It's no secret that the presence of 72-year-old Monte Kiffin will be critical to the Dallas Cowboys in 2013. As the franchise's third defensive coordinator in just four seasons, Kiffin will have his work cut out for him.
I'll argue that Kiffin is the most important coach in the entire organization, slightly edging offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and easily out-ranking head coach Jason Garrett.
Garrett is a dwindling presence at Valley Ranch and for a growing list of reasons. Heading into 2013, it's known that Callahan will take play-calling duties from Garrett for the first time since the former Dallas backup quarterback has been a part of the coaching staff. In fact, Garrett's own quarterback, Tony Romo, has taken on more responsibility in terms of the offensive strategy concerning the Cowboys.
Garrett's just not the guy.
But Kiffin has a completely different task. He has to not only improve a defense that's been historically bad, at times, over the last three seasons, but he also has to do it with a new scheme. Yes, the nightmare of the poorly built 3-4 alignment is gone, and the history-rich 4-3 front is finally back in Dallas—this scheme has been good to the Cowboys.
Important to remember is that Kiffin, despite his age, still has the ability to engage with his players and earn their respect. This much has been quoted by second-year veteran cornerback Morris Claiborne who told Kevin Sherrington of SportsDayDFW.com the following earlier this month:
I hear guys saying he's too old, and we should be wearing leather helmets and all that type of stuff. If you go into the meetings with him and on the field with this guy, you'd think he was 27 years old. He runs around. He's always upbeat, and we feed off of that. He's always screaming, hollering, jumping around like he's 27 years old.
What Claiborne is saying is that Kiffin brings enthusiasm to the program.
This is not to say that former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't do the same, but Ryan did so while bringing in a system that was complicated and absolutely failed to bring results over his two seasons in Dallas.
Kiffin will be charged with changing this dynamic right away. Virtually the entire Dallas roster has previous experience in the 4-3.
Offense wins games, and defense wins championships. The Cowboys have had fairly good offenses under Garrett, but not too much can be said of the defense.
Again, Kiffin outranks Callahan by a slim margin mainly because he brings more experience as an assistant coach, and he's also charged with creating the most significant changes.
It's important to remember that both Callahan and Kiffin bring previous Super Bowl experience to the table having faced each other in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego just over a decade ago.
Let's just say that Garrett brings much less in pretty much any category we can think of.
Kiffin will need at least several weeks in order to fully install his entire playbook, and it could take a couple of seasons to fully harvest the fruits of the new scheme. But Kiffin has got some talent on his side of the ball to work with right away. Players like Claiborne, defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will create the corps of a defensive unit that could take off quickly this season—if injuries don't provide the obstacles experienced a year ago.
Kiffin brings the resume, experience and accomplishments that no other coach on the staff brings, including the head coach himself. For these reasons, Kiffin, despite having no apparent interest in being a head coach at this point, is easily the most important coach on the Dallas staff heading into 2013.
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