in Smith's system, and it wasn't the right fit without him.
That desire to be in the right place with the right people just may be enough to change the tide for the Dallas Cowboys. Having the Kiffin hire turn into a two-fer has reunited one of the best defensive coaching tandems the league has seen, and if they can recreate the magic, the days of looking for Tony Romo to pull off a miracle finish almost every week may be in the past.
Bolstering the theory about this being a coaches' league is the faith the newest members of the staff have in the current players' ability to handle the 4-3. Marinelli thinks that the change will work to the advantage of Dallas' biggest defensive star, DeMarcus Ware.
"I think it'll aid him a little bit, because your takeoff is better," Marinelli said. "Your keys are a little more consistent with what you're doing. That's my opinion. I see him, I mean he's an elite rusher right now. I just think the more opportunity he has, doing the same things every day, every week, the repetition, which allows you to become even faster. The sky is the limit for him, I believe."
While the team brought in two experts to change to the 4-3, they kept most of the rest of the defensive staff intact, which should help with continuity. And one of the holdovers, assistant line coach Leon Lett, feels that the linemen Dallas has can contribute in the 4-3. OCC has a post on that.
Another guy that is getting back together with some old coaching mates is new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. While he did not share the same close relationship that Kiffin and Marinelli did, he still overlapped them for a few seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and no doubt had many discussions about the special teams players who came from the defensive side of the house. While Bisaccia does not have the stellar reputation that the defensive gurus have, he was a needed hire. Knowing he would be working with so many coaches he knew may have had something to do with his coming back into the NFL after an extremely brief period at Auburn. He does feel bad about leaving that job so quickly, but apparently there were compelling reasons for him.
"Because it was Jason and because it was the Dallas Cowboys, I never stopped talking to them," Bisaccia said. "I told my wife every night, I can't tell the guy no, I just can't tell him no."
While there were actually more new hires on the offensive side of the team, these three were the biggest ones in terms of impact. Frankly, the offense is going to look much the same as long as Jason Garrett is head coach and Bill Callahan has the largest voice outside of Garrett's in the playcalling. But the changes on defense are particularly huge, and Bisaccia will likely be running his own show on special teams. I don't see anything but positives with the reuniting of the colleagues from Tampa. And that has to a great extent been drowned out by all the fuss about who made the first contact or whether the boss is actually giving his chief employee directives. The way the decision is arrived at is not nearly as important as it being the right decision. These look to be right.