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7 candidates to replace Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore

Whoever is the offensive coordinator, it looks like Mike McCarthy will call the plays.

NFL: OCT 02 Chiefs at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, it’s happened: the Cowboys have decided to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. To make things more interesting, head coach Mike McCarthy is expected to take over the play-calling, something he did for all but one season in Green Bay.

So now Dallas is in need of an offensive coordinator, but not someone who will actually call plays. That limits the list of potential candidates, and likely leaves just coaches who have ties to McCarthy. Offensive line coach Joe Philbin would’ve been a prime candidate, and filled that role twice in Green Bay, but his contract was not renewed following this season.

With that in mind, here are seven candidates - some of which are already on the staff - who could potentially take the position of a non-playcalling offensive coordinator in Dallas.

In house candidates

Coaching consultant Brian Schottenheimer

The only remaining name on this staff with meaningful experience as a coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer, who just wrapped his first season in Dallas as a coaching consultant. He has 12 seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, as well as one season in the college ranks at Georgia.

Schottenheimer’s addition to the staff coincided with a significant uptick in rushing efficiency for Dallas, though it’s unclear just how involved the run-heavy former coordinator was. Still, he has at least some experience within the organization and has plenty of experience, making him a legitimate candidate.

There had been rumors that Schottenheimer was Dan Quinn’s offensive coordinator if he took a head coaching gig this year, but with Quinn returning to Dallas there isn’t a worry of losing Schottenheimer now. And if he was good enough for Quinn, who’s to say he’s not good enough for Dallas?

Tight ends coach Lunda Wells

If McCarthy is merely looking for a coach he’s already familiar with, Lunda Wells would make some sense. McCarthy didn’t wait long before poaching Wells from the Giants staff in his first year in Dallas, and the 39 year old position coach has certainly made him look smart for that hire.

Under Wells’ guidance, Dalton Schultz had a career year in 2021 and also oversaw the quick progression of rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot just this year. Those who know Wells closely have often described him as a rising star in the coaching ranks, and he could make for a good candidate as a non-play-calling coordinator under McCarthy moving forward.

Coaching assistant Scott Tolzien

This might be too big a jump for Scott Tolzien, who is still very early on in his coaching career. That said, Tolzien is certainly more familiar with McCarthy than anyone else currently on staff. Tolzien played quarterback for the Packers as a reserve for three seasons, all of which saw McCarthy in charge of both the team and the offense.

He’s been with the Cowboys for the past three seasons as a coaching assistant, primarily working with quarterbacks. He obviously has a good understanding of the type of offense McCarthy likes to run and has already built up at least somewhat of a relationship with Dak Prescott. It wouldn’t be completely out of left field for him to take up this role now given that experience.

That said, going from coaching assistant to offensive coordinator all at once would be rare, to put it lightly. Tolzien is perhaps a more natural fit for quarterbacks coach, as it appears that Doug Nussmeier is also leaving Dallas along with Moore.

External candidates

Former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich

It would admittedly be a little awkward if the Cowboys turned around and hired Byron Leftwich right after being the last team he faced before getting fired, but Leftwich would surely get over it real quick for a chance to work with Dak Prescott.

The Buccaneers offense was really bad this year, and Leftwich ultimately took the fall for that. One does not simply put even an ounce of blame at the feet of Tom Brady, who posted the worst single season QBR of his entire career. One also does not consider that the Buccaneers’ top four wide receivers all missed multiple games throughout the year, adding to an offensive line that was ripped apart in the offseason between the retirement of Ali Marpet, the free agent loss of Alex Cappa, and Ryan Jensen missing the entire regular season.

In other words, Leftwich was doing the best he could with what little he had. This was not the same stacked cupboard that Leftwich had the last two years, each of which saw his offense finish top three in offensive DVOA. Oh, and did I mention Leftwich was calling the offense when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl?

Just a year ago, Leftwich was on the verge of being named the Jaguars head coach, but he pulled his name from consideration over concerns relating to the GM there. This was after just about every other team with a vacancy had also interviewed Leftwich. The idea that he suddenly turned into a bad coach given everything else that happened in Tampa Bay this last year seems unlikely.

Hailing from the Bruce Arians School of Offense, Leftwich is an aggressive coordinator who always tries to stretch defenses vertically. That would be a big change from the way this offense has operated under Moore, often opting for more underneath routes and only occasionally taking deep shots on designed shot plays. Leftwich has also had great success with the run game, with this season being the lone exception.

With McCarthy calling plays now, Leftwich would have an opportunity for a soft rebound of sorts after the sour way his tenure in Tampa Bay ended. He could take time to learn from McCarthy and diversify his schemes, and still be in contention for a head coaching gig down the road: both Zac Taylor and Nick Sirianni were hired as head coaches without ever calling a play at their previous stops. Leftwich is likely to opt for another job where he would have more autonomy, but he can’t be ruled out as a possibility.

Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements

Now it’s time to start diving into the guys with strong ties to McCarthy, since he’ll likely be looking for a close confidante as he installs his own offensive system in Dallas. Tom Clements was part of McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay for 11 of his 13 seasons there. Clements started out as the quarterbacks coach before being elevated to offensive coordinator and later being reassigned to assistant head coach.

Clements left the team after the 2016 season in a move that was largely attributed to the growing tension between Aaron Rodgers and the coaching staff. He returned to coaching in 2019 as the pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Cardinals, helping Kyler Murray transition to the pro game. Clements returned to Green Bay this past season, apparently at the request of Rodgers, but the mercurial quarterback is once again the subject of intense trade speculation.

To say that Clements knows McCarthy inside and out would be an understatement. Both are natives of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, making them kindred spirits. And, of course, the two have worked together extensively with exceptional results for the Packers. There may be no coach better suited to serve as McCarthy’s right hand man going forward than Clements.

There is also the matter of coaching succession. Clements is 69 years old and definitely in the twilight of his coaching career. If, indeed, someone like Tolzien is promoted to coach Prescott and the rest of the quarterbacks, he could be seen as a candidate to be groomed for the position of coordinator with Clements helping to first establish the new system.

Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo

Ben McAdoo is definitely not a name that Cowboys fans are unfamiliar with. He had a (less than) two year stint as the head coach of the Giants not too long ago, following up an 11-5 campaign with a season that got him fired after a 2-10 start. But McAdoo is more than just that.

He was a longtime McCarthy disciple prior to that Giants job. Like McCarthy, he’s a Pittsburgh native who managed to catch McCarthy’s eye as a graduate assistant at Pitt. McCarthy brought in McAdoo as a quality control coach when McCarthy was the offensive coordinator for the Saints. McAdoo followed McCarthy to the 49ers and then to the Packers, where he rose through the ranks. McAdoo coached offensive line, tight ends, and quarterbacks in Green Bay before getting the Giants job.

That was a big reason why McAdoo joined the Cowboys staff last year in the same role Schottenheimer just held this season. That was all it took for McAdoo to land the offensive coordinator role for the Panthers this past year, although things didn’t quite work out. The Panthers fired their head coach early into the season, and McAdoo rode out a quarterback circus to a 7-10 finish, just narrowly missing the playoffs.

McAdoo is unlikely to be retained in Carolina after Frank Reich was named the new head coach, but he could easily return to Dallas in the same role, albeit without play-calling duties. Like Clements, McAdoo knows McCarthy and his scheme very well. Unlike Clements, though, McAdoo has at least some familiarity with the Cowboys and their personnel.

Pittsburgh Panthers offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.

Hey look, another Pittsburgh man! Anyone who knows McCarthy knows he loves the fact that he’s from Pittsburgh, and it’s served as the foundation for many of his coaching connections throughout football. That’s true for Frank Cignetti Jr., who just wrapped up his first season running the offense at Pitt.

Cignetti was the quarterbacks coach under McCarthy for two seasons in New Orleans back in the day, and he served in that same role in what turned out to be McCarthy’s final season with the Packers. Furthermore, Cignetti was one of three coaches who were part of what was known as The McCarthy Project. That was McCarthy’s year off from football, where he spent almost every day watching film of various teams and trying to reinvent himself for his next job. The other two coaches were Scott McCurley - who is now on staff in Dallas - and Jim Haslett, whose son is a quality control coach in Dallas.

Cignetti did not join McCarthy in Dallas, as he landed the offensive coordinator role at Boston College instead. His success over two seasons there led to his hiring at Pitt, which might make it unlikely for him to now jump to the NFL for less responsibility. That said, if Cignetti wants to coach in the NFL, this may be his best opportunity.

As for McCarthy, his connections to Cignetti obviously run deep. Not only have they worked together before, but Cignetti was there during the year off where McCarthy was hellbent on modernizing his offense. It may be the right time to reteam with someone who was part of that soul-searching project.

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