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Breaking Down the Cowboys’ Defensive Coordinator Options

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Jonathan Bales

At the request of some readers, I wanted to take a quick look at the Cowboys’ search for a defensive coordinator.  Recently, we’ve heard the names ‘Vic Fangio’ and ‘Greg Manusky’ a lot.  Both guys are Dom Capers disciples with 3-4 experience.  Fangio was the defensive coordinator for Stanford last season, while Manusky ran the 49ers’ defense.

Anyway, DMN recently posted the stats for Fangio, Manusky, and current Cowboys coordinator Paul Pasqualoni (in terms of final PPG, sacks, and takeaways for each season).  Note that these numbers can be misleading due to the talent on each team, but I’m more concerned with each coordinator’s progress, NOT the actual defensive ranking.  We see the following:

  • Manusky took the Niners’ defense from 20th to 16th in PPG over his four seasons, with two of the three non-initial seasons being an improvement over the first.  The average improvement for his squad was 5.7 games over those three final seasons.  His best finish was fourth.
  • Fangio has been sub-par everywhere he’s been, in my opinion.  He’s left the three teams he’s coordinated at 27th, 31st, and 32nd in the league in PPG.  The average decline for his defenses in his three stints as defensive coordinator is 5.8 games worse than his initial season with the team.  Only three of his eight non-initial seasons have been improvements over the first.
  • Pausqualoni was a defensive coordinator for only two seasons in Miami, but his ranking dropped from ninth to 25th in one year.  More importantly, we’ve seen Pasqualoni’s scheme (or close to it) in Dallas, and it doesn’t suit the team well.

So who is my favorite of the bunch?  Manusky I suppose, but I’m not really high on any of them.  Fangio has a proven track record of failure, and Pasqualoni’s approach seems too old-school to excel today.  At least Manusky is still relatively fresh as a coordinator.

Other defensive coordinator candidates include:

  • Dom Capers
  • Rob Ryan
  • Dave Wannstedt
  • Mike Nolan

Of that group, Capers is the best fit in Dallas.  His experience with the 3-4 and unique use of blitzes, coverages, and pre-snap alignment would help the ‘Boys immensely.  While his departure from Green Bay may be unlikely, perhaps it isn’t impossible.  Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is a known fan of Capers, and Dallas’ hesitancy in signing a coordinator could be a sign that they are waiting for the Packers’ season to end.  A Green Bay loss to Atlanta this weekend could be a blessing for the Cowboys.

Update: There are rumors that Fangio has followed Jim Harbaugh to San Francisco.

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16 Responses to Breaking Down the Cowboys’ Defensive Coordinator Options

  1. chris stallcup says:

    I would love to have campers, Ryan, or nolan.

  2. brian says:

    Why no mention of Mangini?

  3. starred4life says:

    I don’t think Nolan is an option. I was hoping that Miami would land Harbaugh just so Nolan might be in play. I was hoping Cinci would let Marvin Lewis go too. Neither of those things happened.
    But if we could lure Capers away from GB, that might be the coup of the offseason. I’ve heard his contract was up after this year (but only from forum members. I haven’t been able to verify that). The Dallas Cowboys.com mailbox writers addressed this and all three said he wasn’t an option, because he’s under contract.
    I hope his contract expires this weekend (Go Falcons!).

    What do you think of Dick Jauron? He was Coughlin’s DC with the Jaguars, and he’s working under Reid right now. He’s a secondary guy (both as player and coach). He might also be worth a look considering his familiarity with our division rivals.

  4. Mark Watkins says:

    I appreciate your insight on this, as always. And thanks for responding to the inquiry as only you can. Unfortunately, it seems like kind of slim pickings for DC’s this offseason, based upon what you said. I was wondering about Mangini myself, like Brian. Also maybe Rob Ryan. I see that the Browns were 13th in points allowed, which isn’t bad and is probably an improvement over previous years. I also noticed that Pasqualoni is leaving to coach UConn. That could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe they had already told him that he wasn’t going to be back. It should be interesting for sure.

  5. john coleman says:

    All losers here.

    Even Capers has a dismantling of his defense by Kurt Warner last year. BTW GB has a true NT.

    Nolan is still my front runner. Wannestedt might work. I believe he could figure it out(3-4). Mangini should be a serious candidate. He drafted Revis and has assembled some solid defensive players at his stops. He surely can’t be a headcoach or offensive guy.

  6. Brian–I would have thrown Mangini in there, but I think he’s far too strong of a personality for Jones/Garrett. There are rumors that Ray Sherman’s departure was somewhat of a power move–Garrett wants to be the man, and Mangini would surely threaten that (you could say the same about Rob Ryan, of course, but Ryan has yet to be a HC).

    Starred–Heard the same about Capers’ contract…that would be the best move of the offseason, free agents and draft included. Over the years, I’ve realized coaches are far, far more important to a team’s success than the casual fan realizes. I’m not completely familiar with Jauron (only what the avg fan would know), but I do fear he’d be a little bit too old-school in an organization that I think is (finally) implementing a new-school approach.

  7. JJ says:

    The offseason is as enticing to me at times as the season because the decisions in the offseason manifest themselves in the season. In fact, we can venture to say that the lack of great drafts in 2009 and 2010 has hurt the Cowboys (see OL, DE and Safety) and now we add in coaches…these choices cannot be overstated.

    It seems the Cowboys are back to square one on DC with Coach P gone and the other “hot” coaches Manusky and Fangio going elsewhere. While this is a HUGE decision I can only hope the Cowboys do not minimize the importance of QB coach (I’ve heard rumors of Paul Chryst from Wisconsin but nothing to substantiate). Garrett has big decisions but part of me feels that he has not found what he is looking for as the Cowboys rarely let someone get away once they have them in Valley Ranch. As for Capers, earlier in the season I read his contract was up this season but one site stated he is under contract through the 2011 season.

    Finally, I realize that most of us are only thinking of coaches that have contracts that have expired but I maintain the keeping Campo (God love him) is a mistake but I suspect there may be more changes to come.

  8. Scott says:

    And now Manusky has taken the job in San Diego. So those two are out. Pasqualoni is kind of the fall back position. But it looks like they’re interested in Ryan, who is meeting with Garrett this week. Capers would be the major coup so maybe they’re waiting to see if he’s actually available before committing to him, but I’d like to see the comparative season-to-season stats on Ryan.

  9. Scott says:

    and actually I’m already behind the times by the time I posted that lol.. Pasqualoni is headed to UConn.

  10. Vince_Grey says:

    Am I missing something here with Capers? I thought you couldn’t raid another team for a coach unless that coach was being “promoted”. If Capers is the DC for Green Bay, how, (Unless the Packers decide to let him go, which would be insane) would we possibly be able to get him to Dallas as our DC under any other circumstances?

    Otherwise, I just want a guy who’s aggressive and teaches sound fundamentals. I’m telling you, the team that decides enough is enough and REALLY emphasizes and practices tackling will be the next great defense.

  11. Vince_Grey says:

    BTW, based on what I see, Rob Ryan looks like the best (Available) DC candidate out there, assuming JG doesn’t go the assistant route, but if he interviews some guy who blows his socks off, then I say go for it.

    Not a huge fan of Nolan’s and though I like Dave Wannstedt as a DC, he’s a 4-3 guy. Now, I would LOVE to see us go back to a 4-3, because I think a good 4-3 beats a good 3-4 any day, but that would mean having to bring in several more DL and a true MLB, and it would likely also mean at least a year to re-adjust to that defense.

  12. JJ–I think you’re right that Garrett and Jerry haven’t found what they need in a DC yet. I still have a gut feeling they’re holding out hope for Capers, as JJ doesn’t generally let a process drag on when he wants something. Rob Ryan is a possibility too, and I wouldn’t be too upset about him coming to Dallas.

    Scott–I checked into Ryan’s numbers for you. . .

    Patriots
    1997–18.1 (12th)
    1998–10.6 (14th)
    1999–17.8 (7th)

    Raiders
    2004–27.6 (31st)
    2005–23.9 (25th)
    2006–20.8 (18th)
    2007–24.9 (26th)
    2008–24.2 (24th)

    Browns
    2009–23.4 (21st)
    2010–20.8 (13th)

    His defenses have improved five of the seven seasons possible (10 total seasons minus three initial seasons).

  13. Vince–There’s some confusion as to whether Capers in under contract in 2011. From what I’ve gathered, his deal expires at season’s end. And I’d agree on Ryan right now. I think he’d be a great addition.

  14. Brady Parker says:

    Is Garrett waiting as well maybe for Horton of Pittsburg to interview him? Would it even viable to talk with him, is he not the secondary coach.. Seems like he might be a good fit if Capers does not pan out.

  15. moses says:

    I think the interview has to include how the DC candidate can use the current defensive roster to implement his scheme.

    The big question is can the DC adjust to the current personnel or are we in for a lot of changes that will take a while to learn?

    There are some that can adjust their scheme to match the talent on the roster while there are others that have a one-size-fits-all approach. We definitely need that flexibility. If the scheme is talent specific or is intricate such that it takes a full season to learn then we are in for a long season next year.

  16. Vince_Grey says:

    LOL! Why in the world would Garrett be in the slightest way intimidated by Eric Mangini’s presence on the staff? What’s Mangini ever done as a HC, or even a coordinator for that matter, to have that sort of “power”?

    As for Ray Sherman, I think you’re way off base here as well. I think Ray coddles the receivers, makes excuses for them, and sides with them virtually every the time there’s an issue, and Jason’s seen enough of that over the years.

    Maybe I’m way off base, but I see JG as being in the most power position of any Cowboy HC since Jimmy, and possibly, possibly I say, Parcells.

    I think Jerry sees Jason as a guy he “groomed” to be the HC of the Cowboys, and it’s given JG a very strong position as a HC in terms of control and latitude. I don’t see Garrett as a guy who’s in the slightest way intimidated or afraid of anyone, much less Ray Sherman or Eric Mangini. Gimmie a break.

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