After the 2017 season ended, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett decided to make some wholesale changes to the structure of the Dallas Cowboys to avoid another disappointment, if 9-7 can really be called a disappointment. While offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli both remained with the team, much of the staff around them has changed. This series is meant to profile each coach, including the ones who stayed, and analyze how their presence will contribute to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Today, we are looking at the man charged with replacing future Hall of Famer Jason Witten’s production, new tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier . Be sure to check out our other profiles below:
Let’s be honest: it hasn’t really mattered who the tight ends coach was for a while. As long as Jason Witten was there, this position was in good hands. In fact, during Witten’s 15 years in Dallas, the Cowboys have cycled through seven different tight ends coaches, with the longest lasting one being Jason Garrett’s brother, John.
Now that Witten is gone and last year’s tight ends coach, Steve Loney, has retired, the position matters a little more. The Cowboys filled the vacancy with Doug Nussmeier, who’s perhaps best known for his time as an offensive coordinator in college football. He held that capacity for a year at Fresno State before going to the University of Washington as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Steve Sarkisian. In his three years running the offense, players such as Jake Locker, Keith Price, Jermainse Kearse, Chris Polk, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Senio Kelemete thrived.
In 2012, Nussmeier moved on to Alabama as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and his first year there saw the Crimson Tide winning a national championship after obliterating the Notre Dame defense for 42 points, 265 rushing yards, and 264 passing yards. Nussmeier’s offense was unstoppable all year, with one of the best offensive lines in the country, a running back committee of Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon, and Kenyan Drake, and a much improved AJ McCarron. In total, that offense produced 11 key contributors that are currently in the NFL.
After another year at Alabama, Nussmeier was hired in the same capacity at Michigan for a year, trying to revitalize both the offense and head coach Brady Hoke’s tenure. It didn’t work out, and Hoke was fired at the end of the 2014 season. Nussmeier moved on to the Florida Gators in the same capacity, this time under head coach Jim McElwain. His first two years at Florida were very good, with the offense averaging 24 points per game. The 2017 season was rocky with turmoil surrounding McElwain, and led to his ousting, along with Nussmeier’s, leading him to Dallas.
Nussmeier has never coached tight ends, as he’s always been a quarterbacks coach in addition to coordinator responsibilities. However, Nussmeier is familiar with Scott Linehan: when Nussmeier played quarterback at Idaho, Linehan was his offensive coordinator, and later Nussmeier served as the quarterbacks coach for the St Louis Rams when Linehan was the head coach. Familiarity with Linehan’s scheme, as we’ve learned from Kellen Moore, can sometimes be more important than any other qualifications.
Nussmeier’s lack of experience coaching tight ends can be concerning. After all, that was the situation former wide receivers coach Derek Dooley was in, and the consensus on his job has been mixed at best. Still, Nussmeier is cut from the same cloth as Linehan, and his understanding of the different facets of an offense and what makes it work seems to be what the Cowboys valued when hiring him. Garrett spoke about what Nussmeier’s experience offers:
Excited about what he can bring, not only the continuity, but being an offensive coordinator at big-time programs for a long time in college football, and we all know where so much of the scheme and our game is going. It’s trickling up in a lot of ways, so what he can bring is really positive.
It seems to be that Garrett is saying Nussmeier is mostly here to bring an added voice to the room when devising the weekly game plans. After all, the actual coaching of the tight ends will likely be shared with other position coaches as well. Since Garrett became the top man in Dallas, the Cowboys have valued blocking much more in their tight ends, which is part of the reason why guys like Martellus Bennett and Gavin Escobar are no longer with the team. Geoff Swaim, for example, is more of a blocker than a receiver, and so is Dalton Schultz. As such, it makes sense that the Cowboys have had their offensive line coaches work with the tight ends in the past. In fact, in 2013 the Cowboys promoted their assistant offensive line coach, Wes Phillips, to tight ends coach.
Given his valuable experience running offenses, there shouldn’t be much doubt that Nussmeier knows enough about the tight end position to adequately coach them. It also shouldn’t be a surprise if offensive line coach Paul Alexander and his assistant Marc Colombo work the tight ends through some blocking drills. Assistant wide receivers coach Kyle Valero may also do work in teaching the group how to be physical at the point of the catch. Still, though, it should be mentioned that Nussmeier was hired to coach the tight ends long before Witten’s retirement was official. With a hole at the starting tight end position and four different players vying for the job, Nussmeier will have his work cut out for him. The hope is that his experience as a coordinator and familiarity with Linehan helps, but only time will tell how effective he can be in a new role.