Ryan was let go a day after running backs coach Skip Peete was fired, and less than a week after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said things were going to get "uncomfortable" at team headquarters in nearby Irving.
"At this time, the decision has been made to move forward in a different direction philosophically on defense," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in a statement. "I have an immense amount of respect for Rob as a person and as a football coach."
Ryan spent two seasons with the Cowboys after he was fired two years into the same job in Cleveland. He didn't hide his displeasure over being let go by the Browns before the Cowboys played them this season. He struck a different tone Tuesday.
"I enjoyed my time here," Ryan told The Dallas Morning News. "I have no hard feelings. But it doesn't matter if I coach here or not. I will find another spot."
The Cowboys finished with four defensive starters on injured reserve, including both Sean Lee and Bruce Carter at inside linebacker
-- a critical position for Ryan's 3-4 scheme. A fifth starter, nose tackle Jay Ratliff, missed all but six games with ankle and groin injuries. Nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick was sidelined the last five games with a wrist injury.
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Several Dallas players reacted with surprise on Twitter.
"It was a privilege to play under Coach Rob Ryan! One of the greatest," defensive end Jason Hatcher wrote. "Sad day. I'm hurting right now."
The Cowboys finished 14th in total defense this season under Ryan, the twin brother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, but couldn't stop the New Orleans passing game or the Washington rushing attack when they still controlled their playoff fate in the last two weeks of the regular season.
Drew Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 overtime win for New Orleans. Dallas still had playoff hopes in the finale against Washington, but rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards despite quarterback Robert Griffin being limited by a right knee injury in the Redskins' 28-18 win.
The Cowboys were 19th in total defense in Ryan's first year but had one of the worst pass defenses in team history.
Press; By SCHUYLER DIXON]
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