The holidays are over. The kids’ toys are already out of batteries. The Christmas tree sits by the curb.
And Monte Kiffin, who will turn 74 years old next month, is still the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.
The 8-8, no-playoffs-again Cowboys. The Cowboys with a defense that gave up 6,645 yards. The same defense that came within four points of breaking the 53-year-old franchise record for points allowed.
Monte Kiffin’s defense.
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So why isn’t Kiffin sitting on the Valley Ranch curb?
Only Owner Jones, one must suspect, knows the answer to that question, and Jerry isn’t saying. Maybe he’s been busy over the holidays cooking up more of that Cowboys “secret sauce,” and he hasn’t made up his mind yet. Or maybe, like the play-calling charade of a year ago, Jones just doesn’t want to say.
There is no need to embarrass Kiffin. Clearly this season, the Lions, Saints and Bears did that enough.
But time is wasting. The Cowboys have a lengthy list of off-season housecleaning chores. There are injuries to heal and salary cap elbow room to create.
Can the Cowboys afford to pay DeMarcus Ware, who had his worst season, $12.25 million next year? Can they afford to keep free-agent-in-waiting Jason Hatcher?
When newly hired Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith named Leslie Frazier to be his defensive coordinator last week, it was widely surmised that Owner Jones had refused the Bucs permission to interview Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
As bad as the defense was, we concluded, Jones doesn’t have the stomach for another defensive purging. Hiring a new coordinator would mean that Ware has had four coordinators in the past five seasons.
One of those coordinators had the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense this season. Fired by Jones after last season, Rob Ryan and his New Orleans defense were good enough to win a playoff game in Philadelphia over the weekend.
Here, Ryan was roundly depicted as hairy and audacious, but he represents a cautionary tale for Jones.
Ryan’s Cowboys defense was riddled by injuries, yet Jerry cut him no slack. Kiffin’s defense was equally depleted this season.
That’s not an excuse for how poorly the Cowboys defense played in 2013. But it’s an undeniable part of the reason. At some point, when you look up and Jeff Heath, Jarius Wynn, Cameron Lawrence and Sterling Moore are trying to stop the Eagles and get your team into the playoffs, the “next man up” rally cry no longer makes sense.
By my rough count, the Cowboys used 42 players on defense this season. How can a coach’s performance be judged after that?
The answer doesn’t have to be as uncomfortable as it sounds. After a semi-enthusiastic welcome for Kiffin in training camp, players gradually seemed to tune him out. Not so for Marinelli, who remains a respected and feisty 64.
Kiffin has said he wants to continue coaching. OK, whatever. But Owner Jones needs to delicately inform Monte that Marinelli is now the defensive coach in charge. Put Kiffin on the Larry Lacewell Plan, if necessary — coach emeritus for life.
This should be the easy off-season stuff for Jones. Changing titles is a lot more palatable than changing defenses.
Time is wasting. The Cowboys have salary cap housecleaning to do.
Besides, the sooner that Owner Jones gets his defensive coaches settled, the sooner he can get back to making that secret sauce.