The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly found their next defensive coordinator. The team agreed to terms with veteran coach Mike Zimmer to lead the defense going forward, according to NFL Media. Zimmer joins the Cowboys to replace Dan Quinn, who earlier this offseason accepted the head-coaching job for the Washington Commanders.
“I’m excited and honored to be back with a great organization,” Zimmer said (via ESPN). “I’m thrilled to work with Mike McCarthy, for whom I have had a ton of respect in our NFC North days, and to do anything I can do to help the Joneses and the Cowboys.”
Zimmer’s agreeing to terms with Dallas comes shortly after Rex Ryan, the former head coach of the New York Jets (2009-2014) and Buffalo Bills (2015-2016), pushed back on Zimmer’s reported hiring during an appearance on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” pregame show ahead of Super Bowl LVII. Ryan was a candidate who also interviewed for the Dallas defensive coordinator vacancy, and mere seconds after ESPN’s Adam Schefter went through a detailed, on-air report about the Cowboys choosing Zimmer, Ryan disputed Schefter’s reporting.
“First off, I’m not so sure Zimmer has that job right now. I’m not sure about that,” Ryan said on ESPN Sunday. “I can honestly say I don’t believe that’s a fact right now.”
Ryan appeared to be doing his best to fight for his shot at a job being the defensive coordinator for a team he believes is close to getting over the hump. Ryan said he called the Cowboys head coach at the beginning of the interview rounds to express his interest. On Monday, Schefter added additional context to the confusion that ensued following Ryan’s rebuttal of Schefter’s on air report.
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“The Cowboys loved Rex. Jerry Jones was ‘ready to run through a wall’ after listening to Rex,” Schefter said Monday afternoon on “The Pat McAfee Show” on ESPN. “They did reach out to Rex 15 minutes before that segment just to say ‘hey.'”
However, it appears that conversation did not lead to the opportunity Ryan wanted. Zimmer had an edge throughout the process given his history with the organization, so this could be looked at as something of a homecoming. He initially broke into the NFL coaching ranks with Dallas back in 1994 and was with the club all the way until 2006. The final seven seasons of Zimmer’s tenure with the Cowboys came as the defensive coordinator. He was also on staff as a defensive backs coach when the team won Super Bowl XXX in 1995, which is the last time the organization hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
On top of that familiarity with Jones and Cowboys ownership, McCarthy should also know Zimmer quite well, as they faced one another twice a year for five seasons in the NFC North when McCarthy was coaching the Packers and Zimmer the Vikings.
Zimmer, 67, last coached in the NFL in 2021 when he was still the head coach in Minnesota. For his career, he owns a 74-59-1 record (2-3 in the playoffs). On top of formerly serving as the defensive coordinator with Dallas, he also held that title with the Atlanta Falcons (2007) and Cincinnati Bengals (2008-2013). More recently, Zimmer was an analyst and consultant for Jackson State in 2022.
This defensive coordinator job with the Cowboys is arguably one of the more attractive non-head coaching jobs in the league considering the talent Dallas has on that side of the ball. Headlined by the likes of Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, DaRon Bland and others, this defense has the ability to be the top unit in the NFL. During the regular season in 2023, the Cowboys allowed 18.5 points per game and 299.7 total yards per game, which were both fifth-best in the NFL. The club also had 26 total takeaways. The Cowboys’ 93 takeaways under Quinn from 2021-2023 are the most in the NFL.