You really have to admire Monte Kiffin, the former Vikings assistant under Jerry Burns and Dennis Green.
Sure he's a top-flight defensive football coach, maybe even a genius, the mind behind the Tampa 2 defense. But then he goes to work for his son Lane. And now, his patience will surely get tested as he takes on the monumental task of leading the Dallas Cowboys defense. (I'd say rebuilding, but was it ever built in the first place?)
So not only do you have all the eyes of the Lone Star State upon you. (No offense, Houston Texans.) But then your boss is ... Jerry Jones.
At least the 72-year-old Kiffin has down pat the straightforward skills needed for life in Dallas. When Kiffin announced that he was leaving the Trojans and hoping to head back to the NFL, the Orange County Register asked if he would miss coaching with his son. The answer? "Um, no, not really," with a laugh.
They were display again in the statement from Kiffin released by the Cowboys:
“I came away from the interview process with Jason [Garrett] with a feeling that Dallas is the right place to be. He has this team headed in the right direction. They’re close, and I am confident that there are quality pieces in place for us to be able to get the job done.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has praise for Kiffin from his former boss, Gophers star and, before head coaching greatness, former Vikings assistant Tony Dungy, who also had a question for the Cowboys:
"Monte is a great coach," Dungy said Friday. "My question is: Are they going to do what their personnel dictates or are they going to change and go to Monte’s system and kind of what he grown these last couple of decades? That’ll be the big thing they’re going to have to do."
One of Kiffin's first moves looks to be switching the Cowboys from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment. The Star-Telegram says that would mean finding a strongside linebacker and moving DeMarcus Ware from outside linebacker 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," the Star-Telegram says.
The Dallas Morning News rates Kiffin's defenses and their generally above-average results, even against the run, which might be especially important in the NFC East.
For a defensive coordinator known for his Cover 2 looks, Kiffin’s ranks in run defense are excellent. In general, run defense and pass defense are often inversely correlated; when a defense plays with two deep safeties, their run defense will suffer, and if they move a safety into the box to stop the run, their pass defense will suffer. If the Cowboys can maintain a league-average run defense in Kiffin’s scheme, that’s a win.
The Morning News also calls the move to a 4-3 "more of a nip here and tuck there than a complete facelift" for the Cowboys. Ahead of Kiffin's hiring, the Cowboys' website already had mapped out how the Tampa 2 might work with current Dallas personnel.
But the Morning News also notes that the defense requires solid fundamentals, something that seemed a bit lacking under Rob Ryan, who more than 5 minutes later after his firing is still unemployed.