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11 candidates for Cowboys vacant defensive coordinator position

The Cowboys are in a unique situation now. They are going to have to find a new defensive coordinator after the departure of Dan Quinn. Quinn became Washington’s new head coach, and will have a playground to work with that includes $63 million in cap space and the No. 2 overall selection in a QB-heavy draft class.

That Dallas needs to replace a coordinator isn’t a big deal. The fact that their head coach is going into the final year of his contract without an extension is what makes things difficult. Defensive assistants in positive environments, or with a bunch of opportunities, might hesitate to pack up their lives (and families) for what might be a one-and-done.

On the other hand, veteran defensive minds might look at this as an opportunity to audition for one of the most famous sports jobs in America. Theoretically, a coach with experience would be in line to be at worst an interim hire should things go bad for Mike McCarthy’s offense and an in-season firing happened. They’d at least get consideration for the gig were Dallas to move on from McCarthy at the end of the 2024 season.

And if there’s success? Then the DC would be in running for head coach job elsewhere in 2025. With that in mind, here’s a collection of names —both internal and external —that could be on Jerry Jones and company’s radar as the interview process convenes.

Al Harris, current Cowboys secondary coach

Al Harris – Gpg Packershof 090221 Sk27
Al Harris – Gpg Packershof 090221 Sk27

All Al Harris has done is have two different cornerbacks lead the league in interceptions, with Trevon Diggs pulling in the most the NFL had seen in 40 years and then having DaRon Bland set the NFL record for most interceptions returned for scores.

He might be good at this coaching thing.

Aden Durde, current Cowboys DL coach

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Durde is mentioned as a head-coach in waiting in NFL circles. Quinn was a defensive line coach in Seattle before ascending to DC so it stands to reason that Durde’s roll in Dallas has been vital to the Cowboys success.

Joe Whitt, Jr., current Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whitt feels like the clubhouse leader as he was considered for the defensive coordinator job when McCarthy first fired Mike Nolan. Quinn eventually got the job, and the question is whether he’ll be someone who follows to Washington.

Mike Zimmer

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Read in-depth on the potential for Mike Zimmer here.

Ron Rivera

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The former Washington and Carolina head coach cut his teeth as a successful defensive coordinator in the league during the early 2000s. His defenses have fluctuated between bad and outstanding in his time in the big chair.

Steve Belichick

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoodie’s son is well regarded among league insiders as being a potential coaching star. Perhaps Dallas looks in this direction to see if they could catch Shanahan-style lightning in a bottle, but on defense.

Shane Bowen

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.
Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.

Bowen is being kept on in Tennessee even though they’ve named a new head coach in Brian Callahan and he’s named a new defensive coordinator. If they finally let him go, he should be a strong consideration.

Ejiro Evero, current Panthers defensive coordinator

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Evero is highly sought after, but the Panthers aren’t letting him walk. Head coach Frank Reich was fired, but Evero has one year remaining on his deal and so far the Panthers haven’t let him out. He may end up staying under the new head coach, but if he’s free he’s atop many team’s list for DC.

Wink Martindale, former Giants defensive coordinator

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The former Ravens DC turned Dean Pees’ top-10 defense into a top-5 unit for several years, before it suddenly collapsed in 2021 and he was shown the door. He’s been the Giants DC until the two parted ways this offseason with the head coach Brian Daboll staying on, but under fire to change the staff.

Brandon Staley, recently fired Los Angeles Chargers HC

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Staley is an interesting case as he got a head coaching gig after just one year as Sean McVay’s defensive coordinator, following Wade Phillips. Now after three years in charge in L.A., he’s searching for a new gig.

Mike Vrabel, recently fired Tennessee Titans HC

Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel reacts to a Titans penalty against the Seattle Seahawks during their game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. Vrabel was fired by owner Amy Adams Strunk Monday after having two losing seasons back-to-back.
Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel reacts to a Titans penalty against the Seattle Seahawks during their game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. Vrabel was fired by owner Amy Adams Strunk Monday after having two losing seasons back-to-back.

Some thought Vrabel would immediately be picked up as a head coach during the cycle, but he wasn’t. Known as someone who instills toughness in his troops, Vrabel seems like a quality fit from the perspective of taking over if things go awry and cutting down on Dallas’ dumb pre-snap penalties.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire