After recently turning 70, perhaps Jerry Jones was sick of being the oldest guy at Valley Ranch. Enter the soon-to-be 73-year-old Monte Kiffin, who will replace Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.
It’s the sort of move that would bother Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, who apparently didn’t retain 66-year-old defensive coordinator Bill Young because his advanced age was scaring off recruits. I’m not going to do cartwheels over the Kiffin move, but it’s hard to argue with his NFL credentials. He and 75-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau have been the gold standard on that side of the ball for the past two decades. In fact, Kiffin is widely credited with the famed “Tampa 2” scheme that has been adopted by so many teams over the years.
The knock on Kiffin has nothing to do with his age. It’s the fact that he took a 4-year sabbatical from the NFL to work with his son Lane, and absolutely tanked. I’m not going to pretend to be familiar with the personnel that Kiffin worked with at Tennessee and then USC, but it’s fair to say that his “Tampa 2” wasn’t a good look on the collegiate level. It’s also worth noting that Kiffin’s remarkable run with Tampa Bay was fueled by some of the best defensive players in the NFL, such as Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, just to name a few.
Kiffin and Tony Dungy installed their Cover-2 style defense when they joined the Bucs in 1996. Over the next 13 seasons, Kiffin would oversee a defense that ranked in the top 10 in points allowed 11 times. And the stat that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett will talk about the most is a 54-game streak in which the Bucs had at least takeaway. The Cowboys are lucky when they go two straight weeks.
There’s no question Kiffin can coach, but I’m curious to see what sort of staff he can put together. In Tampa, he had secondary coaches such as Herm Edwards and Mike Tomlin. Kiffin also had Rod Marinelli coaching the defensive line. How many talented young coaches will line up to coach with Kiffin when it’s obvious that Garrett might only be around for one more season?
Maybe Kiffin will consider retaining Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson, who has impressed both Garrett and Jones. The Cowboys lined up in a 4-3 scheme quite a bit last season, so I think Henderson could grasp Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” pretty quickly.
One of the main reasons I prefer Kiffin to Ryan is that he’s not going to be auditioning for other teams each Sunday. Ryan truly believed other teams had erred in not pursuing him as a head coach, and he never missed a chance to remind folks how smart he was. Kiffin could care less about being in the spotlight at this late stage in his career. He could’ve pushed harder to become a head coach during his time with the Bucs, but that was never a huge goal for him. His only head-coaching experience was at North Carolina State in the early 80s. He’s a football lifer who really needed to return to the NFL.
I believe his success in the NFL should trump his struggles on the college level the past four years. And to those who feel like the Cowboys are the only organization interested in the golden oldies, Andy Reid has spent the past few years desperately wanting to add Kiffin to his staff.
The Cowboys don’t have the Tampa talent circa 2002, but Sean Lee and Bruce Carter should be able to flourish in the 4-3 scheme. And if Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr can brush up on their tackling skills, they should be able to make the adjustment. DeMarcus Ware will have to play with his hand on the ground, and there’s a chance the Cowboys won’t be able to afford Anthony Spencer.
It will take time to find the right players in this new scheme. But at the moment, Jerry’s not in a very patient mood.