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Seven candidates to replace Scott Linehan as the Cowboys offensive coordinator

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The Cowboys are looking for a new offensive coordinator. Who could they pick?

NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for fans to rejoice, as the decision has officially been made to fire Scott Linehan after yet another disappointing year from the offense in Dallas. While teams that have hired new head coaches in the last week have gotten a jump on filling out the rest of their staffs, there are still some offensive coordinator candidates out there who could be a fit for America’s Team. Earlier in the week I gave some potential candidates from the four remaining playoff teams, but there are other candidates available now. Here are seven of them.

Doug Nussmeier

Miami Ohio v Michigan

Doug Nussmeier just finished his first season with the Cowboys coaching the tight ends, and he deserves some credit for the way that position group developed towards the end of the year, most notably with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. It was Nussmeier’s first time ever coaching tight ends, but he has a connection to Scott Linehan - he played quarterback when Linehan was the offensive coordinator at the University of Idaho.

That familiarity with Linehan might make Nussmeier a good hire for continuity’s sake, but Nussmeier also has playcalling experience of his own. He won a national championship in two years running the offense for Alabama, working closely with Jason Garrett’s close friend and mentor Nick Saban, and he also had stints with Michigan and Florida. If the Cowboys believe they have the right offensive system in place but just want a new playcaller, Nussmeier could be the frontrunner. However, if Dallas wants a clean break from Linehan, Nussmeier’s longtime relationship with the now former offensive coordinator could deter any promotion.

Gary Brown

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a puzzling trend in the NFL that so few offensive coordinators were once running backs coaches. Yet two of the hottest offensive coordinators this year, Freddie Kitchens and Eric Bieniemy, were running backs coaches before getting the coordinator job. Kitchens did so well he’s been named the new head coach of the Browns, and Bieniemy had several head coaching interviews as well.

Gary Brown has been coaching the running backs in Dallas for six seasons now with great success. He is largely credited with helping DeMarco Murray make the jump to an elite running back before coaching Darren McFadden to his first 1,000 yard rushing season in five years back in the 2015 season. Brown has also been instrumental in developing Ezekiel Elliott, and his relationship with the players is extremely positive. Promoting Brown would be good for continuity and his emphasis on running the ball would go along with the team’s philosophy, but it also leaves the door open for some ingenuity from Brown, who spent two years under Pat Shurmur in Cleveland.

Sanjay Lal

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of excitement in the offseason when Sanjay Lal was hired as the wide receivers coach. His reputation as a master teacher of route running skills was supposed to help the Cowboys create a successful passing offense without Dez Bryant. It didn’t necessarily work out, and the Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper, who quickly cemented himself as the next great receiver for Dallas.

While Cooper came to the Cowboys with a star pedigree already, he had been underperforming in Oakland for a little over a year. A lot of this had to do with the way Oakland was using him, so props need to be given to Lal for connecting with Cooper and getting him back to the kind of play he’s accustomed to. However, Lal deserves specific credit for the development of rookie Michael Gallup, who seemingly got better each and every week. In fact, Gallup had the best game of his young career in the playoff loss to the Rams, catching six passes for 119 yards. Lal may be too new to the team for Jason Garrett to hand him the keys to this offense, but the work this coach has already done speaks for itself.

David Culley

NFL: Buffalo Bills-Training Camp Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

You may be asking who this is, but after looking at his past, David Culley is an under-the-radar guy who has incredible potential as a playcaller. He spent three seasons coaching wide receivers under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh before joining Andy Reid’s first staff with the Eagles. From 1999 to 2010, Culley coached receivers for Reid’s high-flying offenses before he was given the additional title of senior offensive assistant. When Reid became the Chiefs head coach in 2013, Culley joined him as the assistant head coach and receivers coach.

But Culley had dreams of becoming an offensive coordinator, and with Reid calling plays in Kansas City, he had to go elsewhere to move up. For the 2017 season, Culley coached quarterbacks for the Buffalo Bills and led Tyrod Taylor to a career year en route to the Bills snapping the longest active playoff drought in sports. And while the Bills were a bit of a dumpster fire in 2018, Culley deserves credit for handling what was hands down the worst quarterback situation in the league - they had four different starters, including Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen - and coming out of it with the 30th ranked offense. Culley has 18 years of experience with Reid’s offensive system, which has been nothing short of spectacularly innovative all year, and he is clearly adept at working closely with both receivers and quarterbacks. He may not be the sexy hire, but on paper he might just be the best hire.

Marty Mornhinweg

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

For some continuity, here’s another former Andy Reid assistant in Marty Mornhinweg. From 2003 to 2005, Mornhinweg was the senior offensive assistant and assistant head coach in Philadelphia before being promoted to offensive coordinator, a role he held from 2006 to 2012 when Reid was fired. While Reid called the plays, Mornhinweg was hailed for his heavy involvement in the offense and how much he helped the unit to improve. Prior to coming to Philly, Mornhinweg spent four years as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers under Steve Mariucci before an unsuccessful two-year stint as the Lions head coach.

Yet, in Mornhinweg’s entire career as both a head coach and coordinator, he’s had eight different top 10 scoring offenses, nine top 10 passing offenses, and six top 10 rushing offenses. And in 2018, Mornhinweg was running the offense for the Ravens and adjusted the team’s scheme midway through the year to incorporate rookie Lamar Jackson’s mobility. Baltimore ultimately decided to move on from him after the team’s loss in the Wild Card round this year, but Mornhinweg’s recent experience with a dual threat quarterback and his history in Reid’s offensive scheme could offer an exciting opportunity in Dallas.

Todd Haley

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Yes, he was fired by the Browns alongside Hue Jackson, but that was reportedly due to the very obvious rift between Todd Haley and the head coach and had little to do with Haley’s actual ability as a coach. In that regard, Haley is a really great offensive coordinator. He started out as a disciple of Bill Parcells, which includes three seasons as the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator in Dallas when the Big Tuna was the head coach.

Haley has used the lessons he learned from Parcells everywhere he’s gone. He has no real offensive scheme, but instead focuses on highlighting each player’s strengths and aggressively attacking a defense’s weakness. He crafted a deadly vertical passing attack that nearly won a Super Bowl for the Cardinals, and then went to Pittsburgh and got some of the best years out of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown while turning Le’Veon Bell into a star. Much like Parcells, though, Haley can be a bit rough around the edges and that sometimes rubs his players the wrong way; he was reportedly let go by Pittsburgh after the 2017 season because Big Ben had grown tired of his shtick. His personality may end up clashing too much with Garrett’s culture, but if they decide he’s a fit, then the sky is the limit for what Haley could do with this roster.

Hue Jackson

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Okay, stop laughing. Yes, Hue Jackson was a laughably terrible head coach as he went 3-36-1 in two and a half years in Cleveland. But it can’t be forgotten that Jackson has been pretty great as an offensive coordinator. He ran the offense for the Raiders in 2010 and produced the sixth best scoring offense and second best rushing attack.

He was also the Bengals offensive coordinator from 2014 to 2015, during which time the Bengals averaged 24.5 points per game and went 22-9-1 in the regular season. In both of Jackson’s years as the offensive coordinator, the Bengals were top 15 in total yards, passing, and rushing, including having the sixth best rush attack in 2014. His success as an offensive coordinator is why Jackson was the hottest head coaching candidate after the 2015 season. It obviously didn’t work out, but Jackson’s ability to run an offense is very valuable. However, his ugly divorce from the Browns may deter the Cowboys from hiring him.