Coaching is more important than talent.
Good coaching disguises weaknesses and utilizes depth instead of relying on a few superstars to carry the load. It identifies the strengths of a team and plays to those strengths. Good coaching can make up for the lack of talent with preparation and technique.
This is why the Dallas Cowboys decided to move away from Rob Ryan. It's not that Ryan was a bad coach. His players respected him. But after one of the worst years ever recorded by a Cowboys defense, it's obvious that something wasn't working.
Injuries certainly played a role in sabotaging their season. Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Kenyon Coleman and Orlando Scandrick all found their way to IR. Jay Ratliff missed half of the season and by the time a win-and-you're-in Week 17 game surfaced, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were noticeably compromised.
So you might find it unfair, or unrealistic, to blame Ryan for such a poor statistical output. Given the circumstances, you might even praise his efforts.
But Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett don't see it that way. They see seven total interceptions. They see 14 total forced fumbles. They see a total of 400 points allowed, ninth worst in the league and fourth worst in team history.
No, the talent wasn't there. But neither was the response. Ryan was unable to make the necessary adjustments that put his players in the best position to succeed. Proof positive was the Week 17 championship game in Washington.
Everybody knew that RG3 was going to run play action after play action. Everybody knew that the key to a Cowboys victory was stopping the ground game. But yet, as the night unraveled, so too did Ryan's defense, allowing Griffin and Alfred Morris to run for a combined 263 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
Obviously, things might have been different had the Cowboys been healthy. But just as obvious was the lack of coaching. Ware, a superstar, looked completely lost, foolish even, as he made wrong decision after wrong decision.
Assessing the read option is tricky business, but the Cowboys looked as if they had never even seen it before. You can blame injuries (and Tony Romo) all you want. At the end of the day it all comes down to the guy on the sidelines calling the plays.
But it wasn't one game that fired Rob Ryan, it was 32. The question now is will his replacement, Monte Kiffin, turn this club around?
Turnovers, yards allowed and points allowed all come into focus when we judge defensive production. Kiffin benefits from the standpoint that there's not much regression to be had. Health alone should make up for some of the shortcomings that suffocated this team. The rest of it is fundamentals and preparation.
That's why the key free agent for the Dallas Cowboys is change. When Jones declared that things were going to get uncomfortable around Valley Ranch, the last thing that I expected was a new defensive coordinator. But it's hard to argue with his logic (finally).
Kiffin brings more than just a schematic change, he brings an old-school mentality to a league on the verge of a reawakening. The read option is here to stay. To what degree is hard to say. Arguing whether the pistol and option-style offenses will have any longevity is of no use when you're trying to win now. The best thing you can do is be prepared for what comes next. And what comes next is more RG3 and the recently hired head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly.
Kelly is known among the college ranks for his utilization of speed and multi-talented quarterbacks--something the Cowboys defense has struggled with. What better time than now to bring in a defensive coordinator, the godfather of the Tampa 2 if you will, that's been there, done that?
The only antidote to a fast-paced offense is an even faster defense. That's exactly what Kiffin preaches. His bend-but-don't-break philosophy is the answer to the surge of the "new offense" in professional football.
To be clear, the read option isn't new. It's been around for almost as long as Kiffin. It's just new, or an even better way to describe it, underused, in the NFL. Jones is almost prophetic in his decision to address it. That's what good businessmen do. They have the uncanny ability to predict the future with a certain degree of accuracy.
The future is more games against read option, speedy quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick, RG3, Russell Wilson and whomever Kelly decides best fits his offensive philosophy. Not to mention the hundreds of college and high school quarterbacks that will all be intently watching the Super Bowl and come to the realization that they can run and that being a pocket passer isn't the only way to go pro.
This is why hiring Kiffin was a great move by the Cowboys. Getting away from the two-gap, 3-4 system and implementing a one-gap, 4-3 system is the best way to defend the oncoming onslaught of read-option quarterbacks.
But it's not just what he brings philosophically. It's the coaching tree that he offers. With the hiring of Kiffin, the Cowboys were able to lure Rod Marinelli away from the Chicago Bears. Marinelli is largely credited for the success, under Kiffin, of the Tampa Buccaneers defensive line. His development of Warren Sapp, the so called motor of the defense, and Simeon Rice paved the way to top-10 defenses and a Super Bowl championship.
While in Tampa Bay, from 1996 to 2005, Kiffin and Marinalli's crew respectively ranked in points allowed as follows: eighth, second, fifth, third, seventh, eighth, first, fourth, ninth and eighth. Do you see a pattern? Imagine if they would have had a capable offense, such as what the Cowboys have now. It would have been the dream team, dare I say it. Now you see how important this hire is for Jerry Jones and company.
Statistic bullet points can be viewed as mere fodder for media publications or as a measuring stick for success. We can argue all day about which scheme is better, or how Ryan wasn't given a fair shake, or how Kiffin is too old. What can't be argued or understated is how good coaching always trumps talent. The combination of both is how champions are formed.
The Cowboys have no shortage of playmakers. With the proper direction they should make a smooth transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and from a doghouse defense into a powerhouse dynasty.