The calls for Scott Linehan to be fired from his offensive coordinator role seemingly intensified each and every week for the Cowboys throughout their 2018 season. It all reached a fever pitch after the Cowboys lost to the Rams in the divisional round and officially ended their season. Yet, Linehan is close with head coach Jason Garrett - Linehan was the offensive coordinator and Garrett was the quarterbacks coach for the 2005 Miami Dolphins under Nick Saban - so there is uncertainty as to whether the embattled play-caller would actually be let go.
In the 24 hours after Dallas saw their season come to an end, there seemed to be an emerging sense from those with knowledge of the team’s plans that Linehan would in fact be fired and a search for a new offensive coordinator would begin.
The search for the Cowboys' next offensive coordinator begins Monday.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) January 13, 2019
Then Monday came, and instead of an announcement regarding Linehan there was a strange roller coaster ride as Garrett said he expected Linehan to return, then walked it back later that day after Stephen Jones seemingly contradicted him in a separate interview. And now it’s Thursday and nothing else regarding the staff - aside from officially keeping Marc Colombo on as the offensive line coach - has emerged. However, there is this one nugget from Jerry Jones:
Jerry Jones when pressed on @1053thefan about Scott Linehan's future as OC: "This is the time when these things are thought about. This is the time when you may see an opportunity next week that you didn't know existed next week, in the area of personnel or the area of coaching."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 15, 2019
There’s nothing much of substance here, but it is interesting that Jerry goes out of his way to mention that there could be an opportunity next week that isn’t currently available. There were some fairly big names for offensive coordinator roles that were available - the likes of Jim Bob Cooter, Steve Sarkisian, Darrell Bevell, and John DeFilippo to name a few - but all have been snatched up by other teams. And then Ed Werder dropped this news on Thursday morning:
Although Jason Garrett claimed no major changes to his coaching staff, a source tells me the #Cowboys have inquired about the interest/availability of at least one prominent offensive #NFL assistant coach.— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) January 17, 2019
So what if Jerry said what he said because he has his eye on a coach that’s currently on a team still in the playoffs? It would certainly make sense, given that the four teams playing in the conference championship games this weekend boast the top four offenses in the NFL this year. And if Jerry has his heart set on hiring one of those teams’ assistants away to run the Cowboys’ offense next year, he may be waiting until the team can interview them before letting Linehan go. If this is the case, then Dallas would either need to wait until the team whose assistant they’re looking at gets eliminated or they could conduct an interview during the Pro Bowl bye week if said team advances to the Super Bowl.
But who could be the coach that would get such consideration? Between the Rams, Saints, Chiefs, and Patriots there are a lot of potential candidates for the offensive coordinator position. Zac Taylor, the Rams’ quarterbacks coach, was a big name at one point but it’s looking like he’ll be named the Bengals head coach when the Rams’ season ends. With that in mind, here are a few other assistants on those teams that could potentially be targeted by the Cowboys.
Waldron is currently with the Rams serving as their tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Last season he was just the tight ends coach for Los Angeles, but he was elevated to the new role in the offseason and became more involved in creating weekly gameplans and developing the passing offense. He had past experience with Sean McVay, having worked with him as an offensive quality control coach with the Redskins in 2016.
He also spent two seasons working with the Patriots on offense from 2008 to 2009, which gave him experience working for both Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. Waldron has become a somewhat high profile name, as he was interviewed by the Bengals for their head coaching position. It’s possible that he could follow Taylor to Cincinnati, but if not the Cowboys may be dazzled by the McVay effect and give Waldron his first offensive coordinator job.
Waldron’s profile may fit better in the mold of the “next McVay” that every team seems to be looking for these days, but Aaron Kromer may very well be the more qualified candidate. Kromer was the assistant offensive line coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2001 under Jon Gruden. Kromer worked directly under offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and when Callahan was promoted to head coach for the Raiders’ 2002 season, Kromer was promoted to offensive line coach. When Callahan was fired after the 2003, new head coach Norv Turner kept him on in the same position.
Kromer later went to Tampa Bay to reunite with Gruden; other coaches on the Buccaneers staff at the time included Rich Bisaccia, Monte Kiffin, and Kyle Shanahan. After Kromer left Tampa Bay, he found himself in New Orleans with Sean Payton, marking the fifth coach who has been a high-level coach with Dallas in the past that Kromer has worked with. Kromer spent five years in New Orleans that included winning a Super Bowl and serving as interim head coach in the midst of Payton’s suspension due to the BountyGate scandal.
After the 2012 season, Kromer was hired as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, but head coach Marc Trestman called offensive plays. Still, Kromer had a very active role in offensive game planning and his first year in Chicago saw the Bears offense rank eighth in total yards, fifth in passing offense, and second in scoring offense. After Trestman was fired, Kromer spent two seasons as the offensive line coach in Buffalo, where Sanjay Lal was coaching receivers.
He then came to Los Angeles in 2017 to coach the offensive line and for the 2018 season was promoted to the run game coordinator, and Todd Gurley ended up being named a first team All Pro. Kromer has significant ties to Cowboys assistants, both past and present, and he’s got experience as an offensive coordinator, head coach, and has a Super Bowl ring to boot. The fact that he spent the last two years with McVay is just the cherry on top.
Dan Campbell is very similar to Aaron Kromer. He’s currently the assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the Saints, but he has history with the Cowboys. He played tight end for Dallas from 2003 to 2005 and helped mentor a rookie Jason Witten while playing for Bill Parcells and Sean Payton. Campbell later got into coaching and was working with the Dolphins under Joe Philbin. When Philbin was fired midway through the year, Campbell was named interim head coach. He ended up being replaced by Adam Gase (who just got fired by Miami) and Campbell came to New Orleans. In his time there, he’s been credited with helping to further develop the Saints’ running game with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Campbell has also become a head coaching candidate, and had interviews with the Cardinals, Browns, Jets, and Packers this offseason. The general consensus is that teams are wary of his lack of coordinator experience, so he could relish the opportunity to return to his former team and get that coordinator experience. His thorough understanding of Payton’s high-powered offense would certainly be welcome.
Unlike Campbell, Joe Lombardi is a Saints assistant who actually has prior experience calling offensive plays. The grandson of Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions from 2014 to midway through the 2015 season when he was fired in favor of Jim Bob Cooter. Prior to taking the Lions job, Lombardi was the Saints’ quarterbacks coach for seven seasons. After Detroit fired him, he returned to New Orleans as the quarterbacks coach.
In his one full season running the offense, Lombardi’s unit ranked 19th in total yards, 28th in rushing offense, 12th in passing offense, and 22nd in scoring offense. This may deter Dallas from any interest in him, but it’s also possible that Lombardi has learned from that experience.
Chad O’Shea is currently in his tenth season as the wide receivers coach for the New England Patriots. Prior to joining New England, O’Shea had been an assistant for the Vikings under head coach Brad Childress, who it’s worth noting is a big mentor to Bears head coach Matt Nagy. And this time last year when it seemed a virtual certainty that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would become a head coach elsewhere, O’Shea was receiving internal support to replace McDaniels.
McDaniels himself even praised O’Shea as “one of the best assistant coaches I’ve ever had the chance to work with.” He also went on to note that O’Shea was heavily involved in coordinating the Patriots’ red zone offenses each week - an area that the Cowboys particularly struggled with this year. It’s worth noting that the Patriots have had a top ten red zone offense in eight of the ten years O’Shea has been with the team. He even got the opportunity to call plays for the Patriots in the preseason the last two years, giving him more experience than other potential candidates. However, O’Shea may be content to stay in New England and be elevated to the offensive coordinator role whenever McDaniels inevitably becomes a head coach somewhere.
Mike Kafka would certainly be the biggest wild card out of these potential candidates, as he’s only got two years of NFL coaching experience. However, young offensive coaches are the trend these days, so Dallas may be willing to overlook that. Kafka played quarterback from 2010 to 2015 and spent two years on the Eagles under head coach Andy Reid.
After spending 2016 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Northwestern, Kafka was hired by Reid to be an offensive quality control coach for the Chiefs. When Chicago hired Matt Nagy, who had been the quarterbacks coach in addition to offensive coordinator, Kafka was promoted to quarterbacks coach for the 2018 season. And while it’s his first time as a position coach, it is the year that Patrick Mahomes took the league by storm and had virtually no hiccups whatsoever adjusting to his first year starting in the NFL. It’s unclear just how instrumental Kafka was in Mahomes’ MVP-caliber season, but if the Cowboys think he played a big role, then why not tab the 31 year old to run their offense?
One thing is for sure: if the Cowboys are indeed looking to the four remaining playoff teams for potential offensive coordinators to replace Linehan, they have plenty of qualified candidates.