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Firing Ryan Was an Easy Way for Jerry Jones to Create the Illusion of Big Change

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 21:  Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 9, 2013

Rob Ryan wasn't the problem in Dallas, quite simply because there wasn't a problem in Dallas. 

The Cowboys fired Ryan on Tuesday despite the fact that his defense held much steadier than expected while being ravaged by injuries in 2012. 

Ryan got only 32 games to fix the Dallas defense. He took over a unit that gave up the second-highest point total in the NFL in 2010 and managed to cut that points-allowed-per-game number from 27.3 to 21.7 despite not having an offseason to install his defense in 2011. 

The Cowboys can pin another non-playoff season on Ryan because, on paper, that D took a step backward in 2012. But I can't imagine there's a defensive coach in football who could have done much more with a unit that lost five defensive starters to injured reserve and dealt with non-season-ending but still crippling injuries to DeMarcus Ware, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick

Before those injuries really began to take their toll during the stretch run, the Cowboys were performing at an above-average level defensively. In terms of yardage, Ryan's group ranked seventh in football through 11 weeks.

We should have seen this move coming, though, because it made sense in the world of Jerry Jones.

Ryan wasn't the problem, but he wasn't necessarily part of the solution. This defense has the talent to succeed with a wide array of coordinators, so Ryan—whose ego may or may not have jibed with Jones' anyway—was an easy scapegoat. 

On the radio last week, Jones melodramatically overstated the issue and announced to the football world that changes were coming. I'm not convinced he knew what those changes were yet, because I'm not convinced Jones buys into that whole thinking-before-speaking thing. 

But Jones had to back it up, and that's probably why Ryan is out of a job today. He's created the illusion of change, but this defense and this organization won't be much different in 2013. 

This was the simplest route Jones could take in order to appease frustrated fans by saying, "Hey, look, we're doing something about this." Nothing had to be done in the first place, but Jones and Jason Garrett knew they'd be in good shape regardless of Ryan's presence (or lack thereof).

Garrett speaks of going in a new philosophical direction defensively, but that's just a nice way to coat this move with sugar. Don't be fooled into believing that officially switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense will mean a new philosophy is being adopted in Big D. The Cowboys already essentially ran a 4-3/3-4 hybrid. Placing Ware's hand in the dirt full time and leaving everything else as is doesn't constitute big changes. 

But it all sounds so proactive and dramatic. And on paper, it appears necessary, even if in reality it was not. That's why this was bound to look like a good move, even if it was all for show. 

In Jones' world, none of this is out of the ordinary. 

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