Dallas Cowboys Next Defensive Coordinator: Proven Entity or New Blood?

. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys may want to consider young minds in their search for the next DC

Not so surprisingly, it’s out with the old and in with the new this winter in Dallas. After finishing in the cellar of the league in most major defensive categories, the Dallas Cowboys are doing a little housecleaning one week into the offseason.

Veteran Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan has officially been fired, as has his assistant coach Jim Tomsula (defensive line). Based on the direction they want to go as a team, more assistants could be on the way out as well. The question to ask now is whether the Dallas Cowboys should go with a proven entity as DC, or bring in some new blood to lead the unit.

In today’s NFL, it’s often a tale of two strategies front offices follow when building coaching staffs. On offense, teams usually look for youth and innovation to lead their offenses. The demand for up-and-coming offensive minds is so great, front office are even taking what would be yesterday’s long-shot OC candidates and making them head coaches.

But that same desire for innovation simply isn’t there on defense. Front offices don’t have the same compulsion to find the rising stars of defensive minds, and are perfectly content with retreads who have just as many failures as they do successes on their resume (see also: Mike Nolan).

A quick unofficial pole of Cowboys Nation tells us fans too, are more drawn to veteran coordinators with ample name recognition, than they are with unproven assistants with fewer skins on the wall. Thus is the nature of defensive coaching searches. But is that a wise thing to do?

Earlier in the season Anthony Reinhard charted the average number of defenders in the box by defenses. He wanted to see how defenses responded to obvious passing and obvious running situations by charting the number of defenders in the box. One expects defenses to drop more players in to coverage on 3rd-and-long than they do on 4th-and-1, right?

Then, everyone’s favorite analytics maestro over at FiveThirtyEight , Josh Hermsmeyer, looked into defensive predictability. He looked at Defenders in the Box Over Expected (DBOE) and charted how stable it was year-to-year (for teams who’ve employed the same DC).

Discovering tendencies and trends could be huge for offensive play-callers looking to exploit their defensive counterparts (if it isn’t already).  A common trait amongst those aforementioned young innovative offensive minds is they embrace analytics and aren’t afraid to dive into the data to gain an advantage over, both their opponents, and basic odds (win probabilities).

If tendencies and trends exist among defensive play-callers, you can bet the smart offensive minds will find them. And you know what? They exist.

Josh found that defensive play-calling is indeed quite stable year-to-year and veteran defensive coordinators are predictable in their decision-making. In fact, he called it “remarkably stable.”

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The longer the resume, the more data there is to use against them. And a young and unproven defensive coordinator would have an inherent advantage since he wouldn’t be as predictable.

That doesn’t mean to go out and hire an unqualified young assistant over a superior option with an established record, just for the sake of being unpredictable. But the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to keep this in mind as they make their decision as to who will be the new coach of the defense.

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Another thing to keep in mind is just like young offensive coordinators, young defensive coordinators are more likely to be open-minded towards new ideas and items that may challenge their priors. They’re more likely to use analytics (the very things OCs are using in their play-calling) to fight fire with fire and predict what being done to them.

Again, this isn’t to say, youth = open-mindedness, but it shows traits and potential advantages to thinking outside of the “retread box.”  When it comes to filling the DC post on the Dallas Cowboys, the team would be wise to consider all the options and not just the old guys with name recognition. After all, that’s what got them to where they are today.

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