IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys' second major coaching change in as many days occurred Tuesday, as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was released.
Ryan, who spent two seasons in his position in Dallas, led a battered group of veterans and a horde of backups and recent free agents filling in for injured starters this year.
Though the injuries came in bulk, owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett never wanted to use them as an excuse. That became more evident with Ryan's departure.
"I want to express my appreciation to Rob for all of his efforts and contributions to the Cowboys over the past two years," Garrett said in a statement. "At this time, the decision has been made to move forward in a different direction philosophically on defense. I have an immense amount of respect for Rob as a person and as a football coach and I wish him and his family the very best."
The change Jones promised began on the offensive side of the ball, with the release of running backs coach Skip Peete on Monday. Ryan is the first defensive staff member to be let go after coaching a defense hit by a slew of injuries, beginning with a season-ending Achilles' injury to safety Barry Church.
Linebacker Sean Lee, the primary communicator on defense, only played in six games before a season-ending toe injury. The defense also lost Bruce Carter, Orlando Scandrick, Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent and Kenyon Coleman, while DeMarcus Ware played through pain the entire second half of the year.
Though the 8-8 finishes of the last two seasons haven't been viewed at positively, they're actually the two best finishes in Ryan's career as a defensive coordinator after stops in Oakland and Cleveland.
Ryan was under contract for another season after guiding the No. 19 total defense in the league this year. Through the early portion of the season, the Cowboys were among the leaders in total defense and passing defense, but they started sliding as injuries piled up.
They finished 19th in the league in passing defense and 22nd in the lead in rushing defense, culminating in a 200-yard rushing performance by Alfred Morris in the season finale.
Ryan's defense finished last in the league in interceptions, led by Brandon Carr's three picks. The first interception of the season went to Sean Lee. It took until rookie Morris Claiborne's interception against Carolina in Week 7 for the Cowboys' secondary to record its first interception. The Cowboys recovered nine fumbles, and their 16 combined takeaways tied for 29th in the league.
Free agents filled in throughout the year, as starters continuously went down. Ernie Sims joined the team in Week 8 and started soon after. Linebacker Brady Poppinga, cornerbacks Sterling Moore and Michael Coe and defensive lineman Brian Schaefering were among the other free agents to contribute defensively after joining the Cowboys past the halfway mark of the season.
Despite all the injuries, the end result wasn't enough for the affable, extroverted defensive coordinator to hold onto his duties.
And as Jones promised, things are getting more and more uncomfortable at Valley Ranch.