So the Cowboys are moving on from Jason Garrett, according to an ESPN report from Thursday night. What we’ve all been expecting was seemingly confirmed, even though we’re still waiting on an announcement from the team. Still, it seems like the Cowboys are about to begin their first full-blown head coaching search since 2006 when Bill Parcells retired.
Given the allure of the Cowboys franchise and the perceived talent of the team, it shouldn’t be hard for Jerry Jones to find a good coach. But perhaps the biggest challenge is sifting through all the contenders, as there have been an endless list of names thrown out there. In an effort to centralize it all, here’s a compilation of all the names mentioned in connection with the vacancy, sorted by categories. (Some of these names could come off the list at any moment as many are already interviewing with other teams.)
The College Coaches
Urban Meyer - College head coach for 17 seasons between Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State. Has a 187-32 overall record, three national championships. Zero NFL coaching experience. Has retired twice now for health reasons. Has a history of players and coaches getting in trouble. One of the innovators of the spread offense, which he credited Scott Linehan, among others, as an inspiration for. The Browns reportedly have a “strong interest” in him already.
Lincoln Riley - Current Oklahoma head coach, three years as head coach. Began coaching in 2003. Spent first seven years of coaching career (and one year as a player) at Texas Tech under Mikle Leach. Has a 36-6 overall record, has yet to win a bowl game. Zero NFL coaching experience. Features an Air Raid offense that’s helped Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts develop into NFL prospects.
Matt Rhule - Current Baylor head coach, has seven years as a head coach. Has coached multiple positions on offense, defense, and special teams, and served as offensive coordinator. Coached Temple to consecutive 10-win seasons, the first two times the program had ever had that many wins, before taking over Baylor. Rebuilt the program in the wake of a scandal that depleted the roster of its talent and won 11 games this year with a bowl game remaining. Has a 47-42 overall record. Has one year of NFL experience as assistant offensive line coach for the 2012 New York Giants. Is already interviewing with the Panthers and Giants.
Chris Petersen - College head coach for 14 seasons between Boise State and Washington. Has a 147-38 overall record. Was previously the offensive coordinator at Boise State, where he created the multiple offense the Broncos became famous for (and which Kellen Moore ran this year in Dallas). Petersen stepped down from his role at Washington, citing the stress of the job. Zero NFL coaching experience but has always been looked at favorably by NFL execs. Familiarity with Moore is obvious connection, should Dallas want to retain him.
Dan Mullen - Current Florida head coach, has 11 years as a head coach. Has an 89-51 overall record. Served as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida. Turned Mississippi State into a respectable program in nine seasons there. Has taken Florida to consecutive 10-win seasons since being hired there. Runs similar spread offense to Meyer but with heavier focus on option plays. Zero NFL coaching experience but he was Dak Prescott’s college coach.
Jim Harbaugh - Current Michigan head coach, has 16 years as a head coach between University of San Diego, Stanford, Michigan, and the 49ers. Has a 105-44 record in college and 44-19-1 record in the NFL. Turned Stanford into the powerhouse they are today, quickly turned the 49ers into a Super Bowl contender, and has brought Michigan, his alma mater, back into the national spotlight. Was let go in San Francisco after butting heads with his general manager. Is considered on the hot seat at Michigan for his winless record vs Ohio State despite a 47-17 record there.
David Shaw - Current Stanford head coach, has nine years as a head coach, all at Stanford. He was the Stanford offensive coordinator under Harbaugh and was promoted to head coach when Harbaugh left for the NFL. Has sustained success at Stanford and has a 86-34 overall record. Has nine years of NFL coaching experience as a quality control and position coach. Has been the apple of many NFL execs’ eyes for a while but always remained at Stanford. Now, after a season decimated by injuries and with 14 players transferring, there’s buzz that Shaw may be ready to make the jump to the NFL.
Tony Elliott - Currently the co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Clemson. Has been coaching since 2006 and became co-offensive coordinator in 2015. Has called plays for great Clemson offenses and produced NFL talent, including Deshaun Watson, en route to winning two national championships. Has zero head coaching experience or NFL experience, making him an unusual candidate, but has been linked to the job.
Mike McCarthy - Coached the Green Bay Packers for nearly 13 years before he was fired at the end of last year. With a 125-77-2 overall record, McCarthy is the only serious candidate on this list who has actually won a Super Bowl as a head coach. McCarthy’s firing was accompanied by narratives that he wasted the primes of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, only managing one Super Bowl win with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. During his year off, though, McCarthy has looked at ways to reinvent himself and integrate analytics into his coaching style. Has already interviewed with the Panthers and Giants and will interview with the Browns.
Josh McDaniels - While Josh McDaniels is regarded as one of the league’s best offensive coordinators, it’s easy to forget he’s been a head coach before. He went 11-17 in Denver and didn’t even make it a full two seasons before getting fired. But McDaniels’ résumé speaks for itself: six Super Bowls and a Hall of Fame quarterback under his watch. But the question remains if McDaniels’ success is due more to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick than him. McDaniels initially took the Colts job prior to last season but backed out at the last second. Still, Dallas has interest in him. Will likely interview with the Browns, Giants, and Panthers.
Marvin Lewis - Currently the special adviser at Arizona State, Lewis was a mainstay of the NFL for quite some time. He was the conductor of the 2000 Ravens defense and served 16 seasons as the Bengals head coach, becoming the winningest coach in franchise history with a 131-122-3 overall record. His biggest critique was going 0-7 in the postseason. Still, Lewis is known as a coach who can instill a positive culture and his experience working with the Bengals front office, which runs similarly to the Cowboys’, could give him an edge when it comes to working with Jones.
Gary Kubiak - Currently the assistant head coach/offensive adviser for the Vikings. Kubiak has nearly ten years as a head coach between the Texans and Broncos. With a 82-75 career record, he won a Super Bowl as the Broncos head coach with Peyton Manning, and is partially credited with turning around the Vikings offense this year. However, Kubiak retired as head coach in Denver due to health reasons, and that could be an impediment to his head coaching candidacy anywhere, let alone in the high pressure city of Dallas.
Sean Payton - As long as he’s still alive, Sean Payton will always be linked to the Cowboys. Before becoming the Saints head coach, Payton was the Cowboys offensive coordinator for three years and he’s become what Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan are to Redskins fans: the one that got away. Payton is 131-77 in his 13 seasons in New Orleans and has a Super Bowl win to his name. But Payton signed a five-year extension with New Orleans at the start of this season, so he’s about as realistic a candidate as Tony Romo at this point.
Mike Zimmer - Much like Payton, Zimmer is a former Cowboys coordinator from the Parcells era who went on to greener pastures. After building one of the NFL’s top defenses in Cincinnati under Marvin Lewis, Zimmer became the Vikings head coach. He’s gone 57-38-1 in six seasons and turned the Vikings into legitimate contenders. He spent the first thirteen years of his NFL coaching career in Dallas, so there might be a desire to return. However, with his Vikings team in the playoffs, it’d be hard for the Cowboys to pry him away.
Ron Rivera - He was a name associated with the Cowboys, but he is now the new coach in Washington.
The First Time Hopefuls
Greg Roman - The Baltimore Ravens are the best team in the NFL, and their offense features the MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman spent all offseason building an offense around his new quarterback, and incorporating analytics into the approach, and the results have been incredible. Roman also had success with other mobile quarterbacks in the past - with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco under Jim Harbaugh and Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo under Rex Ryan - so his pairing with Dak makes sense. He’s been around as a coach since 1995 and might finally get his first shot as a head coach. He’s already been requested for an interview with the Browns.
Eric Bieniemy - Recent years have shown that plucking a head coach from the Andy Reid coaching tree can yield success. Naturally, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is next in line. While he doesn’t call the plays, Bieniemy has helped create one of the NFL’s best offenses and developed Patrick Mahomes into a star. He interviewed for four head jobs last year and should make the rounds again this year. Like McDaniels, Bieniemy will interview with the Browns, Panthers, and Giants.
Dan Campbell - Technically, Campbell has head coaching experience, having gone 5-7 as an interim head coach in Miami, but the current Saints assistant head coach and tight ends coach is looking to be hired as a full-time head coach for the first time. I’ve already made it clear that he’s my favorite for the job, but the disciple of both Sean Payton and Bill Parcells doesn’t have the star power of other names on this exhaustive list.
Robert Saleh - One of the NFC’s best teams and best defenses was the 49ers, who made a huge improvement in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s third year in the role. A passionate leader who’s open to adaptability, Saleh also has an incredible story to boot. He’s sure to get plenty of head coach interviews this offseason, and Dallas could be among them. Has an interview scheduled with the Browns.
Matt Eberflus - Who says you can’t go home? Matt Eberflus coached linebackers for seven years in Dallas and was seen as Rod Marinelli’s heir apparent until he got the defensive coordinator job in Indianapolis. A rapid turnaround for the Colts defense last year earned him a few head coaching interviews last year, and he could be looked at favorably by Dallas since they already know him well.
The Out of the Box Candidate
Jason Witten - Would this be a crazy move? Absolutely, but it’s apparently not out of the question. In the last week, reports have surfaced about Witten’s potential to go directly from player to head coach due to his relationship with Jones. Witten has no coaching experience but has been a vocal leader in the Cowboys locker room for pretty much all of his career. This move would certainly gain lots of attention, and Jones loves that, so we can’t really rule it out.