The Dallas Cowboys have had arguably the NFL's worst defense in 2020 under new Coordinator Mike Nolan. It's already been reported that Nolan won't be back next year and many are suggesting that Dallas bring back former Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard to take over the job. But despite some fans' superficial fondness for Richard, there is plenty of evidence that he wouldn't help the Cowboys progress.
Richard joined Dallas in 2018 as the DB coach after eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He spent the first five years as an assistant and position coach and then took over as defensive coordinator from 2015-2017. He was fired in 2017 after Seattle's defense fell from its “Legion of Boom” grace and became a liability.
The decline of that Seahawks defense probably had more to do with aging and injured players and some salary cap issues than anything Kris was or wasn't doing. But still, Seattle decided that Richard wasn't the man to help build a new Legion.
For whatever reasons Kris didn't move into a DC position with a new team, either. He ended up with the Cowboys as the defensive backs coach under Rod Marinelli, but with a thought that he would be groomed to take over as coordinator with Marinelli nearing retirement age.
Richard's presence was felt immediately that offseason thanks to his charismatic personality. His sound bytes and quotes from offseason practices had the fire that Cowboys fans had longed to see from Head Coach Jason Garrett. That contrast created an immediate cult following from part of Cowboys Nation.
But while Kris was good on the mic the on-field impact was more of a mixed bag.
The decision to move Byron Jones back to CB in 2018 was credited to Richard and it certainly was the right decision; Jones went to the Pro Bowl and eventually earned a megadeal from the Miami Dolphins. We also saw nice development from Xavier Woods, a former 6th-round pick, into a starting safety.
At the same time, after encouraging rookie seasons in 2017, neither Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis showed progress once Richard arrived. In fact, the stubborn refusal to give Lewis a larger role in the secondary seemed to come from Kris' dogmatic views about his corners being of a certain size and physical makeup.
Lewis eventually forced his way into a larger role in 2019 with highlight plays in limited opportunities.
Another change in 2019 was Kris Richard taking over the defensive play-calling duties from Marinelli. But despite having many young players in their prime, or at least entering their second and third seasons, the group regressed from 6th to 11th in total defense from the year before.
For the second time, Richard essentially took over a defense and didn't make it better.
Now if you want to make the case that Richard would be an upgrade over Mike Nolan then you won't get any argument from me. A wax sculpture of Rob Ryan (if you can find that much wax) would probably be an improvement from this 2020 debacle.
But one of the Cowboys' biggest problems for a long time now has been the lack of adventurous, risk-taking hires with its coaches. That's been especially true on defense as Ryan, Monte Kiffin, Marinelli, Richard, and now Nolan have all been retreads.
Again, consider Richard's resume. He may only be 41 but he's already been fired from one defensive coordinator job and wasn't even considered for the Cowboys' opening in 2020. He had to take a demotion back to a DB Coach role with Dallas in 2018, wasn't hired for a head-coaching role in 2019 despite multiple interviews with other teams, and is currently unemployed after not being offered any HC or DC roles this year.
While he may have helped build the Legion of Boom in Seattle, the bloom seems to be completely off Richard's rose.
Sure, there are stories of coaches who had early failures but eventually became legends. The greatest example of this is Bill Belichick, who was becoming an NFL laughing stock with the Browns in his early 40s before building a potential G.O.A.T. legacy with New England.
I know I just said Dallas needs to take more risks with its coaching hires, but bringing Kris Richard back in 2020 would be like buying stock in retail clothing stores. There's just no good reason to think they're going to come back up.
Richard reminds me a lot of former 49ers' head coach Mike Singletary; a former player (and Richard wasn't 1/1000th the player that Singletary was) with a huge personality but not much apparent substance as a coach. Kris could certainly churn out the viral video clips like Singletary did but those aren't getting the Cowboys back to being a competitive team.
The Dallas Cowboys need a true fresh start on defense. Mike Nolan was a huge mistake with a resume even less inspiring than Richard's, but you don't fix that with the “it can't be worse” mentality. Change can't just be for the sake of change.
Just see what happened in going from Garrett to Mike McCarthy. Remember when you thought “anyone” could do better than Jason?
There should be many options this offseason when the Cowboys begin looking for Nolan's replacement. Sure, Kris Richard might be one of them. But Dallas needs to get off the retread treadmill and make a bolder hire with less baggage.