Jerry Jones stirred up a media feeding frenzy with his now infamous comments about making things "uncomfortable" in Valley Ranch. Reading the coverage of the Dallas Cowboys in many of the major media outlets led to an image of a chaotic environment, with a head coach that had no power and an owner that was once again out of control and making foolish decisions. It seemed to be the kind of ugly, dysfunctional environment no one would want to work in.
That is not the picture that has emerged from the words of the new hires that have come in to replace the assistant coaches that were let go or "allowed" to seek other jobs. What comes across from the recent interviews to introduce the new staff members to the media is a sense of enthusiasm and excitement. And a great amount of respect for the history and tradition of the Cowboys.
I know that you would expect new hires to come in and talk about how glad they are to be a part of the organization and all that. But there were some interesting things that came out of the various interviews, at least to me. Things that speak of this being more than just another job to some of the people.
It started with the high energy tour de force of an interview given by Monte Kiffin. Not only did he make a few people reconsider their snide comments about him predating some of the dirt outside the building, but he spoke with passion about the past glories of the Cowboys, and how deeply involved the community was in the team. His story about how he kept finding talk shows about the team on the radio was a great illustration of what he meant. But the part where he talked about taking his old partner Rod Marinelli outside the building just so they could come in again and look at all the trophies and mementos from the past like they were coming in for the first time was almost poetic. Kiffin may be 72, but he may run rings around the younger members of the staff just on enthusiasm and energy.
Speaking of Marinelli, he had a rather unusual motivation for coming to Dallas. He was offered the chance to remain with his old team, the Chicago Bears, as defensive coordinator. But with the departure of Lovie Smith, he felt his reason to be there was gone. His decision to leave was based on loyalty to a man he felt very close to, and without Smith, the job had no appeal. He was drawn to the Cowboys by the presence of another trusted colleague, Kiffin.
"The biggest thing for me is I just love football, and I have to be around good people and guys that have a belief in how you play," Marinelli said.
That is, well, old fashioned. In a really good way. In this day of mercenary behavior, where the only allegiance seems to be to the money you can get, and where moving up is all important, Marinelli puts common values and being around people he has faith in ahead of all that. He is seen by many as the most important hire for the Cowboys this year, and one that would probably not have happened without his friend having already come to Dallas. It is a relationship that hopefully will influence the rest of the staff.
And it is a marked contrast to the situation with Matt Eberflus, who came to Dallas with Rob Ryan, but did not chose to leave with him. Like Marinelli, he was given the opportunity to stay with his old team. Unlike Marinelli, he took the opportunity. There are several things you could read into that. The one I like: He saw something in the environment and the senior staff that he wanted to stick with.
Special team coordinator Rich Bisaccia may also have been influenced by Kiffin and Marinelli, who he worked with during his days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that is not the influence he cited during his interview.
"Because it was Jason and because it was the Dallas Cowboys, I never stopped talking to them," Bisaccia said. "I told my wife every night, I can't tell the guy no, I just can't tell him no."
That must have been a strong allure. Having just signed on with the Auburn Tigers, he was apparently making plans to work towards a head coaching position in the NCAA. But a reportedly powerless head coach was able to get him to completely change his plans for the future and come back to the NFL.
Derek Dooley was not even looking for a job yet. He didn't have to - the University of Tennessee has to pay him $105,000 a month for the next four years. He was in no rush, was thinking about just taking some time off. But once again, he seemed to be swayed by things that the others talked about.
"Then in January, I wasn't really looking for anything, and quite frankly this opportunity was one that really excited me and I couldn't turn down, because of not only the amount of respect I have in Coach Garrett, but also in the Dallas Cowboys."
It all runs contrary to the image that emerged of the team right after the end of the season. A cynical response to all this is to presume the responses were coordinated and coached in a form of damage control. Actually, I do think there was a deliberate nature to the way all the assistants talked about the team and their head coach. But I don't think it was forced on them. I think they chose to do it to try and correct an image of things that they felt was very mistaken. Maybe I am too optimistic, but I see it as rallying around someone you have faith in, and a group of coaches coming together, some reforging old bonds, the rest building new ones. It portends some good things for the team. At least, it looks like the kind of place I would want to work. And nothing like the way it was portrayed just a few weeks ago.