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Inside The D-Coordinator Cards Held By Cowboys

IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) -- The Bucs move to hire Lovie Smith as their head coach sets into motion the wheels that while help determine who will serve as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator in 2014.

Smith has a handful of names atop his wish list as the Bucs' defensive coordinator. Among those: Fired Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier and Dallas defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

Depending on what Tampa Bay attempts to do there, the Cowboys will have decisions to make … and, fortunately for them, cards in their hands to play.

Those cards:

1. Monte Kiffin – The 73-year-old Kiffin remains in Dallas' employ. (As we write this, he is working at Valley Ranch.) We were first to report the club's thoughts on arranging an amicable retirement for Kiffin, which, done properly, would allow his top lieutenant Marinelli to feel good about moving up from defensive-line coach to Dallas coordinator.

2. Rod Marinelli – Smith may desire his services in Tampa. But Marinelli remains under contract with the Cowboys, and short of moving on to be a head coach, assistants can no longer escape from contracts due to promotions in title.

As of early Thursday morning, reports that Smith is "taking Marinelli'' are simply false. (He, too, is in his office today at team HQ.) The Cowboys would have to grant Marinelli the freedom to leave, and as of Thursday morning, Tampa Bay had neither asked for nor been granted permission.

If the Bucs truly want Marinelli? The Cowboys can tell them to propose a trade involving a draft pick. There is precedent for this, and Tampa Bay has been involved, once giving two No. 1 picks to the Raiders to acquire head coach Jon Gruden.

What is Marinelli worth? The Cowboys will let Tampa Bay start the bidding, knowing that the Bucs' low draft position makes, say, a fifth-round pick a very high fifth-round pick.

Dallas has the option of blocking a move (as it did previously with Tony Sparano and Joe DeCamillis).

Marinelli, theoretically, has the option of reacting to a block by announcing his retirement from football.

3. Leslie Frazier – Smith has Tony Dungy's Buccaneers roots. Frazier, dismissed this week by Minnesota, is also part of the coaching tree of Dungy … who is part of the Kiffin coaching tree. A Dallas hiring of the soft-spoken Frazier would allow a continuation of whatever positive things Cowboys ownership believes was built this year in Kiffin's first year running the 4-3 here.

Frazier could be allowed to bring an assistant or two with him. Mike Singletary served as his assistant head coach in Minnesota. At the same time, Frazier's connection with Lovie might persuade him to go to Tampa even if Marinelli is also hired…giving the Bucs a trio of big-brained defensive coaches.

By the way: That same logic might apply to Raheem Morris, the former Bucs head coach who is a 4-3 guy and served on Washington's staff last season.

4. Jim Schwartz – Fired this week from his job as Detroit's head coach, the fiery Schwartz had great success as a 4-3 defensive coordinator with the Titans. There may not be a Schwartz/Jason Garrett connection; as we reported earlier in the week, Garrett may ask Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to allow him a stronger influence in the hiring of his own coordinators, especially as Garrett is entering the final must-win year of his contract.

But we know there is a Schwartz connection with Cleveland, which is now assembling a new staff.

Speaking of which …

5. Ray Horton – Horton was Cleveland's defensive coordinator last year, running a 3-4 defense. Once upon a time, he was a Cowboys safety playing in a 4-3, and a couple of years ago, we believe he was Garrett's choice to be Dallas' D-coordinator when Jones instead opted for Rob Ryan.

Can Horton coordinate a 4-3 defense? (We don't see why not.) If it comes to it, and Horton is the best hire, would a switch to a 3-4 be acceptable? (Seems needlessly messy to us.)

Any D-coordinator change will require just-right timing. Ideally, Marinelli won't be allowed to leave until his replacement is already secured. Screwing up that could mean all these candidates get jobs elsewhere.

As nomadic as the coaching business can be, which of these assistants might be hesitant to come to Dallas to work under a potentially lame-duck head coach? And to work under an owner with such auspicious thumbprints all over so many matters?

That might even be an issue if Dallas makes a change from Bill Callahan as the offensive coordinator. The play-calling switch to Callahan was forced on Garrett a year ago. We're told everyone at Valley Ranch is interested in the idea of bringing in another Cleveland assistant, Norv Turner, as Garrett's top offensive aide. Turner, of course, is a magic name in Dallas as the coordinator of the Troy Aikman-led Super Bowl teams.

"Norv is the best in the business,'' as Aikman told us this week. But, Aikman also added that recent just-misses on Turner's rejoining the Cowboys – he had the inside track on the head-coaching job Dallas eventually gave to Wade Phillips – might influence Norv's choices this time around.

The good news for the Cowboys: They still have a coordinator in Kiffin. The better news: There are other defensive-coordinator cards they can play.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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