Veteran NFL Head Coach Among New Candidates Linked to Cowboys: Report

Mike Zimmer

Getty Mike Zimmer

There’s an old hat in the ring that is the Dallas Cowboys‘ search (?) for a new head coach.

ESPN NFL reporter Dan Graziano wrote Friday on the possibility the Cowboys bring back Mike Zimmer as Jason Garrett’s successor — if Garrett is to be succeeded.

Zimmer, currently the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach, coordinated Dallas’ defense from 2000-06 and, prior to that, served as the team’s defensive backs coach (1994-99). He’s also held in high regard by the Jones family, whom Graziano believes could go so far as to surrender a draft pick for his services.

I’m keeping an eye on Sunday’s Vikings-Saints game. If the Vikings lose, there are people around the league who wouldn’t be surprised to see Jones take a run at coach Mike Zimmer, a former Cowboys defensive coordinator for whom Jones feels a strong affinity. Zimmer has a year left on his Vikings contract, so it’s possible that the Cowboys would have to trade a draft pick for him in this scenario, but don’t rule it out. If the Saints lose, Allen could be a possibility, as could assistant head coach Dan Campbell, who played for the Cowboys from 2003 to ’05 and had a brief stint as interim head coach of the Dolphins in 2015.

Zimmer, 63, has operated as Minnesota’s head man since 2014. He’s accumulated a respectable 57-38-1 regular-season record over that span, twice capturing the NFC North crown.

But his postseason mark (1-2) leaves much to be desired. The Vikings were bounced out of the Wild Card round in 2015 and lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Eagles in the 2017 NFC title game. Which is further than Garrett got with the Cowboys but hardly a measuring stick for success.

Minnesota finished 10-6 this season and earned a Wild Card seed. They’re set to face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, and a prevailing feeling around the league is that Zimmer could face termination barring a deep January run.

For what it’s worth, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first suggested last month the Cowboys make a deal for Zimmer if he indeed shakes loose from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“Among the coaches they’ll likely target are Rhule, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, potentially Rivera and others,” Rapoport wrote on Dec. 28. “Put nothing past Jerry Jones — even a trade if someone he likes (such as Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer) becomes available.”

Jones received an up-close look at Zimmer on Nov. 10, when the Vikings beat the Cowboys, 28-24, at AT&T Stadium.

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Other Defensive-Oriented Candidates to Consider

Graziano happens to think the Cowboys’ next coach may specialize on the defensive side of the ball, as opposed to Garrett or someone like Urban Meyer or Lincoln Riley — coaches with offensive backgrounds.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a defense-minded coach, given the level of disappointment the organization felt about the way the defense performed this season,” he wrote. “A change in defensive philosophy could be welcome, and it’s possible that the Cowboys would want to stick with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and give him a second season to blossom.”

Following that logic, Graziano floated Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and Bills defensive boss Leslie Frazier as suitors for Jerry Jones and Co. Both are experienced in spearheading elite units and boast the requisite know-how to maximize a perennially-talented-yet-underachieving Cowboys defense, featuring stars DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Byron Jones, and others.

If the Saints fall to the Vikings, Leslie might at least draw an interview from Dallas. Same for assistant coach Dan Campbell, a former Cowboys tight end (2003-05), according to Graziano.

The Cowboys’ de facto defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, is unlikely to return should the club overhaul its staff, while passing-game coordinator Kris Richard has already interviewed for the New York Giants’ head-coaching vacancy.


Statement on Zimmer’s Future

At the time of this writing, on Friday afternoon, Vikings owner Mark Wilf released a statement seemingly assuring Zimmer’s return to the organization in 2020, along with general manager Rick Spielman.

“We value Mike and Rick’s leadership and we have every intent of Mike continuing as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Rick leading our football operations, next year and beyond,” Wilf said, per ESPN.

Of course, things may change if the Vikings no-show against the Saints. But the Cowboys probably need to formulate a contingency plan in the event that he never hits the market.


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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL