The Dallas Cowboys may soon be looking to replace both their offensive and defensive coordinators as Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn are actively interviewing for several head-coaching openings. If Quinn does end up leaving Dallas in his rearview, could former Cowboys linebacker Ken Norton Jr. potentially return as his replacement?
Norton has been the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks the last four seasons. He also served as the Raiders’ DC from 2015-2017, his first coordinator gig after coaching the Seahawks’ linebackers from 2010-2014 during the “Legion of Boom” era.
Prior to his coaching career, Norton was an All-Pro linebacker for the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers during the 1990s. He was a key part of three-straight Super Bowl Champion teams, 1992 and 1993 with Dallas and then 1994 with the Niners.
Ken had the distinction of being one of the first “cap casualties” when the NFL’s salary cap was instituted in 1994 and changed free agency forever. The Cowboys decided to let Norton leave in 1994 rather than meet deservedly high salary demands, and the All-Pro went and joined Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Deion Sanders to beat Dallas in the NFC Championship Game and later the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
Norton’s NFL history checks two boxes for the Cowboys front office. Of course there’s having been a core member of those two Super Bowl teams in the 90s; a nostalgic and ego-massaging point that you know Jerry Jones likes.
But more importantly and practically relevant, Norton comes from that same Seattle coaching tree that Dallas has picked from in recent years. He served as the LB coach under Dan Quinn from 2013-2014 and Gus Bradley for three years before that. Norton left for the Raiders job in 2015 when the Seahawks named Kris Richard the successor to Quinn.
In addition to making Quinn their defensive coordinator in 2021, Dallas recently had Richard on staff from 2018-2019 as their DB coach and passing game coordinator. During that 2019 season, Kris was unofficially “co-coordinating” the defense with Rod Marinelli.
So yes, the Cowboys like former Seahawks coaches and former Dallas icons. But there are some red flags with Ken Norton Jr. as a potential defensive coordinator well.
At both stops with Las Vegas and Seattle as their DC, Norton’s defenses never were among the league’s best. While he did help Khalil Mack have great individual success with the Raiders, Ken’s defenses overall were often in the middle to bottom-half of the league.
There are mitigating arguments about the overall talent of those groups, especially during this last run with the Seahawks. The lack of talent across Seattle’s roster has been a hot topic for a few years and will likely lead to a complete rebuild this offseason, with even Russell Wilson being expected to find a new home.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to point to a time that Norton’s work as a defensive coordinator has helped to elevate the talent he had to work with. If anything, there are some instances from his Raiders years where the group underachieved.
Additionally, much of Norton’s coaching career has been propped up by a longtime relationship with Pete Carroll. After playing for Carroll with the 49ers, Ken joined him at USC as an assistant coach and then followed him to the NFL. Except for those three years with the Raiders, Norton’s spent the last two decades working for the same man.
Of course, we don’t know even know yet if Dallas will need a new defensive coordinator. Dan Quinn still has to be offered jobs and accept one of them, but the number of teams including him in their coaching searches right now makes his staying a daunting prospect.
If Quinn does leave, Ken Norton Jr. is just one of many potential replacements. But given his history with Quinn and with the Cowboys, his possible return to Dallas is certainly on the table.