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Cowboys coaching search: Sifting through growing list of candidates for Cowboys next HC (Part I)

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Worried about how long Jerry Jones waited? Don’t be. There are more than enough candidates to consider.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma
Wait, does this clapping disqualify Lincoln Riley?
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Late last night, ESPN reported that the Cowboys are moving on without Jason Garrett as coach. Now they will reportedly begin the search for a new coach. We decided to help by weighing the pros and cons of some potential candidates. I will elicit the help of my podcast partner in crime, Mr. Tom Ryle. So, let’s review this growing list of names . . .

Mike McCarthy

Green Bay Packers (2006 - 2018)

Why it makes sense: The Cowboys haven’t sniffed the NFC Championship game in the last quarter of a century. Mike McCarthy had four NFC Championship appearances with the Packers and won a championship in 2010. If the Joneses believe this Cowboys roster is as strong in talent as many of the media experts believe it is, this might be the move to make. Mike McCarthy is skilled in offensive strategy and concepts but he also has the tangible success the Cowboys desperately crave.

Concerns: The way it ended in Green Bay was messy for Mike McCarthy. His relationship with future Hall-of-Fame QB Aaron Rodgers completely deteriorated. McCarthy ended two straight years with a .406 winning percentage. Is the current Mike McCarthy a major upgrade from Jason Garrett? Both guys have been criticized for lacking creativity and being rigid in their philosophies though reports suggest McCarthy has been working hard to change that narrative. Would he be able to step in and demand more of the players in the Cowboys’ locker room? Will he be able to unleash the full capability of his personnel instead of pigeon-hole their skill sets? These are all valid concerns about Mike McCarthy to consider for Jerry Jones.

Tom’s take: I am increasingly intrigued by McCarthy. If that year of prep is legit, it is a big plus, but not the biggest. First, he has that skin on his wall, so he knows how to build a winning culture. Second, he has the chops to stand up to Jerry and Stephen Jones. That could be a roadblock, of course, as I don’t think McCarthy is going to want a situation where some assistants are forced on him, and we know that has happened before in Dallas. If he were to come in with his staff (which could still include a holdover or two), I think things could go very well. He may be seen as a safe choice, but he might also be the best one at the same time. At the absolute least, he should be a due diligence interview.

As for the way he left the Packers, well, that may just be on Aaron Freaking Rodgers.

Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma Sooners (2017 - Present)

Why it makes sense: If offensive innovation is what the Cowboys covet most, you won’t find many names higher than Lincoln Riley. When you think about the contract obligations with Ezekiel Elliott, plus upcoming extensions for QB Dak Prescott and WR Amari Cooper, an offensive guru is a smart choice. Riley has built an impressive resume where he is 36-6 in just three years at Oklahoma. If the Cowboys want a coach that can maximize the offensive talent on their roster, this is about as good a move as any. Riley is one of the sharpest offensive minds in college football. He has a good track record with developing quarterbacks and taking offenses to the next level of explosiveness.

Concerns: To start, Riley has lost all three playoff games at Oklahoma. College coaches are hit or miss in the NFL because it’s just not the same atmosphere as a collegiate program. In the NFL, the talent is immense and can be overwhelming for coaches that can’t keep up. Riley also has issues fielding a competent defense in Oklahoma though they improved somewhat. That means it will be imperative to get a great defensive coordinator to pair with Riley. Can Lincoln Riley lead a locker room full of grown men and their differing personalities? Can Riley handle the pressure of being the head coach for the most visible franchise in football?

Tom’s take: I generally am not big on college coaches in the first place. The environment and requirements of the pro game are so different that it seems a lot riskier to go that route. Most college coaches succeed primarily through recruiting, which is pretty much an unneeded ability in the NFL. Additionally, they usually are unfamiliar with NFL assistants, and I am very leery of a staff made up mostly of college coaches.

But specifically about Riley, I am troubled by something I heard in the radio broadcast of the beatdown OU took at the hands of LSU, and that was that Riley was actually quite dependent in the running game. If you shut that down, you shut his entire offense. This seems to be the opposite of the general opinion of him, but if that is actually true, then he doesn’t seem like what the Cowboys need. The passing game needs to be more of the focus in Dallas.

However, the reports continue that the Jones family really like Riley. So we shall see.

Urban Meyer

Ohio State Buckeyes (2012 -2019)

Why it makes sense: Urban Meyer is a hot name and that’s a testament to his success in the college football landscape. If there is a big personality from the collegiate level that could handle “playing on Broadway” as Jerry Jones would say, Urban Meyer would be it. Meyer is another creative offensive-minded coach that knows how to maximize the talent of his roster and create mismatch opportunities. Meyer has a history of working with athletic and mobile quarterbacks like Dak Prescott which is another plus.

Concerns: There are reports out there about Meyer creating a toxic environment in his tenure at Florida then bailing on the program as it imploded. There are also the leave of absences, the negligence in dealing with an assistant coach accused of spousal abuse, and his retirement due to health concerns. Is Urban Meyer even really interested in making a leap to NFL coaching? Would he be able to handle coaching adults instead students and not having control of narratives in the media? Would Meyer be able to stick around a while or would he jump at the first sign of struggle? These are all concerns you have to consider when thinking about Urban Meyer.

Tom’s take: All the standard objections to hiring a college coach apply here, but there is so much more. Meyer is either shifty and untrustworthy, suffering from some mental and physical problems that make him untrustworthy, or he’s just an untrustworthy flake. You may sense a theme there.

In essence, Meyer is the coaching equivalent of the 2019 Cowboys. When things go well, he’s dynamite. But when adversity comes, he folds. Do we really want to double down on that kind of performance?

He’s a hard pass for me.


That wraps up Part I of the coaching search. In Part II, we’ll look at Ravens assistant Greg Roman, Saints assistant Dan Campbell, and Baylor coach Matt Rhule.