The Cowboys are now sitting at 6-6 after getting embarrassed by the Buffalo Bills at home on national television, and depending on who you listen to, Jerry Jones has already decided he’s going to move on from Jason Garrett unless the embattled head coach can somehow win a Super Bowl.
Naturally, Las Vegas already has put out an exhaustive list of candidates with odds on who’s going to be the next head coach, and the top of the list includes big names like former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, current Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
But one name that isn’t being talked about as much, but could potentially be the best possible fit for the Cowboys, is Dan Campbell. Currently serving as the Saints’ assistant head coach and tight ends coach, Campbell has 25/1 odds to be hired. While not nearly as famous as Meyer or Riley or McDaniels, Campbell would check a lot of boxes.
For starters, he comes from two very rich coaching trees. Obviously, Campbell currently serves as the top assistant to Sean Payton, and has done so for the last four seasons. Campbell has played an integral role in the Saints’ resurgence after enduring three straight 7-9 finishes; according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, Campbell is “heavily involved” in the Saints’ running game, which features Alvin Kamara, as well as addressing the team every week on breaking down the upcoming opponent and summarizing keys to the game.
Campbell also works with the tight ends and has gotten solid production out of a constantly-changing position group since arriving in New Orleans. In 2016, Campbell led Coby Fleener to a career resurgence with 50 catches for 631 yards and three touchdowns. In 2018, Campbell helped aging veteran Ben Watson turn the clock back to finish third on the team in receptions and fourth in receiving yards and this year’s tight end, Jared Cook, is currently third in catches and second in yards and touchdowns. Surely Campbell’s experience with tight ends would help in the development of Blake Jarwin and even Dalton Schultz.
But Campbell’s appeal goes beyond his deep involvement in the recent success of Payton’s offense. Campbell also comes from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, which has significantly shaped Campbell’s approach to coaching. Parcells, of course, is known for his ability to relate to players and willingness to adapt to the opponent that week. Campbell summarized as much when remembering how Parcells scored an upset win back with the 2005 Dallas Cowboys:
One lesson learned was the value of outside-the-box thinking when it comes to game-planning, especially when facing a superior opponent. Campbell vividly remembers how Parcells laid the groundwork for a 31-28 upset over Kansas City during the 2005 season.
”They were No. 1 in the league in points per game, and we were not that type of team, although we had a good defense,” Campbell said. “Parcells said, ‘Look, we’re gonna be aggressive. We’re gonna throw the ball down the field. On fourth down, we’re gonna go for it.’
”It was totally opposite than the nature of how he had taught us to play. But we won the game because we outscored them.”
This also touches on one of the other appealing aspects of a potential Campbell coaching tenure: his familiarity with the organization. There’s a reason Garrett is the longest tenured head coach in the Jerry Jones era, and a reason why bigger names like Jimmy Johnson and even Parcells failed to last more than five seasons in Dallas. The ability to have a healthy relationship with the Joneses and the rest of the front office is key to long term stability, and a more high-profile coach could come in with too big of an ego or be more set in their ways.
Campbell, though, wouldn’t have that problem and in fact has history in Dallas from his three seasons playing there, which included him serving as a mentor to a young Jason Witten. Beyond that, Campbell is a Texas native who grew up in Clifton and played college ball at Texas A&M under legendary coach RC Slocum. He would easily bring a blend of new and old to the franchise without having the ego of a Meyer or McDaniels that would potentially clash with the front office.
That’s not to say Campbell is inexperienced. He served as the interim head coach of the Dolphins in 2015, going 5-7 with a squad that had only one win prior to him taking over. He turned things around quickly by ushering in a culture change focused on toughness and curing their lackadaisical starts to games, and it worked. At the time, a former teammate of Campbell’s, Howard Cross, explained the coach’s motivation style:
His pedigree will cause him to level with these players in a cut and dry fashion -- whoever doesn’t do their job will find someone else there the next day. He knows no other way than dealing directly with the heart of a matter.
One final appeal of Campbell is the staff he could bring with him. The Joneses would likely seek to keep most of their offensive staff in place, given how well the unit has performed under Kellen Moore’s watch, and Campbell could easily incorporate elements of the Saints’ offense into Moore’s scheme given that New Orleans already runs a scheme predicated on “plays that start off looking the same that are different.”
Campbell could also potentially bring with him a high profile special teams coordinator in Darren Rizzi, who he knew from his days in Miami and who credited his relationship with Campbell as one reason for joining New Orleans this past offseason.
Defensively, Campbell could stick with Rod Marinelli, who he played for in Detroit, or potentially bring with him current Saints defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, a former Cowboy himself who’s been responsible for the growth of players like Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams. Either way, Campbell brings a wealth of NFL connections for such a young coach.
The biggest key, of course, is his combination of principles learned from Parcells - something he has in common with Bill Belichick - and from Payton, who’s got a Super Bowl ring on his finger, as does Campbell. That, in addition to his leadership and emphasis on aggressive toughness, is why Parcells is personally vouching for him. Colts general manager Chris Ballard nearly hired Campbell over Frank Reich, and had this to say about the Saints assistant:
“Most tight ends who play in this league are very smart. They’ve got to know both the passing and running game. When we interviewed Dan, you see that in him. He’s been mentored and trained playing under Bill Parcells and coaching under Sean Payton. He’s got a great vision of what he wants (his team) to be. I think he’s going to be an outstanding head coach. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
In watching this clip of Campbell discussing the Saints’ draft strategy prior to the 2019 draft, you can catch glimpses of what Ballard alluded to. It seems like Campbell has learned from two of the best and gets it. He may not be a big name, but he could be a home run hire.