Word broke on Saturday that the Dallas Cowboys are meeting with Mike Zimmer about their vacancy at defensive coordinator (here is our tracker for all news and information related to the opening). Zimmer has obviously held the position before.
The Cowboys have only been connected to two outside candidates (and two internal) at the time of this writing, and the other one is the man responsible for the vacancy in the first place given that Ron Rivera’s firing led to Dan Quinn’s departure. Two outside candidates, both with head coaching experience, both on the older side in terms of age.
Being frank, this possible hiring would be a classic move for the Cowboys. Consider that when they hired Dan Quinn he checked those same boxes before and that the only coordinator who they have hired that is the opposite of these things (raw from an experience standpoint, relatively young) was already in their building in Kellen Moore.
It is true that Zimmer had success in his first run with the Cowboys defense and that he has experienced some high highs in his time away from the club. He parlayed a great run with the Cincinnati Bengals into a head coaching opportunity with the Minnesota Vikings, and after taking some time to stabilize the waters, he also turned them into a legit defense as well.
Where Mike Zimmer defenses ranked by DVOA (2010-2021), courtesy of @FTNFantasy:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) February 3, 2024
- 2010 (Bengals DC): 23
- 2011 (Bengals DC): 16
- 2012 (Bengals DC): 9
- 2013 (Bengals DC): 4
- 2014 (Vikings HC): 27
- 2015 (Vikings HC): 10
- 2016 (Vikings HC): 5
- 2017 (Vikings HC): 1
But Zimmer’s Vikings regressed over his final seasons with the team (likely a reason why they were his final ones), and while we can point to things like players and talent aging. the reality is that things fell apart on his watch. He has not coached at all in the NFL for two years and has not been a defensive coordinator in over a decade. It is quite possible that he could do a fine and wonderful job leading the defense, but how can this possibly be one of the first two names to emerge? Especially when the first report associated with Zimmer was that he was the one who had interest in the job.
Consider that when the Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy that he was one of only two candidates who were involved, the other was Marvin Lewis who also oversaw Zimmer with the Cincinnati Bengals. It was about as open and shut of a process as there could be when you can argue that you should look under several more rocks than that when making such a big decision.
Choosing a defensive coordinator isn’t quite the big-time decision as a head coach, but it is pretty close. And that the only two outside names who have been linked to Dallas so far are underwhelming veteran coaches, one of whom hasn’t been in the league in over two years, feels like they are just going through the rolodex and not setting out to search under the stones.
I didn't bother to make this chart nice, so I'll just lead with how I interpret it:— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) February 2, 2024
Further right = Better underlying pass defense results against the Shanahan tree of playcallers since 2017
Further up = Better results against all other offenses (over a much > sample) pic.twitter.com/DLan7zAT3s
Again, Zimmer, if hired, may very well keep the Cowboys defense respectable, and if so we will all be very happy as a result. But the Cowboys are a team who like what they know and the problem with that is not expanding your horizons. Considering the ‘all-in’ nature of this year, as defined by Jerry Jones himself, it feels rather ‘all-out’ to settle in this way.
Maybe the Cowboys will interview other candidates of different archetypes and select one of them or Zimmer in spite of them. But not casting a wide net for decisions like this is irresponsible and foolhardy and we seem to be on the verge of them doing just that.