Cowboys hire Monte Kiffin: Is it a change for the better?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are flipping things upside down, as Jerry Jones promised, but Monte Kiffin's change may not be the change Dallas needs.

Jerry Jones promised that the Dallas Cowboys' offseason would be "uncomfortable" and on Friday, he lived up to his promise by hiring Monte Kiffin as the team's new defensive coordinator. Change is afoot in Dallas, and nothing signals a greater change than hiring the 72-year-old Kiffin.


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In Kiffin, the Cowboys are getting a coordinator who is nothing like his predecessor Rob Ryan. He is quiet, reserved, and made a name in football coaching for his son, Lane, as opposed to Ryan, who walked into the profession under the shadow of his father, Buddy.

Oh, Kiffin also plays a 4-3 instead of Ryan's 3-4.

Demeanor and history be damned, the change Kiffin is bringing to Dallas is in the scheme and the subsequent personnel moves that will be made to fit in. The godfather of the Tampa-2 defense made his name in the 4-3, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense for 13 years and capturing a Super Bowl along the way. Now that history, reputation and the system that it was all built upon is coming to Dallas.

The biggest change for the Cowboys comes to its best player, as Demarcus Ware will move to defensive end and play with his hand in the ground for the first time in his professional career. The marauding outside linebacker is no more, replaced by a traditional, and still freakishly athletic, defensive end.

But while Kiffin's arrival just means a position change for Ware, it could mean an exit for Anthony Spencer. A possible bookend for Ware, even in the 4-3, Spencer is coming off a career year after being given the franchise tag last year, but would be due $10.6 million if the Cowboys franchise him again, a hefty sum for a guy who is more suited to the 3-4.

Where the Kiffin hire shows a complete 180 on the part of the Cowboys is in the defensive backfield, where Dallas made a significant investment in press cornerbacks just last year. They shelled out $50.1 million for Brandon Carr and traded up to draft Morris Claiborne with the idea that they would cause havoc for receivers at the line of scrimmage, but now they will spend more time off the line and in zone coverage.

In one year, everything changed. The Cowboys missed the playoffs and they finished just 19th in total defense and 24th in scoring defense. That aggressive, physical 3-4 scheme went out the door with Ryan and in came Kiffin, a more conservative and far less brash defensive coordinator who is bringing with him the 4-3 defense that made him famous.

The Cowboys are making a distinct U-turn, and it's not without risk. In fact, change aside, Kiffin is a major risk himself.

Kiffin's pedigree is untouchable, but you won't find his last five years anywhere on his list of achievements. He left the NFL to join his son Lane's staff at the University of Tennessee and then moved with him to USC, where he was nothing short of a disaster.

Kiffin couldn't cope with the college game, which doesn't bode well for a man returning to a NFL that looks more and more like the college game with each passing day. Not when he couldn't corral even barely mobile college quarterbacks and is walking into a division with Robert Griffin III and possibly Michael Vick. The open, quick game that befuddled Kiffin in college will be awaiting him in the NFL

Jerry Jones is making good on his promise of change. Kiffin, and his scheme is a massive change. Whether it is the right one remains to be seen.

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