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Spagnola: There's Enough To Make Your Head Swim

Posted Jan 25, 2013

IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys’ world turns round here on this Friday, seemingly spinning faster on its axis than anyone else’s in the National Football League …

         Hold on tight, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

         Sometimes the need for a new voice in the room is the cause for a coaching staff shakeup. Sometimes one move, say, hiring a different coordinator, precipitates other moves, allowing the coordinator to bring in some of his most trusted lieutenants. The moves don’t always have to do with job performance.

Here is all I know from the staff shakeup out here at The Ranch: All the coaches let go or given permission to break existing contracts have already found new jobs: defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (St. Louis), defensive line coach Brian Baker (Cleveland), special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis (Chicago), running backs coach Skip Peete (Chicago) and tight ends coach John Garrett (Tampa Bay). So somebody out there thinks these guys must know what they are doing …

         In fact, all of these former assistant coaches found jobs much quicker than Dallas has officially filled its vacancies, although the Cowboys should be announcing the hiring of special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. He had been working on a buyout from Auburn University, but Auburn head coach Gus Malzan announced Friday afternoon Bisaccia’s departure, saying, “Rich had an offer that he felt he could not turn down and we wish him nothing but the best.” And, former Lions running backs coach Sam Gash now seems to be the front-runner to fill that same spot with the Cowboys …

         So here is a revealing if not frightening defensive stat, and I’m well aware of the injuries suffered on that side of the ball: The Cowboys finished with the 19th-ranked defense. That matches the second-lowest ranking by a Cowboys defense since finishing 20th in 1989. That’s right, 1989, that 1-15 season, the first of Jerry Jones’ ownership. The lowest ranking during that time period occurred in 2010, finishing 23rd with the combination of Wade Phillips and Paul Pasqualoni as the D-coordinators. That means that the Cowboys defense in those consecutive putrid years of 2000-2002 when finishing 5-11 each time never finished lower than 19th in defense …

         There has been so much talk about what the Cowboys should do with defensive lineman Jay Ratliff, following an injury-plagued season, the locker room blowup with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and now being charged with driving under the influence this week. Just remember this: Ratliff’s 2011 contract included a $10 million signing bonus and $18 million in guaranteed money. There still are three years of signing bonus proration remaining at $2 million apiece. That means if you immediately cut Ratliff, his current 2013 salary-cap hit of $7 million ($5M base and $2M proration) would be reduced to $6 million, the escalating portion of prorated signing bonus. That means $6 million in dead money – a whole lot for nothing, and factor in you have to replace him. Say that was your money, not that of Jerry Jones. Now go ahead, you make the call. … Oh, and those for cutting OT Doug Free, that would be another $8.35 million of dead money – then place that combined $14.35 million on top of the $5.24 million that already exists, just for starters …

         The first night in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl, while watching the conference championship games at Heroes, in came a guy looking just like the Honey Badger, former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu who was kicked off the team and now plans on entering this year’s NFL Draft. He is dressed in jeans, a raggedy sweatshirt, still with his trademark bleached patch of hair down the middle and wearing sun glasses – indoors. Well, looked like him because it indeed was, and I’m thinking, ‘Dude, there are a bunch of scouts and assistant coaches in the place. Why wouldn’t you be better dressed and lose the sunglasses indoors if you are trying to make a good impression on these guys to help clean up your very damaged image?” Immediately thought I was being an old fuddy-duddy until a veteran NFL scout I know chats us up, and when I brought up the Honey Badger, he said he got in Mathieu’s face and told him in no uncertain terms, “The Honey Badger is dead. Don’t come in here with your recent history wearing dark glasses.” Maybe he’ll listen. At least when he left the sunglasses were gone. He can only hope the Honey Badger is, too …

         Two of the best players during the Senior Bowl practices were former quarterbacks, either in high school or even as late as junior college: Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, both offensive tackles. … Can’t believe BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansuh, now 6-5, 274, a native of Ghana, tried out for basketball and lettered in track before turning to football in 2010. Track? Like shot and discus? Oh no, was running sub-22-second 200 meters before growing into a DE. … Stanford RB Stephan Taylor didn’t mind poking a little fun at himself this week. When asked how he got from Mansfield, Texas, a distant suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth, to Stanford, he said initially he was throwing away recruiting letters from Jim Harbaugh because he had no interest in playing for an Ivy League school. He thanks his guidance counselor for setting him straight. … Do you know much about Chadron State, a D-II school in, yes, Chadron, Neb.? Well neither did guard Garrett Gilkey, of Sandwich, Ill., until his high school coach at Aurora Christian, some guy named Don Beebe (yes, that Don Beebe, Leon Lett), informed him about his alma mater. So he went, and during the practices this season at the Senior Bowl, Gilkey was stout inside, and quick on his feet. He’ll get drafted …

         There is so much talk about who will call plays for the Cowboys this 2013 season and if this offense will change because of the potential switch. Well, you know what? If whoever that might be can produce more than 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season, I’m all for it. Since the Cowboys only ran for eight touchdowns in 2012, they now have failed to rush for more than 10 in three consecutive seasons, including the franchise low of five in 2011. In the 53-year history of the Dallas Cowboys that means they still have not produced a winning record the 11 times they have failed to rush for more than 10 touchdowns. And for consistency sake, in three of the four .500 seasons in club history (7-7 in 1965 and these past two 8-8 seasons), yes, the Cowboys failed to rush for more than 10 touchdowns …

         Under the heading of Did You Realize:

  • The Cowboys’ 1,265 yards rushing this year was a 16-game season franchise low.
  • The 79-yard rushing average per game was a franchise low, period, including the 12-game inaugural 1960 season when the club averaged 87 yards rushing a game in the 0-11-1 year.
  • The 34 sacks this season matched the fewest since the 33 of 2004.
  • The 16 takeaways set the franchise single-season low, coming in one less than the previous ignominious mark of 17 set in the 1-15 season of 1989.
  • The seven interceptions matches the franchise single-season low, previously set in 1997 and, yes, once again, during that 1989 season.

Amazing with numbers like these, the number of injuries suffered and subsequently the number of coaches dismissed during these 26 days after the season that this team still managed to go 8-8 a second consecutive year, one season-finale victory over the Giants and then the Redskins from winning the NFC East and heading to the playoffs in consecutive years.

Probably makes you dizzy from shaking your head so often.

Final thought: Which Bowl will you watch this weekend, the Senior or the Pro?

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