Cowboys Hire Ex-NFL Head Coach as New Defensive Coordinator: Report

Mike Nolan

Getty Mike Nolan

Mike McCarthy was the first domino to fall in the Dallas Cowboys’ coaching makeover — the first of many as McCarthy now works to assemble his staff.

Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, McCarthy has been “putting in a ton of time” over the last several months “tracking league trends.” Out of football this past season, he consulted other unemployed coaches ostensibly to keep his finger on the pulse of an ever-changing sport.

This diligence has led to a new defensive coordinator in Dallas: Former 49ers head coach and current Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan, who accepted the job on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Nolan indirectly confirmed the news after returning to work with the Saints, who were bounced out of the playoffs Sunday, losing to the Vikings in the Wild Card round.

An NFL lifer, Nolan’s professional resume dates all the way back to 1987, when he cut his teeth as the Denver Broncos’ special teams coordinator. He was bumped to Broncos linebackers coach in 1989 and earned his first coordinating stint, with the New York Giants, in 1993.

Since then, he’s held DC duties with the Washington Redskins (1997-99), New York Jets (2000), Baltimore Ravens (2002-04), Miami Dolphins (2010-11), and Atlanta Falcons (2012-14).

Nolan’s biggest job came in 2005 when he was named San Francisco’s head man, succeeding Dennis Erickson. His Niners tenure was entirely underwhelming; he compiled an 18-37 head-coaching record across four seasons. He was fired midway through the 2008 campaign and replaced by Mike Singletary.

Following a 2015 one-and-done stint coaching the Chargers’ linebackers, Nolan landed in New Orleans in 2017, where he’s helped transform a once-laughable defense into an upper-echelon unit. In 2019, the Saints finished fourth against the run and totaled 51 sacks, third-most in the league.

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Perhaps a Goner, Kris Richard Interviews for NYG Job

Once the 2019 season concluded and now-former HC Jason Garrett began his exit interviews, he reportedly urged assistants to seek employment elsewhere, as his replacement surely would bring in his own people.

Cowboys passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Kris Richard took the message to heart, interviewing for the New York Giants’ head-coaching vacancy last Thursday. Richard met with co-owner John Mara and general manager Dave Gettleman, among others, per ESPN.

“Very impressive guy,” Gettleman said.

Richard technically reported to Cowboys de facto defensive boss Rod Marinelli, but the agreed-to setup had Richard handling a majority of play-calling duties and weekly gameplan installation.

Obviously, Nolan’s addition renders Richard and Marinelli obsolete. As would any hirings on the offensive side, which threaten OC Kellen Moore and running backs coach Gary Brown’s status — to name a few — with the organization.

For what it’s worth, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has learned that McCarthy “likes” Moore, potentially enough to retain him for 2020, although a decision is far from concrete.

“Nothing more firm than that, but it does seem like McCarthy is more than open to keeping him,” Rapoport said.

But Perhaps Not

Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News reports the Cowboys are open to retaining Richard in a different capacity. He’s “got some meetings set up” but there’s “nothing definitive” on his status going forward, per Watkins.

It’s possible Dallas simply shifts Richard to a more natural role as an assistant — maybe defensive backs coach — under Nolan. The arrangement would be a little awkward, given the incoming regime change, but hardly unprecedented.

It’s likelier, though, that Richard continues shopping his wares around the league and latches on elsewhere, with a team that didn’t just hire who they perceive to be a better man for the position.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL