Cowboys focusing on Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator

IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys are targeting 72-year-old Monte Kiffin to replace the fired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.

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

There had been no contract negotiations Thursday afternoon, but a source close to Kiffin said things could change quickly. If negotiations begin, a hire could be made as soon as today.

A move to Kiffin would bring the philosophical shift Garrett spoke about when Ryan was fired Tuesday. The Cowboys would switch from a 3-4 defense back to the 4-3 scheme they used for years under Super Bowl-winning coaches Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson.

Kiffin, a 47-year coaching veteran, is widely praised for his "Tampa 2" defense, which puts two safeties deep and relies on speed, tackling and a versatile middle linebacker who can drop into coverage.

Kiffin coached 26 years in the NFL, including 13 as Tampa Bay defensive coordinator before moving to the college ranks to handle the defense for his son Lane's teams at Tennessee in 2009 and at Southern Cal the past three seasons.

Kiffin resigned after the 2012 season in which the Trojans' defensive failures were heavily criticized, and was said to be 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 Cowboys believe Kiffin still has the fire and energy for the job, even though he turns 73 on Feb. 29.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau continues to have success and he is 76.

The big issue for the Cowboys if they turn to Kiffin is fitting their 3-4 talent to the 4-3 scheme.

The Cowboys believe inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter can make the conversion to middle linebacker and weakside linebacker, respectively. That would necessitate finding a strongside linebacker.

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware would move to defensive end. Rushing the passer every down would likely put more wear and tear on him, and it would signal the end of his dropping into coverage.

If the Cowboys don't re-sign Anthony Spencer to play defensive end opposite Ware, that position becomes a focal point in the April draft.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher and nose tackle Jay Ratliff would man the two tackle positions in the 4-3.

Ware has surgery

DeMarcus Ware underwent shoulder and elbow surgeries on Thursday.

His rehab time is expected to be 5-7 months. He will miss the entire off-season program 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. Minnesota linebacker Chad Greenway will replace him.

Bryant honored

Wide receiver Dez Bryant was selected the most improved player in the league in voting by Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America.

Bryant caught 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and played the last three weeks with a broken finger.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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