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Second impressions of the Cowboys’ coaching staff rebuild

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The jobs are nearly all filled, so let’s take another look at the big picture.

Baltimore Orioles v Texas Rangers
It’s been another big construction project. But a lot faster than this one.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Although things are not quite wrapped up, the Mike McCarthy coaching staff has largely been set. The focus for the Dallas Cowboys is starting to shift to the team’s looming contract decisions about free agents Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, and others. While that promises a lot of developments, some perhaps not what many were expecting, it seems like a good time to look back at the process of putting the staff together and what it looks like now.

Remember the panic?

It has, of course, been a long time since Mike McCarthy was hired. Well, maybe not exactly that long, since his hire was only announced on January 7th, after a whirlwind courtship by Jerry Jones the previous weekend.

What now seems rather funny is the sense of panic that pervaded so much of the fan base in the week after the end of the regular season. If you don’t recall, there was much hand-wringing that the Cowboys would be beaten to all the good hires because they didn’t actually come out and say that Jason Garrett would not be returning until the Sunday after the final week of the season. In a matter of absolutely pure coincidence, the report came out during the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks. That, combined with McCarthy’s Saturday night stay at the Omni Hotel located at the Star in Frisco, made it pretty clear that the hiring was coming.

In retrospect, the concerns were wildly overblown. First off, only four other teams replaced their head coaches this offseason. It was a bit of a buyers’ market, since there is a lot of potential head coaching material still out there even after the jobs have all been filled. Part of the urgency was spurred by the almost immediate hiring of Ron Rivera in Washington, but they had a clear advantage in having dismissed Jay Gruden midseason, allowing them to start their search early. They found their man among the ranks of the currently unemployed, since Rivera had likewise been dismissed before all the games were played. While he might have gotten some consideration from Dallas, there is no current evidence he was high on their list.

Despite the worries, the Cowboys were the first of the remaining teams to fill their vacancy. It is worth noting that McCarthy interviewed or at least talked with all of the other franchises, except maybe Washington, before he got to Dallas. It proves just how attractive the Cowboys remain, and also speaks to Jones’ salesmanship and willingness to pay his coaches. The actual numbers still have not come out, but it is almost certainly for more annually than Jason Garrett’s deal, which was reportedly a five-year, $30 million one, or $6 million per year. We don’t know how serious other teams might have been about McCarthy, but he apparently had zero hesitation in taking Jones’ hand when the job was offered.

McCarthy claimed to have a plan, and it seems like he did

The rest of the staff has been filled at an impressive rate. Part of McCarthy’s pitch to teams was that he had a list of coaches he was interested in bringing in. The hires so far not only indicate that was true, they show almost no evidence of any meddling by Jones. So far, there have been only three holdovers from last season, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, defensive tackle coach Leon Lett, and Doug Nussmeier, who was reassigned from tight ends to quarterbacks. It is possible that Jones or his son Stephen put in a good word for them, but this is a far cry from the past, such as when Garrett was hired as offensive coordinator before Wade Phillips was brought in as head coach. McCarthy seems to have similar control over his own staff to that granted Bill Parcells during his tenure.

That speed was beneficial, as McCarthy was mostly able to get his guys before other teams could. Only one case has been reported of not getting his first option. He supposedly was targeting Stan Drayton of the University of Texas to coach the running backs before bringing in Skip Peete, who had held the same job previously with the Cowboys.

Now the staff is just about done. And this has turned out to be an impressive list, at least on paper.

What we think we know

These names have all been reported as hires, although the official DallasCowboys.com website has not changed the assistants as of the time this was written. Including the most recent news, this is what we will see.

HC: Mike McCarthy

OC: Kellen Moore

DC: Mike Nolan

ST: John Fassel

OL: Joe Philbin

Asst OL: Jeff Blasko

QB: Doug Nussmeier

RB: Skip Peete

TE: Lunda Wells

DL: Jim Tomsula

DB: Maurice Linguist

DB: Al Harris

WR: Adam Henry

DT: Leon Lett

Senior defensive assistant/LB: George Edwards

LB: Scott McCurley

QC: Chase Haslett

S&C: Markus Paul

NOTE: Some actual responsibilities are still being clarified.

That is a list with some impressive and interesting credentials, for the most part. There are several with head coaching experience, either full time or interim. Nolan and Fassel both are highly regarded for their past performance. Linguist is the lone example so far of bringing in recent college experience. And Haslett is the son of Jim Haslett, another well-regarded coach who was part of McCarthy’s team during his year of preparation to reenter the league. The quality control role often serves as a kind of apprenticeship for new coaches with an eye to growing them for more responsibilities down the line. It is kind of a bet on him having learned something from his father.

This group is very long on experience, outside of Wells and Haslett. It is also an example of how Jerry Jones often tells us exactly what is going on with the team, in his own inimitable way. He spoke during the interregnum between Garrett and McCarthy of how there was going to be a focus on experience for the new regime. That is exactly how it played out.

Now we have our staff, or nearly all of it. If you believe in the value of past experience and some skins on the wall, then it is hard not to be a bit impressed by this group.