Cowboys DC Rob Ryan exits stage left
Yogi Berra supposedly once told us, "it's tough to make predictions; especially about the future."
So, I take solace in that modern-day philosopher when I attempt to predict what is going to happen next in the Jerry Jones empire of football. There is no predicting what he will do, and when he starts making moves, conventional thinking or consensus should likely just be ignored. There is no point in playing this game.
Yet, last week, I was ready to try to interpret the "uncomfortable change" that was around the corner according to an irate Jones a few days after the failure in Washington.
I was pretty sure it would be a new play-caller on offense. But, a change in the coach running the defense? Here is what I wrote about it (please note that I felt the conversation barely needed to happen given that a long-winded guy only used one paragraph for the entire discussion):
I also don't think I would campaign for a dismissal of Rob Ryan. I believe in what he likes to do and although nobody wants to hear this, I still don't think we have much of an idea of what he would like to do with this crew. In 2011, he had a very poor personnel situation at corner and in 2012, he enjoyed about a month of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter together with a legit pair of corners. They need health and a better defensive line group, but this defense is not far away if you ask me.
So, that was that. Done and dusted.
Until yesterday when Ryan was fired. That makes Skip Peete, the Running Backs coach since 2007, on Monday and Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator since 2011, on Tuesday.
We can only imagine what Wednesday brings us.
And to some, there is the response of "Good. It is about time Jerry makes some sweeping changes around there." To which I say that changing out a RBs coach would change nearly nothing about the offense that doesn't care to run anyway, and changing out Rob Ryan is simply moving someone out who had no Cowboys-equity to begin with - and was only hired begrudgingly 2 seasons ago after the worst defensive season in Cowboys history.
That is not changing anything about the systematic ills that continue to plague this proud organization.
What it sounds like to me, for different reasons, is that the Cowboys likely let two guys go who did not necessarily do anything fireable in a sense of coaching strategy. Rather, to either freshen things up or to change philosophically, the two men were fired so that we could "go in a different direction".
Seriously, if anyone was hit harder than Rob Ryan from an injury standpoint (Lee, Carter, Ratliff, Coleman, Church), it might be the guy in charge of running backs (DeMarco Murray missed a huge chunk of the year). To fire them under the pretense of under-performance is flat-out silly.
So, is there issues with factions in the coaching staff? Well, let me say that this is my biggest hot-button issue with Jerry Jones (once we accept that he has given himself a life-time term as the team's general manager), the idea that a head coach has somewhere between little and nothing to do with who is on his staff.
You have to understand how difficult this makes this job. A head coach, no matter who he is, needs and must receive unconditional loyalty from his coaching staff. When that doesn't happen - when a coach undercuts him to the players or to other assistants or even the public - we have major issues. We have a powerless head coach which is 100% the opposite way of how the legendary successful coaches have always operated. This is why their staff is made up of people they generally know or trust and one reason why coaching is thought of internally as an honorable occupation with a strict code of ethics that you are loyal to the man who gave you the opportunity.
And this is why the Cowboys have it all wrong.
You don't hire Jason Garrett to be your offensive coordinator when you have not hired a head coach yet. And that is what Jones did in 2007. You don't hire a head coach and tell him who is assistants are. And that is something Jones has done with nearly every coach since Jimmy left with the exception of Bill Parcells - who assumed many coaches, but at least had a little say in that matter.
And, if you are Jason Garrett, and you are being made head coach, you cannot take assistants from the last regime unless you believe you have their 100% loyalty. And sometimes that is difficult. Sometimes, they don't have loyalty to you because they were an equal with you years ago, and think that perhaps they deserve to have your job - but perhaps they weren't the owner's pet. Regardless, if you name your own staff, you aren't naming guys who you aren't sure would "buy in" to what you are selling to your players, which should be an unconditional commitment to the same goal.
And if you don't have that unconditional commitment to make the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys Super Bowl champions, then you shouldn't be on his staff. Said another way, if you think you are a better candidate to be your team's coach than the coach himself, you have to know how to keep that to yourself or there will always be fractures in the organization and most obviously in the locker-room.
That is why 2008 was such a disaster. Terrell Owens, Patrick Crayton, and the wide receivers are having "keeping it real Thursdays" with their position coach Ray Sherman. Inside these meetings, there reportedly are unflattering things being said about the offensive coordinator, the quarterback, and the tight end - who all happen to be too friendly according to Owens and company. This friendliness, in their minds, is leading to decisions made on the football field that rewards friends with footballs. And before long, we have half of the offense accusing the other half of a friendship organization and it leads to lack of unity and continuity. All the while, the head coach, Wade Phillips, was presiding over the circus by acting like it wasn't happening.
And if that controversy in 2008 didn't teach Jerry that a staff must all have each-other's backs - and therefore a head coach better be able to name his entire staff with guys he trusts and that will respect and fear him, then nothing will.
And guess what. Nothing will.
This is not meant to be a love-letter to the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys. I am certainly not a full believer in his regime (can you have a regime if you don't have the power to name your own coaching staff?), although I believe he has some characteristics that intrigue me. But, rather, on this day where we think 2 coaches just got fired for issues that cannot be based on their 2012 on-field performance - they had no chance of success with the injury cards they were dealt - I continue to wonder if this is an effort to get the coaching staff all on the same Garrett-led page.
What else could it be?
Some will say that the Cowboys just wanted to move to the 4-3. And maybe that is all it is. But, if you read this column, you know that I have been saying they have been running a modified 4-3 for Ryan's entire run here. At least half of the game every week is either in an actual 4-3 (nickel defense on 3rd Downs and other passing scenarios) or a modified 3-4 where Ware rushes 88% of the time getting him defined as a DE in a 4-3 defense and the front 3 is just a DE and 2 DTs.
That is why I am somewhat amused by the universal freak-out about their personnel in a supposed change to the 4-3. Ware and Anthony Spencer are your defensive ends - just like they were at Troy and Purdue. Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff would be your ideal defensive tackles - although, who knows about Ratliff anymore. Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lissemore could play either in a depth rotation, and you were going to focus on DL in the draft anyway.
Linebackers are easy given your talent base already. Sean Lee is your middle linebacker (Mic), and Bruce Carter would look to be a fantastic weak side LB (Will). The strong side linebacker (Sam) may not be on your roster or it could be Alex Albright. But, as you can see, you have strong personnel that could be made stronger with upgrades, of course, but is not in dire straits as it is.
I say it has to be that the long-haired member of the most abrasive family in football likely showed his abrasive side at one point or another in this incredibly high-stress 2012 season. And when he does, he appears to have a tongue that might not always regulate itself well. Was it his personality that got him fired? I have no idea, but since people want a guess, that is where I am looking. Otherwise, you cannot ask a guy to coach half the year with street free agents comprising his defense and then fire him when things don't work out. This simply has to be bigger than that.
And given that I think Ryan has been running what amounts to a 4-3 anyway, the idea that he couldn't help usher in the new scheme is a bit far-fetched, too.
With Peete, I have spent less time thinking about it, other than to say that A) he goes back to 2007 with Garrett and fresh looks at this offense should not be discounted and B) there are a lot of fractured relationships from anyone around in 2008 when everything went wrong. If people want to make this an argument of which guy should go, a RB's coach or a head coach, then you need your head examined. If he is your head coach, then you allow him to change out whatever he wishes on his staff to tinker with what is clearly broken. I am sure Peete will be fine and working again whenever he wants, but I don't have the slightest issue with changes being made to the staff.
And that is why I wonder if more changes are coming. The play-calling position still seems up for grabs - Norv is still a wildcard as are several other interesting names. And we haven't even discussed the personnel department that has had about as much stability over the last 15 years as any football front-office in the league. I know the GM and his family are safe, but there are many sets of eyeballs with scouts and personnel types in the organization that have been there a long-time. I imagine Jerry realizes his last few drafts have been some of his best, but if he wants discomfort in that building, who knows what he has planned?
This team is never short of story-lines, and maybe this is the year that Jason Garrett gets full control of his coaching staff.
But, I highly doubt it.
If there is one change we can bet against, it is the idea that Jerry will ever truly change his ways. You can't predict much about the man, except for the idea that he will still be doing things his way for many years to come and there is nothing you can do about it.
So what changes will truly matter if the biggest change doesn't happen? Well, that is tough to predict. But, the outcomes might not be as difficult to forecast.