The Cowboys’ defensive meltdown in their surprise playoff exit left fans with mixed feelings about defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but the former Falcons coach’s tenure in Dallas was largely a success. Now, the franchise is turning to another former head coach to replace him.
Dallas is hiring Mike Zimmer as its defensive coordinator, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, ending a brief search that included two other former head coaches, Rex Ryan and Ron Rivera.
Zimmer spent eight seasons as the Vikings’ head coach from 2014-21, but he’s been away from the NFL since his exit from Minnesota. With Quinn taking the Commanders’ head coaching position, the door opened for Zimmer to find the right opportunity with Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys.
Here’s what you need to know about why Zimmer was the Cowboys’ choice to fill their defensive coordinator role.
MORE: Why the Cowboys didn’t fire Mike McCarthy
Why did the Cowboys hire Mike Zimmer?
While Zimmer had worn out his welcome with the Vikings by the time his tenure ended, his defenses in Minnesota were largely the backbone of the team.
The Vikings’ defense was top-12 in points allowed in each of Zimmer’s first six seasons with the team, including a top-five finish in 2015, ’17, and ’19. Zimmer also anchored a top-10 defense in terms of points allowed in four of six seasons as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator.
On top of his experience, Zimmer has produced more success against Shanahan-style offenses than most defensive coaches. As more play-callers from the Shanahan tree populate the league, Zimmer’s experience in that department could be critical, particularly given the tough time the Cowboys have had with Kyle Shanahan’s own 49ers offense over the years.
I didn’t bother to make this chart nice, so I’ll just lead with how I interpret it:
Further right = Better underlying pass defense results against the Shanahan tree of playcallers since 2017
Further up = Better results against all other offenses (over a much > sample) pic.twitter.com/DLan7zAT3s
— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) February 2, 2024
Zimmer also has plenty of familiarity with the Cowboys and the pressure that comes along with coaching in Dallas. He spent 14 seasons on Dallas’ staff from 1994-2006, including seven as defensive coordinator in the early- and mid-2000s.
Each of McCarthy’s previous four defensive coordinator hires between the Packers and Cowboys — Dom Capers, Mike Pettine, Mike Nolan, and Quinn — had head coaching experience. Zimmer’s wealth of experience leading his own team lines up with that group of coaches, and McCarthy might not have to worry about Zimmer leaving for a head coaching job next offseason given his age.
MORE: Jerry Jones doesn’t rule out future Bill Belichick, Cowboys pairing
Mike Zimmer coaching record
|Lost wild-card round
|Lost NFC championship
|Lost divisional round
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