Cowboys looking at Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator

IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys are targeting 72-year-old Monte Kiffin as their next defensive coordinator, replacing the fired Rob Ryan.

Kiffin was at the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters for most of the day on Thursday talking to coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones, according to multiple sources.

There were no negotiations on a contract Thursday afternoon but things could change quickly, per a source close to Kiffin. If so, the hire could be made on the weekend, if not by Friday.

A move to Kiffin would be the philosophical shift Garrett talked about when he fired Ryan on Tuesday. The Cowboys would switch from the 3-4 back to the 4-3 scheme they used for years under Super Bowl coaches Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson.

It would also mean the return to his NFL roots for Kiffin, a 46-year coaching veteran who is widely known as the father of the “Tampa Cover 2.”

Kiffin coached 26 years in the NFL, including 13 as defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before joining his son, Lane, in the college ranks at Tennessee in 2009. He spent the past three seasons as Lane’s defensive coordinator at USC.

Kiffin resigned under pressure after the 2012 season because of the Trojans' failures on defense, and is seeking a return to the NFL.

The Cowboys believe more in Kiffin’s NFL track record than they do in his struggles at USC, according to a source.

Tampa Bay ranked in the top 10 in total defense in 11 of his 13 years. The Buccaneers averaged 39 sacks, 19 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries a season during his time there.

Another reason the Cowboys won’t hold USC against him is that his 2008 team in Tampa Bay had 22 interceptions, 29 sacks and allowed just 20.2 points a game. He also allowed just three 300-yard passers.

The Cowboys believe Kiffin still has enough fire and energy to get the job done, even though he will turn 73 on Feb. 29. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau remains successful at the ripe age of 76.

The bigger issue for the Cowboys if they turn to Kiffin is fitting their 3-4 talent to the 4-3 scheme, most notably Kiffin’s Cover 2 scheme in the secondary.

The Cowboys believe inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter can make the conversion to middle linebacker and weakside linebacker, respectively.

They would have to find a strongside linebacker.

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware would move to defensive end. Although it would likely put more wear-and-tear on him, it would also signal the end of him in coverage as he would rush the passer every down.

If the Cowboys don’t re-sign Anthony Spencer to play defensive end opposite Ware, that position becomes a focal point in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Jason Hatcher and nose tackle Jay Ratliff would be able to man the two tackle positions in the 4-3.

Ware has surgery

Linebacker DeMarcus Ware underwent successful shoulder and elbow surgeries on Thursday. His rehab time is expected to be five to seven months. He will miss the entire off-season program and minicamps but should be ready for the start of training camp at the end of July.

Ware has been scratched from the NFC Pro Bowl roster. He will be replaced by Minnesota linebacker Chad Greenway.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760

Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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