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Will the Cowboys face another coaching staff revamp after 2018? Predictions on who stays and goes

There is churn at the assistant coaching positions every year on every team across the league. But could the churn in Dallas be larger this year?

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are in a bit of a pickle.

In 2018, they revamped almost their entire assistant coaching staff. And going by the results of this year, another revamped coaching staff may be in order for 2019.

Here’s a reminder of what the coaching staff looked like at the end of last season. Coaches marked in red either left of their own volition or were let go/not extended.

Offensive Coaches Defensive Coaches Specialty Coaches
Scott Linehan
Offensive Coordinator
Rod Marinelli
Defensive Coordinator
Rich Bisaccia
Special teams
Gary Brown
Running backs
Joe Baker
Keith O'Quinn
Assistant Special Teams
Derek Dooley
Wide receivers
Greg Jackson
Mike Woicik
Strength and conditioning
Wade Wilson
Matt Eberflus
Passing Game Coordinator/ Linebackers
Brett Bech
Assistant S&C
Frank Pollack
Offensive line
Leon Lett
Defensive Tackles
Kendall Smith
Assistant S&C
Steve Loney
Tight ends
Ben Bloom
Special Projects

The staff moves here clearly placed the blame for the 2017 offensive woes at the feet of the assistant coaches. Will the Cowboys do the same thing again, or will they look a little higher up the food chain?

On defense and special teams, Eberflus and Bisaccia were what an HR department would call “regretted losses”; the Cowboys would have liked to keep both, but both decided to pursue opportunities elsewhere. The Cowboys did feel they could use an upgrade at the secondary coach position, but apart from that, the defense and special teams did not merit any intervention from a Cowboys point of view.

Heading into 2019, just about the only thing we know is that Jason Garrett will remain the head coach - unless he somehow manages to miss the playoffs.

So here’s the question of the day: Assuming Garrett stays, which coaches do you think will have to go?

I polled my fellow front page writers to get their thoughts.

RJ Ochoa was the first to answer, and he got straight to the point.

Allow me to answer for everyone: Scott Linehan

David Howman went a step further and suggested a purge involving all the “Linehan guys”

More than that, there ought to be a purging of the Linehan guys. That means dumping Kellen Moore as QB coach (maybe bringing in DeFilippo in that role?) and replacing Doug Nussmeier with an actual tight ends coach (Nussy has never coached tight ends before this year, but worked with Linehan before). Sanjay Lal, Gary Brown, and Marc Colombo should all stay but maybe a new OC would want his own offensive staff

Tom Ryle suggests Linehan may have become stuck in his ways.

The one inarguable thing about Linehan is that he just refuses to move away from something he likes, even if it never works. The “run four WRs to the sticks and have all of them do a hook” play is the most egregious. Every DC in the league knows he always goes to it, and therefore they know how to sit on it and shut it down. That’s why Amari’s 75 yard TD happened against the Eagles - they never believed he would break it deep there.

DannyPhantom doesn’t want to further delay the inevitable.

When it comes to Scott Linehan, there are so many faulty parts that it’s tough to properly troubleshoot the problem and find the root cause for the offense’s failures. All I know is that they’re there and they need fixing. I keep holding out that some things will come together and maybe some problems will go away, but if they don’t - a change in approach is inevitable.

But Phantom’s disappointment isn’t limited to the offensive coordinator.

It’s really hard to get a feel for what these coaches bring without having more locker room insight, but based on the achievements of specific position groups, I am disappointed in both Sanjay Lay and Kellen Moore. Again, they haven’t had the coaching gig very long, but both areas have disappointed me. I expected this “new look” receiving cast to be more effective at getting separation. Where has Allen Hurns been all year? And I expected Michael Gallup to be much more of a factor by now. They had to go out and steal a star to add any sort of receiving threat to this offense. Of course, it doesn’t help when the guy throwing the ball isn’t playing well and as much as I still believe in Dak Prescott, his lack of consistency is infuriating. I don’t know what the exchanges are like between him and Kellen Moore, but the message isn’t being received, or if it is - Dak just doesn’t have it in him to get it done, which I am severely hoping is not the case.

I have to give a shout out (in a positive way) to Doug Nussmeier for how well the tight end group has done. It wasn’t looking good at first, but as the season’s progressed, his players have shown some solid improvement.

The discussion then moved on to the Marinelli/Richard dynamic, with David Howman leading the charge:

Marinelli is likely to retire, in which case Kris Richard should officially be promoted to DC. He’ll interview for head coaching jobs but with the way everyone is looking for offensive-minded head coaches these days, odds are Richard won’t get an offer. But he will get DC offers unless we promote him. If Marinelli doesn’t retire, he can get an assistant head coach title in addition to continuing to coach the defensive line. Otherwise, his retirement will mean we have to find a new DL coach.

Tom Ryle suggested beefing up the defensive coaching staff with ex-Cowboys.

If Marinelli retires, maybe keep Leon Lett as D-line/DT coach and hire an ends guy. Wonder if DWare would be interested?

Also, if Lee retires, gotta get him on the staff.

David Howman jumped on the idea, even if there remain questions about how the Cowboys would approach that idea.

Good point about Lee. Big question there is his title. The presence of Ben Bloom means he’d likely just be an assistant linebackers coach, but it almost seems like he’s too good for that.

Everybody forgets special teams, but David Howman didn’t.

I also think they’ll at least look at making a change at special teams, too. Maher has been inconsistent and Jones seems to have regressed, and our return options outside of Tavon have been dreadful. But I think Dallas only makes a change there if some great ST coach elsewhere becomes available.

Tom Ryle gets the last word

Good ST point. O’Quinn just hasn’t worked out.

As outside observers, we can only make guesses about who stays and who goes based on how each coach’s unit has performed this season. But a lot more goes into how the Cowboys assess each coach than just his unit’s performance.

Considering that the staff spends 70+ hours a week working closely together, the team might place a premium on compatibility over quality; it’s more important that they get along than that they all be super great. The team might place a premium on experience, they might place a premium on potential, they might place a premium on all sorts of things we’re not privy to.

Scott Linehan: Garrett’s comfort level with Linehan may be very high, but it’s probably not enough to extend Linehan’s tenure in Dallas. The Cowboys needed to invest a first-round pick in Amari Cooper to get their offense to resemble an NFL offense again. Ironically, that move may work in Linehan’s defense (“Look at the junk you had me working with before Cooper”), but after jettisoning almost all offensive assistants last season, this time the football gods will want Linehan’s head.

RB coach Gary Brown: When you’re coaching a superstar like Ezekiel Elliott, it’s often easy to overlook the impact of the position coach on the player. But Brown has been consistently doing his thing in Dallas for a while now, and with a motley cast of characters to boot:

Cowboys RB coach Gary Brown appreciation table
Year Player YPA
2018 Ezekiel Elliott 4.7
2017 Alfred Morris 4.8
2016 Ezekiel Elliott 5.1
2015 Darren McFadden 4.6
2014 DeMarco Murray 4.7

Last offseason, the Raiders and Texans tried to lure Brown away from Dallas, but he (with the help of Jerry’s checkbook) opted to sign a new contract in Dallas. Brown isn’t going anywhere in 2019.

WR coach Sanjay Lal: Heralded as some kind of route-running guru, Lal was asked to help the Dallas wide receivers gain more separation. Here’s Lal in an interview from April 2018.

“If you’re going to ask coaches, as a receiver coach, the thing to be concerned about is are they getting separation and are they gaining it versus tight man-to-man. So when you say a number one receiver, Antonio Brown can get separation in tight man-to-man. That’s what you’re looking for, whether it be vertical or horizontal separation. If we get into games and we can’t separate and they’re playing single-high to stop the run, then we have an issue. As long as one, two, three, four of these guys can create separation on a routine basis, we’re fine. But if you go into games and they’re clamped, that’s an issue.”

A report from showed the Cowboys WRs averaging 2.2 yards of separation in weeks 1-8, which ranked the Cowboys last in the NFL. Once they added Amari Cooper, that number jumped to 3.0 (11th-highest) in weeks 9-10.

While 0.8 yards of separation more might not sound like a lot, it’s helped keep Prescott out of pushing the ball into tight windows. Prescott’s average target separation has gone from 2.9 to 4.0 yards, resulting in an increase in completion percentage from 62.1 to 70.1, according to Next Gen Stats.

To be fair, Lal found himself short three wide receivers in the span of a few months: Dez Bryant (cut), Terrance Williams (injured), and Ryan Switzer (traded) were all part of the receiver room when Lal signed in January last year.

Perhaps fan expectations were too high (some even believed Lal would be the key to getting Sammy Watkins to Dallas), but Lal did not turn out to be the WR whisperer many had hoped he’d be.

Lal is still under contract in Dallas, so the Cowboys will likely stick with him, though that could change if another team comes calling for his services or they bring in a new offensive coordinator.

QB coach Kellen Moore: I’ve heard and read arguments about how the primary role of the QB coach is to install the game plan for the next opponent in the QB room. That may be part of his responsibility, but it certainly isn’t everything. Just this summer, Jon Gruden, a “renowned quarterback guru”, explained what else to expect from a QB coach.

”I think quarterback coaches are very important because fundamentals erode as the season wears on,” Gruden said. “Sometimes, you have to have a guy who stays on top of those things, even if it’s a six- to eight-minute individual period that you have; a guy who is great in the footwork, the timing, the precision of the passing game, the nuances you have to have; a guy who is translating things from the quarterback to the coordinator. The coordinator can’t always be with the quarterback.”

At the very least, the Cowboys would be well advised to hire a technique coach for Prescott immediately. They don’t need to call the guy a QB coach if they want to hang on to Moore, but they need guy who can help Prescott on his footwork, pocket awareness, and much more. Moore obviously can’t.

Or they could take the logical next step and hire a QB coach who can actually help Prescott with his fundamentals.

OL coach Marc Colombo. The Cowboys made an unusual mid-season change at the position, and the Colombo/Houck combo oversaw an immediate improvement in line play, even if that has been derailed recently by injuries.

“I know football one way, all right, and that’s with passion, energy, emotion and enthusiasm,” Colombo said. “That’s the way I do it and I have a group that just feeds off that. I love every one of those guys. I’m fortunate to coach those guys and they respond. I coach them hard. We do more detailed technique work than any other unit in the NFL and they just want more and more. That want to get more looks. They want to get more individual time. They feed off that. That’s where get our strength from, just outworking everybody.”

I imagine that Colombo requires all linemen to watch films starring John Wayne just to make sure they have the appropriate background in toughness. He stays.

TE coach Doug Nussmeier. There is little doubt that his TEs are on an upward trajectory, so his spot looks to be safe, even if that previous Linehan connection may come back to haunt him - though that’s what we thought about Matt Eberflus and Ben Bloom and their connection to Rob Ryan, and both did well anyway.

Still, if we’re talking a new offensive coordinator, that guy may want to bring in some of his own guys, and Nussmeier (along with Lal) may be expendable in that scenario.

DEFENSE. The key question here is how the Cowboys will proceed with Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard. Barring an outright retirement by Marinelli, the Cowboys will want to find an organizational setup in which both can co-exist in some form.

The defense overall has been a real positive in 2018, and that likely means there’s no pressure to move on from any of the assistant coaches.

  • Greg Jackson (safeties) has made the ubiquitous Earl Thomas preseason talk disappear with a more than solid showing by his safeties.
  • Ben Bloom (linebackers) has coached both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to Pro Bowl-level performances.
  • Leon Lett has supervised a very young D-line that has exceeded expectations.

Special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn: The team made a risky decision to move on from Dan Bailey, and that seems to have worked out to a large extent, but most of the rest of special teams play hasn’t been up to par. Under Rich Bisaccia, the Cowboys special teams were consistently a borderline top 10 unit (per Football Outsiders). This year, they dropped to 21st.

Cowboys Special teams
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Rank 8th 13th 11th 9th 7th 21st

That may end up costing O’Quinn his job, especially if (as Howman points out above) an experienced and pedigreed ST coach becomes available.

Assistant ST Coach Doug Colman: For better or worse his fate is likely tied to O’Quinn’s: He stays if O’Quinn stays, but if the Cowboys bring in a new ST ccoordinator, the new guy will bring in his own assistants.

Strength and Conditioning: This unit is too far away for us to even attempt any type of assessment. The players seemed healthy this year, so that’s a plus, and Woicik seems to enjoy the trust of the coaches and front office, so I don’t expect any major changes here.

At first read, this may not feel like a lot of change, but the changes may be quite significant if they replace two of their coordinators. And even if whatever change the front office cooks up at DC may be more of a soft change, the Cowboys could potentially be looking at three new coordinators in 2019.

Of course, a deep playoff run might change all of that.

TL;DR version

RED: likely gone

YELLOW: fate probably linked to coordinator

GREEN: likely to stay

Offensive Coaches Defensive Coaches Specialty Coaches
Scott Linehan (5)
Offensive Coordinator
Rod Marinelli (6)
Defensive Coordinator
Keith O'Quinn (9)
Special teams
Gary Brown (6)
Running backs
Kris Richard (1)
Passing Game Coordinator & Defensive Backs
Doug Colman (1)
Assistant Special Teams
Sanjay Lal (1)
Wide receivers
Greg Jackson (3)
Mike Woicik (8)
Director of Strength and conditioning
Kellen Moore (1)
Ben Bloom (8)
Brett Bech (8)
Marc Colombo (4)
Offensive line
Leon Lett (8)
Defensive Tackles
Markus Paul (1)S&C
Doug Nussmeier (1)
Tight ends
Kendall Smith (5)
Assistant S&C

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