FRISCO, Texas -- Nobody knows if defensive coordinator Dan Quinn or offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will leave the Dallas Cowboys for a head-coaching vacancy in a few days or weeks.
Multiple teams have put in requests to speak to both coordinators after a regular season that was driven in part by what Quinn did for the defense and Moore did for the offense.
"At the end of the day it's real hard to keep people from taking a head football coaching opportunity. I mean, they are hard to come by," executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Monday. "There's a big difference between being a coordinator and being a head coach. Certainly we understand.
"They deserve it. They had their full body of work with a very successful season. Dan has had success as a head coach. That just comes with the territory, and we'll have to roll up our sleeves with them. We've had great relationships with both men, and we'll just work with them as they navigate these waters. And as we do that, we'll be thinking about what the future holds for the Cowboys as well. Obviously that will be first and foremost."
So which coach can they more easily replaced?
Quinn led a defensive turnaround a year after the Cowboys allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020. He took over a unit that did not buy into what it was being taught and made it much better in 2021.
The Dallas defense ranked 19th in yards per game (351.0), tied for seventh in points per game (21.1) and led the NFL in takeaways (34) with cornerback Trevon Diggs leading the league with 11 interceptions. Quinn was inventive in how he used rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who was named a first-team All-Pro with Diggs. Perhaps the best thing he did was alter who he is as a coordinator, embracing different fronts and coverages.
Quinn's impact in free agency and the draft are evident. The Cowboys' first six picks were defensive players. In free agency, he wanted length, speed and some familiarity with the additions of two former Atlanta Falcons -- Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal.
"Q just found a way to touch everybody in our defensive room's heart," Parsons said. "I think he found a way for us all to want to fight for him, play for him. Some things is just more than football and I think that's what Q represents. It's never just football with Q. ... He's a hands-on coach. He made sure you really understood everything that was going on. He didn't let nothing go without being understood, so I think that's what Q did to us."
If the Cowboys lose Quinn, coach Mike McCarthy would have his third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. In-house, he could look to secondary coach and passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. or senior defensive assistant George Edwards as replacements. Whitt called the defense in a preseason game when Quinn was out with COVID-19. His long-time background with McCarthy in Green Bay makes him a natural pick.
Outside the building, could former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer be an option? He has a long history with the Joneses as a former Cowboys assistant and McCarthy has long respected his work.
On offense, there might be more in-house choices, starting with McCarthy, who made his bones with the Packers as a playcaller. But that would make sense only if they change to his scheme and terminology. The Cowboys have kept the same system with mostly the same terminology that Dak Prescott has had since 2016.
Over and over, McCarthy has said it was important for Prescott's development to keep the same system, which is why he kept Moore as the playcaller.
That could make quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier more of an option over Ben McAdoo, the former New York Giants coach and McCarthy aide, who has worked as a consultant this season. Nussmeier has a close relationship with Prescott. He has directed offenses at the college level. McAdoo is interviewing for the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator job.
Moore interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles vacancy a year ago after walking away from an opportunity at his alma mater, Boise State. The Cowboys finished No. 1 in points and yards per game in 2021 but there were a lot of bumps on offense. However, NFL owners have shown their willingness to take a chance on young offensive minds.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has gone through this before with Sean Payton and Jason Garrett. In 2004, Payton agreed to take the Oakland Raiders job only to be talked out of it by Jones and then-coach Bill Parcells ... and a decent raise. The next year, he took the New Orleans Saints job and has been there ever since.
After one year as a playcaller, Garrett had chances with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens in 2008, but backed away from both opportunities in part because of Jones ... and a decent raise. It was clear Garrett was the eventual replacement for Wade Phillips and that came to fruition in 2010.
Could Moore follow a similar path as Payton or Garrett?
Quinn has been a head coach, spending parts of five seasons with the Falcons and coming within a half of winning a Super Bowl. As much as he might want to be a head coach again, he might not just take any job. He is also being paid a good amount of money still by the Falcons.
"For me coming here, I wasn't coming here to look at what my next job would be," Quinn said late in the season. "I wanted to come in here and have a blast and hopefully kick ass and make an impact. ... If those moments come, I'll be ready for them if the right scenario came about, but honestly I'm having a blast right here with this crew and going for it. That's where my mind is, that's where my heart is. I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about down the road or what's next."
Another year with Parsons, Diggs and a young defense could make Quinn an even more attractive candidate in the future.
Moore has not had a head-coaching job yet, but he is just 33. The offense hit a lull but over a season-long view, it was a success. Late in the season, he would not delve into head-coaching opportunities when asked, but he has said his goal is to be a head coach one day.
The Cowboys might not have to answer the question as to who they could afford to lose, Quinn or Moore, but they need to have a plan in place.