Commentary

Brian Baker is a man with a plan

He hopes to use Cowboys defensive line gig as springboard to college head-coaching job

Updated: February 23, 2011, 10:57 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

The goal of new Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Brian Baker is to become a college head coach.

So why in the world did he leave the University of North Carolina after a month on the job to join the Cowboys?

"To get yourself promoted in this profession, whether it's college or pro, is to be associated with winning, and I think the Cowboys are ready to do that," Baker said. "Obviously if you win on this stage, that's like winning twice. Everybody sees you because of the visibility of the program. Like I told Butch [Davis], 'I like to do it the way you did it.'"

Davis is a former Cowboys defensive line coach who moved up to defensive coordinator only to leave to become a college head coach.

[+] EnlargeBrian Baker
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonBrian Baker thinks coaching the Cowboys' defensive line will help him get a college head-coaching job.

This is the method of Baker, who comes from the Carolina Panthers and gets high endorsements from former defensive end Julius Peppers for his fine work on the defensive line.

Baker brings plenty of energy to a Cowboys defensive line that has some talent in nose tackle Jay Ratliff, and two young players with plenty of upside in Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore. There are three free-agent veteran defensive ends -- Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen -- whom Baker has to wait on before working with them.

Of course, there is another veteran, Igor Olshansky, who performed well in 2010.

How Baker improves this unit will be watched closely by people who conduct hiring: athletic directors, university and college presidents, and boosters.

If Baker can make Ratliff a better player and get the young kids to make more plays, his stock will rise.

After John Fox and his staff were let go in Carolina following the 2010 season, Baker cleaned out his office and within 48 hours was hired by Davis at North Carolina.

He worked for a month, doing recruiting, taking the mandatory NCAA test on rules for college coaches, and gaining understanding of the overall system of college life.

Then Jason Garrett came calling. Garrett knew of Baker from conversations he'd had with his brother Judd, who works in the Cowboys' pro personnel department, and secondary coach Dave Campo.

Garrett respects both men, and when he called Baker, he told him he was waiting on him and him only.

"Really, if it weren't the Cowboys, I probably would not have considered coming back to the NFL," Baker said. "I had some opportunities that I turned down just because I was convinced I wanted to go be a college head coach and I thought the best way to do that was through a college coach."

Baker acknowledged that it's difficult for minorities to get head-coaching jobs in the NFL and in colleges. There are seven minority head coaches out of 32 teams in the NFL.

The college ranks are worse.

A recent study from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida stated that out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, only 15 are run by people of color. The report said that's a record high number. However, African-Americans make up 51.3 percent of the players in the FBS.

Baker knows the challenges of getting a head-coaching job are great, which is why the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, which mandates that teams interview minority candidates for head-coaching and some high-level front-office positions.

Yet, he is undeterred and knows his work on the field will tell everybody more about him than anything else. But to get to the college gig, he stresses, winning at the pro level will help.

"This situation probably could not have worked out better for me," he said. "It gave me an opportunity to sincerely go and recruit hard for a month. I got a chance to recruit guys, took the NCAA test, I did all those things and I got a chance to feel the changes [in college football]."

Now to the mail.

Q: I've heard that O.J. Atogwe is doing the rounds. I haven't heard anything about the Cowboys' interest. With an obvious need at the position, do the Cowboys go after him? -- Cedric (Arlington, Texas)

[+] EnlargeOshiomogho Atogwe
G. Newman Lowrance/St. Louis Rams/Getty ImagesFree-agent safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is probably out of the Cowboys' price range.

A: According to a team official, the Cowboys have no plans to bring in Atogwe. Team officials like Atogwe but are planning a wait-and-see attitude with free agents for numerous reasons, including the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement and the possibility that an impact safety can be picked up in the draft. Atogwe also might command a high salary, $5 million to $6 million per year on average, and that might be too much for the Cowboys to pay.

Q: Hey Cal, honestly the Cowboys have a deadly offense already. However, they should look into a younger quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) to back up Tony Romo and possibly take over if needed. Jon Kitna is old and I'm not sold on Stephen McGee. Adding another receiver in case Roy Williams doesn't show up won't hurt either. -- David Laws (Columbia, S.C.)

A: There is nothing wrong with drafting a quarterback. Kitna is getting older, and he's in the final year of his contract. And while McGee did have flashes, there still is more work that needs to be done. Now let's look at Romo. He's signed through the 2013 season, when he'll be 33. He's still among the top 10 quarterbacks in the game, but when he gets to 2013, will younger quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have surpassed him? Maybe. Will Romo have won a title by then? Maybe. Either way, Romo is still young enough that the Cowboys don't have to worry about him right now.

Q: Cam Newton! That's a big boy. Why aren't we talking about getting him and why don't we want him? -- Roy Hinojos Jr. (Ontario, Calif.)

A: If Newton is available at No. 9, which I doubt will happen, should the Cowboys draft him? Yes. But Newton will be gone by the fourth pick.

Q: I would like to know if they cut a player before the CBA ends, does that player count toward the new cap or is he part of the last year with no cap? -- Carlos Strand (Austin, Texas)

A: There are many unanswered questions when it comes to the salary cap and the prorated money teams count against the salary cap. We think the cap will return and be more than it was in 2009. If that's the case, do the Cowboys want to cut players and have some players' money count against the cap for the next two or three seasons? When the new CBA is finalized, there will be answers to these questions. Right now, things are uncertain.

Q: I'm just curious as to why you guys think there is so much hype about Dez Bryant being the Cowboys' best receiver. I believe that Miles Austin is. I don't want to take anything from Dez, but just last year we were saying that Miles was possibly the best WR in the game. Is it just the drops Austin had this past season or is there something I am missing about Dez? -- Randy (Wichita, Kan.)

A: I don't know who you talked to, Randy, but there are few people, if any, who said Austin was one of the best wide receivers in the game. Austin is a talented receiver with speed, good hands (I know he had 10 drops last season) and excellent route-running abilities. But Bryant is a wonderful talent who possesses outstanding skills to become an elite receiver quicker than Austin. The Cowboys did the right thing to draft Bryant because if you have a chance to draft an elite player, you need to do it. With the ninth pick of the draft this year, the Cowboys will get an elite player again.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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