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Cowboys news: Cowboys interview Joe Whitt Jr. as the search for a new defensive coordinator begins

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NFL: Green Bay Packers OTA Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

Source: Cowboys to interview Atlanta assistant Joe Whitt Jr. for defensive coordinator position - Staff, Dallas Morning News

The search for a new defensive coordinator has begun.

After parting ways with Mike Nolan after one season in Dallas, a source tells The Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken that the Cowboys plan to host a virtual interview with Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. for their defensive coordinator position Sunday.

Whitt Jr. worked for head coach Mike McCarthy in Green Bay from 2008-18 as his defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator.

Cowboys to have first DC interview Sunday, Joe Whitt, Jr. - K.D. Drummond

The Falcons secondary coach has some history with Cowboys current head coach Mike McCarthy.

The 42-year old former cornerback was the Packers quality control coach in 2008, then ascended to their DB coach from 2009 through 2017. He was McCarthy’s defensive passing game coordinator in 2018 before the entire staff was let go.

He held the same title in Cleveland for one year, and then that staff was let go. In 2020 with the Falcons he stayed on after Dan Quinn was fired and Raheem Morris moved up to interim head coach.

In his time as a coach, Whitt had seen several of his players make the Pro Bowl, including Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Dallas Cowboys fire Mike Nolan; 6 names who could take over - Jon Machota, The Athletic

A potential list of suitors for the gig.

Dan Quinn

He was fired this season, five games into his sixth season as the Atlanta head coach. Quinn led the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 2016. He was previously the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, when the team went to consecutive Super Bowls, winning in 2013.

Gus Bradley

He was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator for the past four years. Los Angeles finished in the top 10 in total defense in 2018 and 2019. Bradley was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013 to 2016. He was defensive coordinator for the Seahawks from 2009 to 2012. Seattle had one of the NFL’s top defensive units under Bradley in 2011 and 2012. The Raiders reportedly interviewed Bradley recently for their defensive coordinator position.

Here are 10 potential candidates to replace Mike Nolan as Cowboys defensive coordinator - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News

More potential candidates for the job.

George Edwards

He’s been a defensive coordinator with Washington, Miami and Minnesota and spent last season as the Cowboys’ senior defensive assistant.

Dom Capers

He was Minnesota’s senior defensive assistant before he was fired Friday. He spent nine seasons in Green Bay as Mike McCarthy’s defensive coordinator.

In case you missed it...

Eight candidates to replace Mike Nolan as Cowboys defensive coordinator - David Howman, Blogging The Boys

Our own David Howman gets in on the fun as well.

Steve Wilks, former Panthers and Browns defensive coordinator

If the Cowboys are looking to continue in the vein of their aggressive defense but staying with a traditional 4-3 look, Steve Wilks would be an easy choice. He’s long been a disciple of Ron Rivera, whose powerful defense just carried the Washington Football Team to a division title and spanked the Cowboys in both of their matchups.

Wilks coached defensive backs under Rivera for the Bears, Chargers, and Panthers before being promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2017 season. He replaced Sean McDermott, who had just been hired as the Bills head coach, and was tasked with keeping the Panthers’ stout defenses near the top of the league. Wilks immediately started dialing up more blitzes for Carolina, and actually improved the team’s defensive DVOA from 10th to eighth in his sole year as the coordinator.

That’s because Wilks was hired as the Cardinals head coach the very next year. While Arizona finished 3-13 that year, resulting in Wilks being fired after just one year on the job, his defense was still productive, ranking 12th in DVOA and, notably, sixth in pass defense DVOA; that was even after Wilks switched the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Wilks then joined the Cleveland Browns under rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens, who also got fired after one season. Wilks’ defense also endured injuries to key starters in the secondary, as well as the indefinite suspension of star edge rusher Myles Garrett. Still, Wilks was nearly retained by new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.

When Stefanski opted to bring in someone new, Wilks decided to take a year off from football after so much turmoil in his life. But now, he’s ready to get back into coaching at the perfect time. He’s aggressive - his defenses have finished in the top five in blitz rate every season - and comes with a background specialty in pass defense, which is so meaningful in today’s pass happy league.

The biggest downside for Wilks? He employs a ton of zone coverage, almost exclusively so, and the Cowboys may not want to add him into the mix a year after building their secondary, most notably Trevon Diggs, around playing tight press man coverage. But Wilks has the proven track record and is known for his strong command of a locker room, one of the reasons the Rams nearly hired him instead of Sean McVay.

Spagnola: Here Is The Truth Behind 6-10 - Mickey Spagnola, Dallas Cowboys

Several reasons the 2020 Cowboys faltered in an attempt to find the root cause. The winner?

The defense.

Cowboys gave up a franchise single-season record 473 points. That’s 29.5 a game when averaging 24.7 themselves, with 163 of those 395 points scored coming in the first five games (41 percent), so on pace to score 521 over 16 games, which would have been a franchise single-season record. But, no matter. No Dak. No O-Line. No defense.

The run defense ranked 31st, giving up 158.8 a game when finishing 2019 ranked 11th. Look, a defense finishing ninth overall last season ended up 23rd this year.

This, to me, was inexcusable for a defense losing just four starters from last year’s team – Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, Jeff Heath and Byron Jones. Big problem, the guys they added in free agency then flopped – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen. Plus, they lost Gerald McCoy for the season during the first padded practice in training camp.

Even so, there was a disconnect from the start, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan trying to vacillate between a 4-3 and 3-4, plus nearly playing a nickel defense exclusively no matter how many or few receivers were on the field. Just didn’t work.

As necessary as it was, firing Mike Nolan doesn’t magically fix all of the Cowboys’ issues on defense - Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News

The Cowboys are making changes with their defensive coaching, but they’re a long way from having things figured out.

Either Mike McCarthy decided, you know, maybe I was wrong when I said half-way through the season it was a little late to blame the scheme.

Or Jerry Jones decided for him.

You can bet that Jerry would rather blame Mike Nolan and Jim Tomsula for the Cowboys’ worst defense in decades than think it was the personnel he drafted and subsequently rewarded with generous contracts.

The first charge of a defense is to stop the run, an assignment lost on the Cowboys’ tackles, in particular. Nolan’s scheme didn’t optimize whatever talent the Cowboys had, seemingly violating McCarthy’s premise that scheme would never trump talent.

McCarthy’s next DC — and don’t expect a Wade Phillips reunion, if that’s what you were hoping — needs to come up with something player-friendly.

Even so, Jerry also needs to address the defense in all three levels in the draft and free agency. The Cowboys need a premier defensive tackle, a position they’ve ignored for too long. Unfortunately, this draft lacks star power up front.

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