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Which Cowboys defensive coaches deserve to come back next year?

Outlook: not so good.

Kris Richard Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The other day we discussed the list of offensive coaches - including Jason Garrett - and determined whether or not they deserve to be brought back next season, regardless of a head coaching change or not. But today, it’s time to take a look at the defensive side, as well as special teams, two units that have been significantly worse than the offense this year.

Rod Marinelli - defensive coordinator/defensive line coach

Let me start by saying I have all the respect in the world for Rod Marinelli. The history of the NFL cannot be told without him; Marinelli was an integral part of the Buccaneers’ dominant defenses that won a Super Bowl, and was the head coach of the first NFL team to ever go 0-16 with Detroit. Add to it that he’s a Vietnam veteran, and Marinelli is the embodiment of your Football Guy stereotype.

But to quote the Ridley Scott film Prometheus, “A king has his rein, and then he dies.” And while that’s a bit dramatic in this case, the sentiment is that it’s time for Marinelli to move on from Dallas. His antiquated Tampa 2 defense required some changes, hence the addition of Kris Richard, and now his defensive line philosophy has become an Achilles heel for the Cowboys.

Dallas needs a fresher outlook in the way their defense operates, and even though Marinelli doesn’t call the plays anymore, it’s ultimately his scheme and his defensive line that’s getting beat game in and game out. And the less we talk about his preferred draft picks, Trysten Hill and Taco Charlton, the better.

Verdict: deserves to go

Kris Richard - defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach

Marinelli can’t be held solely responsible for the defense since he doesn’t call the plays. It’s true that when Kris Richard came to Dallas, many of us jumped for joy. And philosophically, Richard and Marinelli were perfect matches for each other.

But schematically, the defensive line that Marinelli coaches doesn’t seem to mesh with Richard’s coverage schemes. There’s an argument to be made for giving Richard full control over the defense, including the line, and seeing what happens, but considering the lack of development from Richard’s defensive backs and the stubbornness to not play Jourdan Lewis sooner, that argument grows weaker and weaker by the day.

Verdict: deserves to go

Leon Lett - defensive tackles coach

It’s a bit hard to judge how big of an impact Leon Lett has had in his role with the Cowboys. His first two years on the job were operating out of Rob Ryan’s short-lived 3-4 defense of uncontrolled chaos, and since then he’s had Marinelli personally handling the defensive line.

However, it’s worth noting that Dallas has seen several defensive tackles develop nicely since Lett has been on the staff: Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden, Sean Lissemore, Terrell McClain, David Irving, and Maliek Collins. Not to mention that Tyrone Crawford’s entire career has come during Lett’s tenure as the defensive tackles coach.

Now, how much of those players’ development is due to Lett and how much is due to Marinelli is unclear, but Lett is a three-time Super Bowl champion. Surely his experience as a player is valuable, and his experience coaching in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme helps. This is admittedly a tough one to evaluate but there aren’t really any red flags that we can see.

Verdict: deserves to stay

Ben Bloom - linebackers coach

For years, Matt Eberflus had been a fan favorite of the coaching staff and viewed as the eventual successor to Marinelli. But now, he’s running the defense in Indianapolis, and his longtime assistant Ben Bloom has filled his spot.

Last year, Bloom’s first season coaching the linebackers, went better than anyone could’ve hoped for. Jaylon Smith looked like his old self and Leighton Vander Esch put up a fantastic rookie season.

But this year has been a collision with reality. Smith has regressed somewhat, and doesn’t seem to be seeing the field well enough, and Vander Esch’s problems with getting off blocks has been compounded by the resurgence of a lingering neck injury that made some scouts weary of him in the draft. While some of these issues are scheme-related, the regression of both players ultimately reflects on Bloom, and it doesn’t look good.

Verdict: deserves to go

Greg Jackson - safeties coach

Greg Jackson has a pretty strong coaching history, highlighted by his work on two different staffs of Jim Harbaugh between the 49ers and Michigan Wolverines. But in Dallas, Jackson has overseen arguably the weakest part of the defense each season: the safeties.

It can be argued that the front office hasn’t placed enough (or any) value on the position, and in fact the Cowboys haven’t spent any higher than a sixth-round pick on a safety since Jackson has been here. They’ve also refused to shell out big bucks or picks for top tier players like Earl Thomas and Jamal Adams.

And depending on your attitude towards Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods, it could be said that Jackson is being hamstrung with poor players. But Woods was supposed to make a huge leap forward this year and, if anything, has regressed as he still struggles to make sound tackles. That, and the lack of growth of any other players Dallas has brought in under Jackson makes it hard to recommend him.

Verdict: deserves to go

Keith O’Quinn - special teams coordinator

We’ve gotten to that part of the list, everyone. It’s pretty obvious what the verdict here is, but let’s paint a picture of how bad things have gotten under O’Quinn. In 2017, the year before O’Quinn was elevated to special teams coordinator, Dallas ranked seventh in special teams DVOA, third in starting field position per offensive drive, and second in starting field position per defensive drive.

After O’Quinn’s first year running the special teams, they ranked 23rd in DVOA, 20th in starting field position per offensive drive, and 29th in starting field position per defensive drive. With just three games remaining this year, the special teams ranks dead last in DVOA, dead last in starting field position per offensive drive, and 27th in starting field position per defensive drive.

It’s never a fun thing to want somebody to lose their job, but when you’re this bad at your job it’s hard not to.

Verdict: should be banned from AT&T Stadium and The Star deserves to go

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