Dallas Cowboys: 4 possible replacements for Mike Nolan in 2021

The Dallas Cowboys could replace Mike Nolan with one of these four names

The Dallas Cowboys currently possess the worst scoring defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 32.6 points per game to opposing offenses. And at its very heart is first-year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Nolan and his defensive coaching staff turned what was a top-ten defense in 2019, ranking ninth in average yards allowed per game (327.0) and 11th in scoring defense (20.1), into what has a chance to be one of the worst defenses in league history.

If the Cowboys decide to move on from Nolan in 2021, here are four possible candidates to replace him in Big D:

#4 – Wade Phillips

This offseason, new Cowboys’ head coach Mike McCarthy hired both special teams coordinator John “Bones” Fassel and running backs coach Skip Peete previously from the Los Angles Rams’ coaching staff. Why not now add a third (later, a fourth)? And this one happens to be a former Cowboys’ head coach.

While Wade Phillips’s stint as head coach of America’s Team flamed out after three and a half seasons (2007-2010), his skills as a defensive coordinator shined long after. The 73-year old Phillips has since been the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and the Rams.

While in Los Angeles, Phillips helped to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl just two years ago, where his defense limited the New England Patriots to a mere 13 points in the big game.

Under Phillips, the Rams ranked 13th in the NFL last season in average yardage allowed to opposing offenses (339.6). They allowed 22.8 points (17th), 226.6 passing yards (12th), and 113.1 rushing yards (19th) per game in 2019.

Currently out of the NFL, Phillips believes he can still help some team. Why not the struggling Cowboys?

#3 – Marvin Lewis

Former longtime Cincinnati Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis, actually interviewed for the head coaching job in Dallas prior to the team hiring Mike McCarthy earlier this year. So we know there’s already some interest that exists between the organization and Lewis.

Prior to being the Bengals’ head coach for 16 years, Lewis with the defensive coordinator of the legendary Baltimore Ravens of the late 1990s. He helped to lead the Ravens in destroying the New York Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV following the 2000 season.

The 62-year old Lewis is currently at Arizona State, coaching the Sun Devils as co-defensive coordinator alongside another Super Bowl-winner, former Giants’ linebacker Antonio Pierce. Both are on the Sun Devils’ staff under former NFL head coach, Herm Edwards.

Marvin Lewis was the coordinator of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. With the Cowboys already showing interest in potentially hiring him as their head coach, adding Lewis to help the defense in Dallas seems like a logical connection.

#2 – Brian Baker – Colts defensive line coach

The Indianapolis Colts’ defense has been terrific this season. They currently rank fifth in the NFL in scoring defense (20.8), second in yardage allowed (298.1), fourth against the pass (208.9), and third against the run (89.2).

If the Cowboys wish to pluck a member of the Colts’ staff to become the new defensive coordinator in Dallas, the likely candidate would be Brian Baker. Currently the Colts’ defensive line coach, Baker has nearly two decades of NFL coaching experience. That includes a stint with the Cowboys.

The defensive line coach in Dallas from 2011-2012, Baker worked with former Cowboy greats like DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff. He dropped back into the college ranks in 2016, coaching future NFL stars like the Tennessee Titans’ Jeffery Simmons and Washington’s Montez Sweat as the defensive line coach for Mississippi State for three years.

Baker was then hired to be the associate head coach and defensive line under Nick Saban at Alabama in 2019.

While Brian Baker has never held the title of defensive coordinator on the NFL level, it appears to be a role he’s been preparing for his entire life.

#1 – Joe Barry, Rams Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers

Again, we turn to the Los Angeles Rams as a potential well of coaching talent to draw from. This season, the Rams’ defense was been stellar.

They currently rank first in yards allowed per game (291.9), second against the pass (200.6), fifth against the run (91.3), and allow just 19.2 points to opposing defenses, the second-lowest average in the NFL.

While it may be first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley who receives a bulk of the credit, taking over for Wade Phillips this season, it’s Joe Barry who might be the answer to the Cowboys’ defensive woes in 2021.

Barry has been the assistant head coach to Sean McVay and the linebackers coach for the Rams for the last four seasons. He’s also been instrumental in helping to develop 2016 undrafted linebacker Cory Littleton into a Pro Bowler. And Barry could be the exact voice needed to guide the Cowboys’ talented linebacker duo of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith in Dallas.

Another former leader of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, Barry was the linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2001-2006. He helped to lead Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks and the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory following the 2020 season.

An interesting side note is that Barry’s actually married to the daughter of former longtime Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli. The two coached together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions.

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