By Matthew Postins
But by 9 p.m. local time Tuesday it was clear Ryan was gone. Ryan told ESPNDallas.com he would “have a new job in like five minutes.”
So Ryan is fired, the second Dallas Cowboys assistant coach to depart. Running backs coach Skip Peete won’t be back in 2013.
So why was Ryan fired? One could make the case that Ryan coached with a weak deck, as eight different players – including both starting inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter – ended up on injured reserve. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff missed half the season with injuries. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware played hurt much of the season.
But, in the final analysis, Ryan was hired to make the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense more aggressive. That’s something this unit didn’t do nearly enough in 2012. It forced just 16 turnovers. The defense as a whole got more passive as the season went on.
Now it gets interesting. The Cowboys have played a 3-4 defense since 2005. Before that, for more than 40 years, the Cowboys played a 4-3 defense.
So which way will Jones go? Depending on what he and Garrett want, there are plenty of good possibilities:
Romeo Crennel: His resume as a defensive coordinator speaks for itself. He was the coordinator for the New England Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins and worked with the New York Giants while they won two Super Bowls under Bill Parcells. He’s a Parcells guy, having worked for him in three different places. So he understands the system. He runs a two-gap 3-4 defense. He was just fired from Kansas City as head coach. The problem is that his unit in Kansas City was less aggressive when it came to forcing turnovers than Dallas in 2012. The Chiefs were the worst in the NFL in takeaways. Crennel’s philosophy is bend, but don’t break.
Lovie Smith: If the Cowboys want to move to the 4-3 and the Cover 2, Smith is the perfect candidate. Smith popularized the Cover 2 as the defensive coordinator in St. Louis and followed that by taking the formation to Chicago. There the Bears employed his Cover 2 set and retained their trademark aggressiveness. This year the Bears led the league in takeaways per game. The Cover 2 would have the added benefit of fitting some of the existing personnel in the secondary, including cornerback Brandon Carr.
Keith Butler: Never heard of him? That’s OK. He’s the Steelers linebackers coach and he’s a Dick LeBeau disciple. Hiring someone like Butler would mean the Cowboys would not have to dump the 3-4 set and Butler could bring elements of LeBeau’s famed zone blitz scheme with him. Butler has presided over the development of Joey Porter, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Butler could instantly make the defense more aggressive, but he would be a tough get. He’s been with the Steelers for nine years and is perceived as LeBeau’s heir apparent. But if he’s ready to strike out on his own, it’s worth a call.
Todd Bowles: The organization knows him, as Bowles was the Cowboys’ secondary coach from 2005-07. Bowles has bounced around since then, serving as Miami’s interim head coach in 2011 after Tony Sparano’s firing and taking over as defensive coordinator at midseason in Philadelphia. The good news is that Bowles has worked in 4-3 and 3-4 formations. The bad news is that his work as the DC in Philly for a half-season wasn’t all that great.
Winston Moss: Moss is Dom Capers’ protégé in Green Bay, where they run the 3-4. It’s known as an aggressive scheme that forces turnovers and creates sacks, both of which the Cowboys need. He’s an assistant head coach, but he coaches the linebackers, including Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, so defensive coordinator would be a step up.
Pepper Johnson: He has five Super Bowl rings as a player and a coach. For more than a decade he’s done everything New England coach Bill Belichick has asked him to do, coaching defensive linemen and linebackers. Johnson has worked in both the 4-3 and 3-4. Is ready to depart the comfortable cocoon of Belichickville?
Dave Campo: Really? It sounds nuts. But the Cowboys have had him back before as secondary coach. Let’s not forget that as defensive coordinator in 1995-1999 the Cowboys were in the Top 10 in total defense four of those years, including a Top 3 finish three times. Hiring Campo would mean a move to the 4-3. Right now he’s languishing in Kansas under Charlie Weis.