The annual NFL coaching carousel is up and in operation as the first week of the offseason began Monday for 20 teams of the league. While some teams have begun the interview process to fill their head coaching vacancy, and the Washington Redskins filled theirs, the Dallas Cowboys have yet to get on the ride five days into the offseason. Jason Garrett, whose contract is set to expire anytime now, remains the Dallas Cowboys head coach as the calendar turned to 2020.
Though there’s been no announcement about the future of the head coach position for the Cowboys, it’s presumed that Garrett will not be retained by the team. The decision has likely already been made and Garrett’s probably already been informed. Why it’s taking so long for the team to confirm what many believe to be the end of the Jason Garrett Era is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to begin the coaching search in the next few days and once that begins, there will be a lot of moving parts to sort through.
As the turnover at the top gets ready to unfold, however, there are several assistant coaches that the Dallas Cowboys should seriously consider bringing back, no matter who the head coach is in 2020.
1. Jon Kitna, Quarterbacks Coach
Though the season didn’t end with a trip to the playoffs for a chance to make a run at the Super Bowl, Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott saw a huge jump in his ability and his production from the 2018 and 2019 season. His mechanics were refined. He was more aggressive and decisive. Though we have to give the quarterback his due because Prescott has an excellent work ethic, having the right guy to drive the quarterback room matters and Jon Kitna and Dak Prescott thrived in their first year together.
It’s very possible that Prescott will get a new offensive coordinator in 2020 unless the new head coach decides to hold onto Kellen Moore. If that’s the case, then bringing back Kitna to be the voice in Prescott’s ear during the offseason training and quarterback meetings during the season would be the right move. Young quarterbacks and I can’t believe I’m calling a four-year veteran young, thrive in systems where there is little turnover to the offensive staff. Particularly the offensive coordinator or quarterback coach.
If the new regime wants to do their own thing offensively and not retain Moore as the offensive coordinator, then the front office should almost insist that they keep Kitna around for Dak Prescott’s sake.
Prescott’s year-to-year improvement should lead him to lobby for Kitna’s return. He’ll continue to improve in 2020 and who better to drive him than Jon Kitna.
2. Marc Colombo, Offensive Line Coach
Since 2014, the Dallas Cowboys have had four offensive line coaches. Bill Callahan, Frank Pollack, Paul Alexander, and more recently Marc Colombo. That’s a ton of turnover at a position that doesn’t generally see a lot of turnover from coaching regime to coaching regime. Especially when you have a good one. With Marc Colombo, the Dallas Cowboys have a good one.
After making the change in the middle of the 2018 season to remove then Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander and promoting Colombo, the Cowboys offensive line took a dramatic shift and improved significantly. Specifically, Right Tackle La’el Collins.
Collins, who struggled through the first half of 2018 to adapt to Alexander’s technique, was able to turn it around in the second half under Colombo. In 2019, Collins has experienced a breakout season and should be in consideration for the NFL’s All-Pro Teams even after being left off the initial Pro Bowl roster. He’s been so good that many have lauded him the Cowboys best offensive lineman of 2019. On an offensive line that features Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick, that’s high praise.
Collins leap into stardom and the overall continuity that the offensive line should experience over the next several years — four of their five offensive linemen are signed through the 2023 season — should encourage the Cowboys to seriously consider retaining Colombo for the future.
If there’s a position where continuity is key, it’s along the offensive line where communication and chemistry are huge for the group to be successful. And that’s true for the coach that’s delivering the message.
3. Gary Brown, Running Backs
The Dallas Cowboys have had a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2013 when Gary Brown came over from the Cleveland Browns to coach the team’s running backs. That’s with three different running backs; DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and Ezekiel Elliott.
That’s after seeing breakout seasons from Peyton Hillis in 2010 and arguably the best season of the career of Trent Richardson in 2012, who we know fell off after his rookie season. Hillis never had another 1,000-yard season and Richardson was out of the league two seasons after Brown left for the Cowboys.
Brown has a great rapport with starting running back Ezekiel Elliott and with rookie Tony Pollard. Elliott did what he’s always done since entering the league, even after missing training camp with his contract situation. A lot of credit should be given to Brown for helping Elliott get up to speed and be ready to go with limited time for preparation prior to week one.
Pollard’s play as a rookie was a significant addition to the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to come in and spell Elliott while providing a change of pace to the Cowboys running game was huge throughout the season. Pollard has some things to work on, but for a fourth-round rookie who didn’t take a ton of snaps at running back while at Memphis, he looked every bit the part of an NFL running back.
So much of what goes into coaching a position is as much about chemistry and communication as it is about drills and technique. Brown has shown an innate ability to relate to his players and help them maximize their talents. Elliott and Pollard seem to get along great with Brown and if the new coaching regime is up for it, the Dallas Cowboys should bring Gary Brown back.
4. Kellen Moore, Offensive Coordinator
Though it wasn’t always pretty, and the Dallas Cowboys went through some growing pains, Kellen Moore had a tremendous first season as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Despite the up and down nature of the offense at times, they still finished second in the NFL in expected points added, sixth in points, fourth in scoring percentage, and second in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage.
At times, the Cowboys looked to be onto something as they scored more than 30 points in each of their wins, only to fall back into some of the same old habits when facing top competition or when going on the road. Was that Kellen Moore, or was that Moore succumbing to the pressure of his head coach? We’ll never know.
One thing is for sure though, Moore, in only his second season as a coach at any level, showed enough to be really excited about his potential moving forward. Are there things that he as a coordinator can work on, of course.
The Cowboys generally seemed to struggle out of the gate most weeks and typically on the opening drive of the game where most teams thrive in their scripted plays. The Cowboys can get better than their 15th ranked red zone offense was in 2019. Most importantly, I think Moore needs to, and will, get better at understanding how to utilize the talented players on his offense.
At times this season, it seemed there was a disconnect from what they wanted to do in the running game and the passing game. It didn’t seem to mesh. He can get better at allowing the run and pass game to build off of one another. All of that comes with experience.
So much of Kellen Moore’s future will depend on who the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys will be in 2020. If it’s someone like Lincoln Riley who comes with his own offensive system, it doesn’t make much sense to hold onto Kellen Moore. If it’s someone like Nick Saban, who is more known for his defensive prowess, Moore could be a fit for his coaching staff in the future. Then there’s the obvious link between Moore and his former Boise State coach Chris Petersen.
Of all of these coaches, Moore’s job seems to be the one in the biggest limbo. It’s much easier to retain a position coach than it is a coordinator when there’s a change at the top of the coaching chain of command. If Moore is let go, it shouldn’t serve as a knock at the job he did in Dallas. As a rookie coordinator, he was excellent and the sky’s the limit for him moving forward.
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It’s absolutely understandable to have the mindset that says, “a new head coach should be allowed to pick his own staff,” and I don’t disagree with that at all. However, it is important to recognize the talent that the current coaching staff already has in place and how that can serve to decrease the turnover and increase continuity from 2019 to 2020.
The Dallas Cowboys have several talented coaches on the offensive side of the football that are worth keeping. If not, they’ll be successful anywhere they go.