Dallas Cowboys

Marinelli takes over Cowboys’ defense; Linehan hire official

As had been expected for several days, the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday hired Scott Linehan as passing game coordinator and play-caller, but the coaching shake-up wasn’t limited to the offensive side of the ball.

Monte Kiffin, who oversaw the worst defense in franchise history and third worst in NFL history, was demoted to assistant head coach/defense, with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli taking over as coordinator.

The moves mean the Cowboys will have a new play-caller on offense and a new defensive coordinator for the third straight season.

Linehan will replace Bill Callahan, who called plays last year after taking over those duties from coach Jason Garrett. Kiffin replaced the fired Rob Ryan before last season.

The changes could help decide Garrett’s fate beyond 2014. He is in the final year of his contract, and the Cowboys have finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs in each of his three full seasons as coach. Garret is 29-27 since replacing Wade Phillips midway through the 2010 season.

“Rod Marinelli’s production in terms of creating turnovers and changing field position as a defensive coordinator is well documented,” Garrett said in a news release. “Monte Kiffin’s overall knowledge and understanding of this defensive scheme will be put to use in mentoring all of the players and coaches on the defensive side of the ball. The opportunity to add someone of Scott Linehan’s expertise and experience will benefit our offensive unit, and we believe the combination of him and Bill Callahan working closely together will give us a great chance to build upon the strides we made offensively last year.”

Reached later by phone, Garrett made it clear the Marinelli will be in charge of the defense as the Cowboys hope to recreate some of the magic he had in Chicago as coordinator from 2010-2012, when the Bears finished ninth, 17th, and fifth in total defense.

The Bears led the NFL in forced fumbles (59), had the third most interceptions (65) and scored the most defensive touchdowns (13) in those three seasons.

The Cowboys had hoped for similar success under Kiffin when he took over for Ryan last year and changed the defense from the 3-4 to the 4-3 scheme. But the results in 2013 were disastrous and his age, 73, became a concern.

Not only did the Cowboys give up the most yards in franchise history, but they gave up the second most points in franchise history and the second most first downs in league history.

“Rod will step into the traditional coordinator’s role,” Garrett said. “He will be in charge of how we function on a day-to-day basis and on game day. Rod has been an excellent coordinator in this league. Kiffin will continue to oversee everything we do. We feel those guys in combination in these roles will be great for our football team.”

The hiring of Linehan means a demotion of sorts for Callahan, especially considering he was denied an opportunity to even talk to the Cleveland Browns about their offensive coordinator job.

Callahan remains under contract with the Cowboys, and they have no intention of letting him walk despite the offense’s inconsistent performance in 2013. Dallas ranked 16th in the league in total offense, and its 5,461 total yards were the fewest by the team since 2005. The Cowboys also finished 31st in rushing attempts and 24th in rushing but were fifth in scoring (27.4 points per game).

Garrett said Callahan will go back to his prior role as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. However, he said hiring Linehan was about the opportunity to add a quality coach rather than an indication of disappointment in Callahan.

“Bill is a heck of a coach,” Garrett said. “We have a lot of respect for him. This was more about an opportunity to bring in a guy like Scott, who has expertise as a coordinator.”

Linehan is a veteran offensive coordinator, play-caller and former St. Louis Rams head coach who oversaw the league’s sixth, third and fifth-ranked offenses the last three seasons for the Detroit Lions.

Garrett said he is not worried about a lack of continuity with the Cowboys employing their third play-caller in as many years, citing his relationship with Linehan dating back to their days with the Dolphins in 2005. Linehan, then Miami’s offensive coordinator, gave Garrett his first NFL job as quarterbacks coach.

“We are excited to bring Scott on and build on the positive things we have done over the last few years,” Garrett said. “He is someone I know well. I have worked with him and for him. His track record of success is well documented. Our system has been in place on offense for the last seven years. Our players are comfortable with that. The transition will be smooth. The fact that he has familiar with it is a positive thing. He brings fresh ideas.”

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