The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly found their next defensive coordinator. The team is expected to hire veteran coach Mike Zimmer to lead the defense going forward, according to NFL Media. Zimmer comes aboard after the Cowboys lost Dan Quinn, who has since accepted the head-coaching job for the Washington Commanders.
However, Rex Ryan, the former head coach of the New York Jets (2009-2014) and the Buffalo Bills (2015-2016), pushed back on the reports of Zimmer’s hiring on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” pregame show ahead of Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday. Ryan was a candidate who also interviewed for the Dallas defensive coordinator vacancy, and mere seconds after ESPN’s Adam Schefter went through a detailed, on-air report about the Cowboys choosing Zimmer, Ryan disputed Schefter’s reporting.
“First off, I’m not so sure Zimmer has that job right now. I’m not sure about that,” Ryan said on ESPN on Sunday. “I can honestly say I don’t believe that’s a fact right now.”
Ryan appears to be doing his best to fight for his shot at a job being the defensive coordinator for a team he believes is close to getting over the hump. Ryan said he called Cowboys head coach at the beginning of the interview rounds to express his interest. The Jets earned consecutive conference championship appearances in Ryan’s first two seasons with the Jets in 2009 and 2010, a round of the postseason the Cowboys haven’t reached since the last time they won the Super Bowl back in the 1995 season.
“The reason I was out for seven years was I had never called another head coach,” Ryan said. “I called Mike McCarthy. The reason I did is because I want to be on this stage [points to Super LVIII field behind him] if I’m going to get back into coaching, to have a chance at that. I think with this roster the way it is, I think offensively and special teams and defense — I can be a little bit of an upgrade — the team could be right here [at the Super Bowl]. That’s why I was interested. I would only go [back to coaching] at the right situation. If it’s not completely right, I’m not going. This team, it is interesting, because they are so close to getting over that edge, and that’s why I think people would be interested in this job.”
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Zimmer had an edge throughout the process given his history with the organization, so this could be looked at as something of a homecoming. He initially broke into the NFL coaching ranks with Dallas back in 1994 and was with the club all the way until 2006. The final seven seasons of Zimmer’s tenure with the Cowboys came as the defensive coordinator. He was also on staff as a defensive backs coach when the team won Super Bowl XXX in 1995, which is the last time the organization hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
On top of that familiarity with Jerry Jones and Cowboys ownership, head coach Mike McCarthy should also know Zimmer quite well, as they faced one another twice a year for five seasons in the NFC North when McCarthy was coaching the Packers and Zimmer the Vikings.
The 67-year-old last coached in the NFL in 2021 when he was still the head coach in Minnesota. For his career, he owns a 74-59-1 record (2-3 in the playoffs). On top of formerly serving as the defensive coordinator with Dallas, he also held that title with the Atlanta Falcons (2007) and Cincinnati Bengals (2008-2013). More recently, Zimmer was an analyst and consultant for Jackson State in 2022.
This defensive coordinator job with the Cowboys is arguably one of the more attractive non-head coaching jobs in the league considering the talent Dallas has on that side of the ball. Headlined by the likes of Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, DaRon Bland and others, this defense has the ability to be the top unit in the NFL. During the regular season in 2023, the Cowboys allowed 18.5 points per game and 299.7 total yards per game, which were both fifth-best in the NFL. The club also had 26 total takeaways. The Cowboys’ 93 takeaways under Quinn from 2021-2023 are the most in the NFL.