Commentary

Rob Ryan not ready to be head coach

Coordinator has strong work ethic, but Cowboys' defense is not at championship level

Updated: December 7, 2011, 12:20 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Let's dial back the hype about Rob Ryan as a head coach candidate, at least for a little while.

The big fella's plate is plenty full as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator.

To Ryan's credit, he realizes that. He firmly believes that he'll join his twin brother, Rex, in following in the footsteps of their father, Buddy, as an NFL head coach sooner than later, but he's not consumed by the possibility of where or when that will happen.

"My mind's definitely focused on the task at hand," Ryan said last week. "That's the only thing we're here to do is to try to win championships. That's what we're going to do. About the speculation, I mean, shoot, I've speculated my whole life. It's no big deal.

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe Cowboys love playing for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but they aren't making him look good enough to be a head coach.
"Those opportunities come when you work hard and take care of the job you have."

You can't question the work ethic of a man known to catch naps under his desk during routine 19-hour days at the office. However, the recent results don't exactly bolster Ryan's résumé.

A disturbing trend has developed the last few weeks. Mediocre quarterbacks have played like Pro Bowlers against the Cowboys after their offensive coordinators had the chance to make some halftime adjustments. It'd be a full-fledged catastrophe if the duo of Tony Romo and Dan Bailey didn't pull off come-from-behind wins in two of the three games.

(This isn't a media conspiracy to keep Ryan around Valley Ranch, although we plead guilty to looking forward to him filling up our notebooks every Friday afternoon.)

Here's the evidence:

• Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman -- yes, the same guy who was benched for John Beck earlier this season -- shredded the Cowboys' secondary for 221 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-26 passing in the second half and overtime. It was especially alarming to see a man occasionally mocked as "Train Rex" complete eight of 10 passes for 92 yards and the tying score to send the game into overtime.

• Cowboys training camp castoff Matt Moore, who began the season as Chad Henne's backup, completed 10 of 16 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in the second half to give the Miami Dolphins a chance to pull off the Thanksgiving upset.

• Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, who is trying to prove he isn't a blockbuster trade bust, completed nine of 14 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown after halftime in Arizona's upset win Sunday. The score came on a 52-yard screen pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling, a perfect call to beat the blitz the Cowboys brought on the play.

Do you like the Dallas defense's odds against Eli Manning in the Cowboys' two meetings with the New York Giants over the next month? How about if they run into the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees or Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs?

This doesn't look like a championship defense.

Give Ryan his due for turning a defense that was awful last season -- when it allowed the most points in franchise history, not to mention the NFC -- into an above-average unit. The addition of solid strong safety Abram Elam and emergence of star inside linebacker Sean Lee are the only significant personnel changes for a defense that ranks 11th in both total and scoring defense, up from 23rd and 31st last season.

It's arguably the best defense Ryan has ever coordinated, but that's pretty faint praise. His units with the

Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns had averaged finishes of 23rd in the two major defensive categories. His lone top-10 finish in either category was with the 2006 Raiders, who had the No. 3 total defense and No. 18 scoring defense.

Then again, the Cowboys' defense isn't playing nearly as well as it did when Dallas won the NFC East title in 2009. Dallas ranked behind only Rex Ryan's New York Jets in scoring defense that season.

This defense certainly isn't playing as well as Rob Ryan promised. He set expectations as high as possible, guaranteeing excellence and gushing about having the best defensive talent in the NFL.

Maybe Ryan's bold words were just a way to motivate his players. That should be his most attractive attribute to franchises looking for a head coach. (It sure ain't his Hell's Angels-style look.) Players absolutely love the man.

"Rob has a way of getting the most out of you and it's not like he's demanding it from you all the time," nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "There's something about his personality. You want to give it to him, you want to make him look good."

The Dallas defense isn't making Ryan look good enough lately to reach any of his goals.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

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