Age, scheme don't matter much to Cowboys' Kiffin

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Monte Kiffin figures he could be 52 and coaching the 3-4 defense instead of 72 and running the 4-3.

Whatever.

Age and scheme don't matter much to the new defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. Talent and passion do.

"I look at coaching like this, do you like it or do you love it?" Kiffin said Thursday in his first meeting with reporters

at team headquarters. "You got to love it. You got to have great passion."

Kiffin, architect of the so-called "Tampa 2" when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, will spend the

next six months converting the Cowboys to the 4-3.

It's the same alignment they used when coach Jason Garrett was a backup quarterback and Dallas was winning three Super Bowls

in four seasons in the 1990s. Dallas switched to the 3-4 under Bill Parcells almost a decade ago.

When he replaced the fired Rob Ryan last month after the Cowboys' second straight 8-8 season — and third in a row without

a playoff berth — Kiffin remembered seeing countless news items that all seemed to start with "72-year-old."

"I thought it was my jersey number, by the end of the day, good golly," said Kiffin before pointing out with a wry smile that

he was a leap year baby in 1940 — born on Feb. 29. "So can you figure out how old I am right now?"

There's no escaping that he will be 73 when

the season starts, but he wasn't thinking about age and whether he

related to

today's players when he decided he wanted back in the NFL after

four seasons running the defense for son Lane Kiffin at Tennessee

and Southern California.

"I got the same question when I was 68 years old at the University of Tennessee," Kiffin said. "Let me tell you what. I'm

72 going on 52."

The new Dallas staff's ties to Tampa Bay's

Super Bowl team go deeper than Kiffin. Rod Marinelli turned down a

chance to stay

in Chicago as defensive coordinator after Lovie Smith was fired,

deciding instead to run the defensive line for the Cowboys.

It's the same job he had with the Bucs when Kiffin was defensive

coordinator.

Rich Bisaccia was special teams coach in Tampa from 2002-10 and left Auburn after just a few weeks when he says Garrett kept

pressing him to join the Tampa reunion.

"I think we know what we believe in and what

the core beliefs are and the core beliefs are running to the football

and playing

with passion and playing with great energy and probably the No. 1

thing we all look for are guys that love football," Bisaccia

said. "The three of us love football."

Marinelli was the first of the three to leave Tampa when he became head coach in Detroit. That lasted just three years, and

ended with the only 0-16 season in NFL history.

He bounced back quickly, going to Chicago as

defensive line coach and getting promoted to defensive coordinator a

year later.

The Bears forced 44 turnovers in 2012, including five

interceptions of Tony Romo — two of them returned for touchdowns — in

a blowout win at Cowboys Stadium.

"When I came from Tampa, everything we did

worked, so there was a great belief, a great faith in what you're doing,

and then

I was very fortunate to go through adversity," Marinelli said.

"It's really not a belief unless it's been attacked, and you

kind of weather the storm through it all, which I did, and then

you come out of it with a stronger belief."

Kiffin's return to the NFL was followed less than a week later by NFC East rival Philadelphia hiring Chip Kelly as coach,

leading pundits to point out that Kelly's Oregon Ducks rolled up 730 yards against Kiffin's Trojans last season — and more

than 1,150 yards over two games.

"We should have done better at USC," said

Kiffin, who spent 11 seasons in the 1960s and '70s under Bob Devaney and

Tom Osborne

at Nebraska, his alma mater. "We didn't play as well as we should

have. I take responsibility. I got back in and the Pac-12

had gotten better, without a doubt."

Kiffin says the Cowboys have the personnel to make the 4-3 switch, contradicting his old boss in Tampa, Tony Dungy, who said

the Cowboys will need two years of drafts to stock the defense properly.

The biggest change will be Pro Bowl

linebacker DeMarcus Ware converting to defensive end, and the biggest

question will be

whether Dallas has enough interior defensive linemen after eight

seasons with only a nose tackle. Another concern is whether

cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are physical enough

for the Tampa 2 style.

"The transition, you never know, but when

you start to look at these guys on tape, they can really run and our

system is built

on speed, quickness and balance and change of direction and

attitude," Marinelli said. "The fit looks good. It's intriguing

and exciting."