Mike McCarthy's Cowboys 2020 coaching staff: Who's in, who's out, everything to know about Dallas' coaches
Two intriguing hires round out McCarthy's staff in Dallas
It's a whole new world in North Texas, and it suddenly rivals the one shown to princess Jasmine by Aladdin. Green Bay Packers in the span of two days -- that included an unplanned stayover in Dallas -- to force the issue with Garrett.with the expectation they'd move on from longtime head coach Jason Garrett, and even then it took an impressive combo of interviews from former
On Sunday, Jan. 5,moving on from Garrett, at least in spirit.
With McCarthy officially in and Garrett out effective Jan. 14, when his contract officially expires, Super Bowl drought. That sounds as challenging as it actually is, especially considering the enormous amount of pressure on McCarthy and his coming staff to get the job done sooner than later.for the former to build a talented group of coaches that can finally life the Cowboys out of their more than two-decade old
Although he's on a five-year deal that locks him in through the 2025 season, Jones is 77 years old and "doesn't have time for a bad time," which is precisely why he brought McCarthy in -- an experienced and proven head coach at the NFL coach.
A clean-sweep firing wasn't necessary for the Cowboys as they change regimes, with the large majority of Garrett's staff no longer under contract. There are some who are, however, and Jones would like to see two or three of them remain in Dallas for the future, but he's also giving McCarthy carte blanche to form his staff as he sees fit. For as much as the Cowboys were interviewing McCarthy for the position as head coach, McCarthy was interviewing the Joneses to ensure he'd have the freedom to mostly do things his way.
Permission requested. Permission granted. Broom jumped.
Here is the Cowboys coaching staff for 2020 thus far -- as confirmed by sources to CBS Sports -- pending finalization.
[Updated: Jan. 27.]
Mike McCarthy - Head coach
By now, you know this gentleman very well. Before he took the reins as leader of the most viewed and vilified sports franchise on the planet, he found success in yet another legacy team by way of the Packers, spending 13 seasons in Wisconsin delivering a Super Bowl victory along with an overall regular season record of 125-77-2. He becomes the first person in NFL history to be named head coach of both the Packers and the Cowboys, hoping to truly establish himself as a legend by leading both to a Lombardi trophy.
Jones and the Cowboys haven't appeared in the NFC Championship in 24 years, while McCarthy has been four times since 2006 -- when he was hired by the Packers as head coach -- including in his second season with the club. The Packers were 4-12 the year before, which shows how quickly McCarthy stepped in and turned things around, which included ultimately staring down Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre to keep Aaron Rodgers (whom he groomed via his "quarterback school") in the starting role and winning games.
He won a Super Bowl in his first four years in Green Bay, and the Cowboys would like to order that with a side of orange juice -- no pulp.
Rob Davis - Assistant head coach
This may not be the spiciest hire on this list, but it's the most interesting. Davis joins the Cowboys as assistant head coach on the behest of McCarthy, and that's a hefty title he's landed -- having no previous experience whatsoever as a coach in any capacity, or at any level of any sport. The former undrafted long snapper for the New York Jets (1993) spent time as a player for several NFL teams, including practice squad duty, before ending his career with the Packers in 2007. His football acumen was impressive enough for Green Bay to name him Director of Player Development in 2008, a role within the team's football operations department that made him an executive with the club in McCarthy's second season as Packers head coach.
Davis remained in that role for a decade, leaving one year prior to McCarthy having been fired in 2018, and he's been working in the private sector between then and now. As a football executive, he shares the same Super Bowl XLV victory as McCarthy, and like some others on named below (Joe Philbin, for example), Davis will reunite with the former Packers head coach as they look to turn things around rather expeditiously in Dallas.
In Davis' time with the Packers, their scouting department/player development was heralded, and he'll provide a strong voice in helping McCarthy and the Cowboys. All in all, you shouldn't presume to see Davis patrolling the sidelines barking commands like McCarthy, the coordinators or the position coaches, but instead view him as an executive within the coaching staff, but not the front office.
Kellen Moore - Offensive coordinator
Yes, McCarthy has the power to build his staff. Yes, Jones wanted to retain Moore if at all possible. The good news is those two things were in lockstep, because Moore had already caught McCarthy's eye before the head coaching interview ever took place. So when McCarthy got to Dallas, he was all-in on taking the talented young offensive coordinator under his wing, especially after seeing Moore flip the team's offense from one of the worst in the league to literally the best in the league in one year flat.
There were growing pains in Moore's first year that can't be excused away, but they were also downright expected. Only two years prior to succeeding longtime coordinator and mentor Scott Linehan, Moore was fighting for a role as a backup on the team, and his meteoric rise following retirement as a player was obviously going to lend itself to some hiccups. There are things Moore must learn going forward, and will, which can only be expedited when tethered to an experienced and talented offensive mind like McCarthy.
Moore took some time to decide between remaining with the Cowboys -- who he's been with in some capacity since 2015 -- and joining the University of Washington in 2020, but sources confirm to CBS Sports he's expected to stay put with the expectation he'll launch his NFL brand into the stratosphere in the next few seasons.
Mike Nolan - Defensive coordinator
With the ushering in of a new era came the end of Rod Marinelli's time with the Cowboys, having served as defensive coordinator since 2014 after joining the club as defensive line coach the year before. His defense showed great promise in 2018 when joined with the mind of Legion of Boom engineer Kris Richard, but things took a massive step back for the duo in 2019. McCarthy touched down in Dallas not willing to sift through the rubble on the defensive side of the equation, taking a much different approach than the one that led him to join forces with the Joneses to convince Moore to hang around.
Instead, McCarthy reached out and poached Nolan from the New Orleans Saints, a clear and definitive goodbye to Marinelli and possibly Richard -- the latter having yet to garner an interview with McCarthy or the Cowboys. Nolan served as defensive coordinator for four different NFL teams in his pro tenure, and linebackers coach for several others as well as in the collegiate ranks. What that means for a potential bounce-back season on Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch is to be determined, but the needle is definitely pointing up.
Nolan is a flex coordinator, as in he can run either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme and sometimes a hybrid, and with the Cowboys currently running the latter -- plugging in Nolan creates no issues. Instead, what it does is give the team a healthy dose of two coaches in Nolan and McCarthy who not only put a premium on the safety position, but also a big-bodied defensive interior lineman; and that's two things the Cowboys have been allergic to caring about under Garrett and Marinelli.
John Fassel - Special teams
At one point during the season, things were so abysmal with the Cowboys special teams unit that the team was heavily considering parting ways with coordinator Keith O'Quinn, a source confirmed to me in 2019, but they instead opted to simply ride out the wave and hope he could turn things around. He didn't, so while a separate source tells CBS Sports of O'Quinn's new expected assignment in the scouting department, McCarthy was busy with yet another NFL poach job -- landing a massive upgrade over O'Quinn by convincing John "Bones" Fassel to walk away from the Los Angeles Rams and join the very Cowboys team he suffered a blowout loss to in Week 15.
The Rams announced the move officially on Wednesday, Jan. 8, and with the reverence and respect Garrett himself couldn't get out of the Cowboys in the final moments of his tenure, but that truly shows just how valuable Fassel was in Los Angeles. Widely known for being one of -- if not the -- most aggressive and creative special teams coordinator in the NFL, teams never know if there's a fake coming, or if there isn't, and that unpredictability fuels the opportunity for big plays in one way or another.
The Cowboys haven't had a dominant return game or special teams unit in ages, but that's all about to change in 2020, and the expectation is they'll go from worst to first in one fell swoop thanks to McCarthy's decision to snag Fassel -- as Rams players mourn the loss.
Jim Tomsula - Defensive line
On paper, McCarthy's putting together a superteam of assistant and position coaches, but that'll also come with the aforementioned expectations to get things formed and firing quickly in Big D. Tomsula knows something about getting the job done, his most recent NFL stretch being an impressive one with the rival Washington Redskins. While the team as a whole often failed, the Redskins pass rush was annually one of the most dangerous in the NFL, and McCarthy wants him to rejuvenate the one in North Texas.
Tomsula's resume also includes seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers as defensive line coach before being promoted to interim head coach and then full-time head coach, and while the latter position didn't end well, you won't find a player or GM that doesn't know what Tomsula is capable of when it comes to building and coaching up a defensive front. This hire pushes out longtime D-line coach and former Cowboys player Leon Lett in the role, as the team truly embarks on a fresh start for the 2020 season.
Tomsula also likes big-bodied interior lineman, so expect him to join forces with Nolan and McCarthy in lobbying the Joneses and scouting VP Will McClay to change their thought pattern from guys who can play every spot well, to being elite at one spot in particular.
Doug Nussmeier - Quarterbacks
This one is more of a cupid shuffle than anything, with McCarthy opting to fire Jon Kitna and move Nussmeier from tight ends coach into the role as quarterbacks coach. It's only the second coaching retention so far in what's been an outright overhaul under McCarthy, Nussmeier joining Moore in staying put in Dallas.
Kitna had other plans in 2018, but he was wooed to the Cowboys by Garrett to help the progress of Dak Prescott, with Moore being promoted to offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach. The progress seen from Prescott was as immediate as training camp, when Kitna altered the young quarterback's football and core technique, both things fueling improved accuracy and a stronger deep ball. For most of the season, Prescott performed at an MVP-caliber level, before seeing a downturn in production and suffering a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Still, Prescott finished with 4,902 yards passing (2nd in NFL) with 30 touchdowns -- career bests in both categories -- with only 11 interceptions.
Kitna's value is evident, but also in his standing rapport with Prescott, but Nussmeier -- who also joined the team in 2019 -- has the same, and McCarthy would prefer the experience of the latter along with one fewer voice in Prescott's ear every week. For those wondering why a tight ends coach was given this nod, well, before Nussmeier agreed to coach TEs for the Cowboys, he spent nearly two decades as a quarterbacks coach and/or offensive coordinator at both the NFL and the collegiate level; his resume including stints at Michigan, Michigan State, Alabama, Florida and the [St. Louis] Rams.
Joe Philbin - Offensive line
The future of Marc Colombo was in flux, as were the other position coaches mentioned in this column, but Colombo had a leg up in that the Jones want to retain him and so did Moore. That didn't exactly go a long way when it came time for McCarthy to make his decision, however, further proving the belief he has full control over the structuring of his coaching staff. The bottom line is McCarthy's staff is heavily reliant upon experience and while Colombo is a young coach with tremendous upside, it made more sense to McCarthy to bring in Philbin -- the two also having spent several seasons together with the Packers.
Colombo will find work elsewhere, of that you can be sure. He took the reins from Paul Alexander in mid-2018 and the offensive line play surged, which led to at two-year extension being signed in the offseason. From there, he was key in turning La'El Collins into a Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle after seeing him nearly wrecked by Alexander, and the Cowboys fielded three Pro Bowlers in 2019 that could've easily been four. Despite a list of injuries at left guard, Colombo coached up backups to play like starters, as evidenced in Xavier Su'a-Filo deleting perennial All-Pro Aaron Donald from the Week 15 battle with the Rams.
Philbin, however, was McCarthy's offensive line coach and ultimately his offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl-winning 2011 season, and they'll now reunite with the hopes of making more magic in North Texas. Like others on this list, he's not only proven, but he's also one of McCarthy's "guys".
Lunda Wells - Tight ends
This vacancy, like so many others, wasn't created by a firing. Nussmeier was brought in on a two-year deal in 2018, and the bell tolled on his contract once the season had concluded. He doesn't have much to show for his time in Dallas, not so far as tight end production goes. With Jason Witten absent in 2018, a group of four tight ends couldn't match the numbers of Witten in the year prior, and when Witten did return in 2019 -- while there was improvement in production from the unit -- only Blake Jarwin truly showed great progress. That tidbit was irrelevant, though, because the over-utilization of Witten stemmed Jarwin's progression, and made for another mostly forgettable season for Nussmeier's bunch.
Still, McCarthy didn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, seeing as Nussmeier has the aforementioned resume in coaching quarterbacks. With him being shuffled over to that role to oversee the progress of Prescott, McCarthy poached tight ends coach Lunda Wells from the rival New York Giants, which begs the question surrounding an in-house Cowboys legend.
What of Jason Witten? The future Hall of Famer isand it's steeped in the decision that's now been made on his longtime friend and coach Jason Garrett. If Witten does hang it up for a second and final time, I expect he'll look for a coaching opportunity and to never again return to the broadcasting booth, so don't count Witten out as a guy who'd tug McCarthy's shirt and ask for a role working with tight ends; even if that role is simply assisting. If granted, he'd work under a younger but more experienced Wells, a 36-year-old who made his climb from LSU to the NFL ranks by way of the Giants, and will now catch a flight to Dallas.
Maurice Linguist - Secondary
This is where things will get [that much more] interesting within the Cowboys coaching ranks, because Richard's interview with the New York Giants yielded nothing at the moment, and there was at least a basic interest in possibly bringing him back. The key word here is "basic," though, because no one in the front office was falling over their chair to convince McCarthy. Richard has a stellar resume that speaks for itself but as passing game coordinator responsible for calling plays, the Cowboys defense got shredded regularly in 2019. The decision to continually bench Jourdan Lewis over Anthony Brown also tethers itself to his two-year tenure in Dallas, although he did finally name Lewis starter midseason, but only after Brown suffered a[nother] injury.
All told, McCarthy went by what he saw, and has opted to move on without the Cowboys formally sitting down with Richard. With a nod from Nolan, McCarthy is expected to add Linguist to his staff, and that makes for one of the few risk-filled hires going into the 2020 season. The remainder of the staff being anchored by experience, this will be Linguist's first time in the NFL, and it'll be pressure-packed when considering the team he'll be employed by and the time at which he's entering the organization.
The 35-year-old doesn't lack for talent, though. That much is clear. He's climbed the collegiate ranks via of seven different teams that include Mississippi State, Minnesota and having spent his last two seasons as an Aggie. Linguist is also homegrown, having graduated from Mesquite High School roughly 20 minutes due east of downtown Dallas.
Names like Joe Whitt, Jr. and Tony Oden had cropped up as possible replacements for both Richard and defensive backs coach Greg Jackson, making it clear McCarthy wasn't short of options, but Whitt, Jr. secured employment with the Atlanta Falcons which means either he passed on reuniting with McCarthy, or McCarthy already had love in his eyes for a promising Linguist.
Skip Peete - Running backs
Gary Brown had an uphill battle to stay in Dallas, if you can believe it. Despite the success Brown has had in helping Ezekiel Elliott ascend to the upper echelon of NFL halfbacks, with historic numbers to boot, McCarthy started reaching out to potential candidates to replace him very early in his hiring process. That indicates McCarthy already had interests before he began interviewing with any NFL team, and not so much a knock against a guy that turned Darren McFadden into a 1,000-yard rusher for the first and only time in his career.
Brown was never granted a sit-down with McCarthy, and there's a reason.
There was a keen eye on University of Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton, who spent time with Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State in 2013 and 2014. There's familiarity there, and rumors that were swirling about regarding NFL interest in Drayton were made true by the Cowboys holding a formal interview with him. They were impressed and wanted to add him to the staff, but they found themselves in a bidding war with the Los Angeles Rams for his services. The caveat there here is an obvious one, because Drayton had to want the job. As it stands, he was simply weighing his options, and is believed to have chosen his Longhorns over leaping to the NFL, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Next up was an interview with Skip Peete, which will be a homecoming for the 56-year-old, sources telling CBS Sports the two sides have agreed to terms. Peete was running backs coach for the Cowboys from 2007 to 2012, having coached Marion Barber, Julius Jones, Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray in that stretch. Now, he'll inherit Elliott, already one of the best backs in franchise history.
Adam Henry - Wide receivers
To put it plainly, Sanjay Lal was never likely to be retained by McCarthy. There were reports of dissension within the ranks of Garrett's coaching staff and Lal's name was front-and-center, but that wasn't the only demerit he'd suffer. While you can credit him for the progress made by Michael Gallup as he comes off of a career-best season that saw him surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark, Lal's WR unit was also plagued with drops that routinely cost the Cowboys field position and ultimately games, as they continually led the league in that category in 2019. That's not something McCarthy will tolerate on his watch, knowing just how important it is for Prescott to have targets who can catch the ball.
Enter Adam Henry.
Yes, his previous team was the Cleveland Browns. Before then, however, he was a wide receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants, having coached Anquan Boldin and helping refine the skill set of Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham, Jr., with the latter having a 1,367 yard, 10 touchdown season in 2016 with Henry as his tutor (the second-best season of Beckham's NFL career).
Henry now adopts a WR corps loaded with talent in the top two spots, and one that could benefit from his ability to coach up issues with drops. Part of that goes to player execution, but when it's plaguing the entire unit, a hard look at Lal was warranted. With Lal gone, Henry is heading to Dallas.
Scott McCurley/George Edwards - Linebackers
There was a massive void to fill when Matt Eberflus left the Cowboys in frustration to take the role as defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, but Ben Bloom stepped up and did impressive work in the second year of Jaylon Smith and for a rookie first-round pick in Leighton Vander Esch who found himself strapped with a mountain of expectations. All Smith and Vander Esch did in 2018 was dominate the NFL, with the latter landing an All-Pro nod in the process. Huge kudos to Bloom for what he achieved last season, but he didn't have much fun in his sophomore year as linebackers coach for the Cowboys.
Smith took a step back in his development and Vander Esch wasn't as effective as expected, even prior to the neck injury that landed him on injured reserve. A resurgent Sean Lee played well at times in the absence of Vander Esch, but the veteran also had games that were curiously bad. Bloom should get a look here for what he did following the exit of a talented mind in Eberflus, but he'll have to do some convincing if he wants McCarthy to lean more on the production 2018 and less on what didn't happen in 2019.
What is known is that McCarthy will bring in Scott McCurley, but he'll get an assist with the linebackers from George Edwards, who spent the last six seasons as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. McCurley, who was once a linebackers coach under McCarthy in Green Bay, was also demoted to assistant LB coach in his tenure with the Packers. There was a feeling McCarthy would still name a bigger fish as linebackers coach with McCurley set as an assistant and, in a way, that's exactly what happened with the signing of Edwards.
Edwards' role won't simply be aiding with the LB corps, though, set for a more expansive job that includes lending a hand on sub-package defensive sets. His knowledge is extensive, as McCarthy knows well, having had to square off with him on numerous occasions when the two were NFC North opponents. And Edwards knows the Cowboys well, having also been the team's linebackers coach from 1998 to 2001, molding the likes of Dexter Coakley.
Assistant position coaches -
Assistant special teams coach: Matt Daniels - Fassel isn't leaving the Rams without his right hand man in tow, and Daniels is just that, having also served under this same title for Fassel in Los Angeles.
Assistant OL coach: Jeff Blasko - Like McCurley and so many others on staff, Blasko spent time with McCarthy in Green Bay.
Assistant LB coach: Scott McCurley/George Edwards - See above
Assistant secondary coach: Al Harris - Yes, that Al Harris, the former Packers cornerback under McCarthy who retired in 2012; and now reunites with his former coach as an assistant in Dallas.
Assistant DL coach: Leon Lett - The former Cowboys lineman and longtime assistant coach will remain on-staff, a talented coach that will also keep some continuity in the trenches during the regime change.
Assistant QB coach/coaching assistant: Scott Tolzien - A former quarterback of McCarthy's in Green Bay, Tolzien lands in Dallas by way of the University of Wisconsin, where he served as an analyst tasked with scouting opponents -- the very school he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as QB for in 2010.
Strength and conditioning coach: Markus Paul - Working under Mike Woicik within Garrett's staff since 2018, Paul will see a promotion to head S&C coach
Offensive quality control: Chase Haslett - Son of former NFL head coach Jim Haslett, a friend of McCarthy who was a part of his prep team in 2019, Chase now has a role with the new regime in Dallas
Defensive quality control: Cannon Matthews - His previous stop having been with the Redskins, Matthews now heads south to handle the same DQC duties for the rival Cowboys.
Strength and conditioning: Mike Woicik (Out) - The six-time Super Bowl-winning S&C coach is retiring in 2020, with Paul succeeding him
Not many roles remain vacant for McCarthy to fill -- i.e., assistant WR coach, etc. -- and we'll keep you posted as they materialize.
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