We’re right smack in the middle of it now: the annual tradition of the NFL coaching carousel. It’s a time-honored custom observed by, let’s face it, losers — the rite that takes place at the close of each season, marked by a barrage of firings and hirings of coordinators and coaches, football fans and ownership groups either lusting for blood from failure or looking for hope and relief from the same, desperate for recompense and a reason for optimism, eager to see exactly which mostly white men will now be in charge of their team’s mostly Black players. The one who might lead these same men next year to the victory they fell short of in this one. The savior who will surely correct the mistakes made by the previous administration. The proverbial Bill Belichick to replace their feckless Jeff Saturdays.
Every year, unsuccessful organizations part ways with the disappointing and poach rising stars from the staffs of the winners in a blitzkrieg of coaching musical chairs. Coordinators are elevated to replace head coaches who’ve fallen back into coordinator roles in a seemingly knee-jerk merry-go-round process. It can often appear as much the performative theater of progress as it does legitimate organizational improvement. You can’t just do nothing, right?
Take the Cowboys’ own coaching moves over the last several days for example. Much to the chagrin of many of the Dallas faithful, there will be no Sean Payton on the sidelines in JerryWorld next year as Head Coach Mike McCarthy has been spared the headsman’s axe. They’ve also somehow managed to retain coveted Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, who has passed on potential HC jobs in Denver and Arizona likely due to a handshake-and-a-wink promise from Jerry that he will be the head coach here in 2024 if the Cowboys are again locked out of the NFC championship game.
On the other hand, the ’Boys have also completely cleaned house on the offensive side of the ball, deciding not to renew the contracts of several offensive assistants and even giving the boot to once-vaulted wunderkind playcaller Kellen Moore. The bewildering Zeke-at-center travesty to end the game against San Fran will be the last play Moore calls for the silver and blue for eternity. McCarthy is set to call the offense himself in the fall.
On the surface, those decisions might make a little sense. The Cowboys’ failure to advance to the conference championship for the 27th straight year was mainly due to trotting out total offensive impotence during a commendable defensive performance against a veritable stump-grinding Niner offense in the divisional round. The Cowboys’ meager 12-point production highlighted many of Moore’s frustrating tendencies, such as his failure to disguise his intentions with creative formations — as he calls the same four pass plays out of the same four sets — and a bewildering dedication to running the ball on first and second downs despite consistent one- and two-yard gains. It’s the sort of Jason Garrett-like predictability that — tell me if this sounds familiar — can leave a quarterback feeling like he has to play heroball from behind the chains, increasing the chances of risky throws that might wind up in the hands of opposing defensive backs. The same of Dak Prescott could be said of his predecessor Tony Romo.
Yet despite the predictability, the Cowboys ranked in the Top 5 in the league in offensive production every year of Moore’s OC tenure. It could even be argued that Moore was unfairly removed. The L.A. Chargers certainly seemed to think so as they snagged him to run their offense within minutes of his departure from Big D. With the weapons the Bolts have, it’ll be interesting to see what Moore can do with them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily sad to see him go, but I can’t really say he was the problem either.
In my mind, the goodbye to O-line coach Joe Philbin is similarly questionable. By pasting over several major multi-week injuries to the usual starters along the line with an unproven rookie, a 41-year-old who can barely walk, and a guard who couldn’t beat Connor Williams for a starting role a year ago, Philbin deserves a ton of credit. The line played pretty great this year. At least in pass pro. I can’t imagine anyone coming in here and doing any better.
However, due to the front office’s shameful money management, you can’t cut the mostly washed $16M running back or the $40M (that, one should remember, should have been $25M three years ago) quarterback, so somebody has to wear the noose.
The departure of Philbin and Assistant Head Coach Rob Davis, both essentially career-long “McCarthy guys,” the latter being referred to by the Cowboys HC as his “best friend,” don’t seem to point to those decisions being made by McCarthy himself. Which means, as one might expect, that Jerruh is making the moves without McCarthy’s approval, much like he did by naming Kellen Moore OC before even hiring Big Mike three years ago.
It’s a reminder that ultimately it doesn’t matter who’s hired to run drills during practice or call plays from the sideline, because there’s one position that other teams often choose to shake up that will never change here, that of the general manager. The man who has been in charge for the last three decades will — likely by some Satanic, virgin blood-fueled, life-extending soul-exchanging contract — still be in charge for the next three decades. So Moore, McCarthy, Sean Payton, whatever. It’s never gonna change.