FRISCO, Texas – Change is happening. We know that after all these years of covering the Dallas Cowboys.
And not just when things go badly. Remember, after winning Super Bowl XXVII, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt left to become the Chicago Bears head coach, and he took offensive line coach Tony Wise with him. After winning the second of back-to-back Super Bowls the following season, offensive coordinator Norv Turner left to become Washington’s head coach. And after the 1995 Super Bowl season, defensive coordinator Butch Davis left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Oh, and not to mention head coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones, who parted ways after the 1992-93 Super Bowl-winning seasons.
So coaching staff changes aren’t limited to just teams with losing records.
And that’s what the Cowboys are going through heading into the 2023 season, and much attention has been paid to Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy now taking over the offense from Kellen Moore, replacing the four-year offensive coordinator with Brian Schottenheimer.
But let’s face it, there have been significant other changes on this coaching staff, plus a reorganization of the team’s analytics department, filled with first-time assistants, that have been overlooked.
Obviously, McCarthy is an experienced offensive coach/play caller, and Schottenheimer has four other stops in the NFL as an offensive coordinator, another as a passing coordinator, one more as the OC at Georgia and three others as a quarterbacks coach.
And no loss of experience on the offensive line, with Mike Solari taking over for Joe Philbin, Solari spent 23 seasons in the NFL as an offensive line coach, three more as an NFL assistant offensive line coach and two seasons as the Chiefs offensive coordinator.
But after that, the changes in Dallas lack positional coaching experience. The Cowboys replaced 24-year NFL running backs coach Skip Peete with their former assistant offensive line coach, Jeff Blasko, who spent his last six seasons in the NFL as an assistant offensive line coach.
Then the quarterbacks coach. Doug Nussmeier, with 22 seasons of coaching experience on his resume in the CFL, NFL and college as a QB coach, OC and tight ends coach two seasons with the Cowboys and three more as a QB coach, was let go. Replacing Nussmeier is Scott Tolzien, a backup QB to McCarthy in Green Bay for four seasons during his seven-year NFL playing career and an offensive assistant for three seasons with the Cowboys. This is Tolzien’s first shot at moving up in the QB room, but can lean on Schottenheimer’s experience.
And then on defense, gone is George Edwards as the senior defensive assistant for the past three seasons, but really coaching the linebackers the past two. Scott McCurley returns to lead the linebacker corps, having spent five seasons with McCarthy in Green Bay as an assistant linebackers coach or defensive assistant before joining him with the Cowboys in 2020.
And the Cowboys even let assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett go after 12 seasons, replacing him with first-time assistant defensive line coach Shariff Floyd, who spent time working out with the Cowboys during training camp last summer.
Lots of change for a team coming off back-to-back 12-5 seasons, first- and second-place finishes in the NFC East and a 1-2 playoff record during both.
- Analyze this: Oh, and two more additions to the football operations staff: John Park, director of strategic football operations, and Sara Mallepalle, strategic football analyst. Park has been with the Colts as director of football research for the past seven seasons, and Mallepalle spent the past three years with the Ravens as a player personnel analyst. Their roles are in addition to the football analytics staff the Cowboys already had in place and replace longtime director of football research Tom Robinson, let go after the draft.
- Close Encounters: The Cowboys had little knowledge of Brandin Cooks before trading for the Houston wide receiver in the offseason. Cowboys wide receivers coach Robert Prince had been Cooks’ receivers coach during the 2021 season in Houston and said of what he knows about Cooks: “Obviously look at the speed on the field, the big pro and what he brings to the room.” But what about this Schottenheimer, one of the six degrees of separation agreements. When the Cowboys completed the trade for Cooks, Schottenheimer, who spent four years as quarterbacks coach in San Diego with Drew Brees, says he immediately got a text from Brees, who had spent three seasons with Cooks (2014-16) in New Orleans. “And when we made the move to get Brandin and the very first text I got was from Drew,” said Shottenheimer, still close friends with the former Saints QB. “And Drew said, ‘You’re going to love this guy.’ And Drew is a tough guy to give a lot of A’s, you know, positive reinforcement, but he says you’re going to love this guy.” Think cowboys already do.
- First pitch: Went to the Texas Rangers game against the Los Angeles Angels last Thursday, the night Shohei Ohtani hit and hit a home run in the Angels win. And who should step to the mound to throw out the first pitch, but none other than the Cowboys’ 2022 first-round draft pick Tyler Smith. Remember, Smith played his high school prom at North Crowley in Fort Worth, so kind of one of those hometown heroes.
- Cowboys Everywhere: Remember Thornton Chandler, the Cowboys’ sixth-round draft pick in 1986, the Alabama tight end who played four seasons in Dallas? Well, he was on last week’s season 13 episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Master Chef TV show. No, not as one of the South Regional contestants, but there supporting her son, Colby, who advanced with five “Yes” votes for his crawfish etouffee, four “Yes” from the judges, and the fifth from Thornton’s father also there, the grandfather who taught Colby the recipe when he was growing up. And by the way, the celebrity chef judge was also a DFW local, Tiffany Derry of Roots restaurant in suburban Farmers Branch.
- Off Shoots: For the first time since the 2019 season, the NFL will have a Supplemental Draft this year on July 11, with Purdue wide receiver Milton Wright confirmed to teams as eligible … Remember, the Cowboys used a first-round pick from 1990 in the supplemental draft from 1989 for Jimmy Johnson to select his former University of Miami quarterback Steve Walsh, even after using the 1989 No. 1 pick in the draft on Troy Aikman … The draft pick used on Walsh ended up losing what would having been the first pick in the 1990 draft after the 1-15 season. The first pick ended up with the Colts selecting quarterback Jeff George … Had the Cowboys kept the pick, they likely would have used the No. 1 pick on former Johnson Miami defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy. Even if the Cowboys needed a running back, you don’t think they would have drafted running back Blair Thomas, who went second to the New York Jets … And we thought the Cowboys’ Super Bowl XXX ring was massive, estimated at having more than five carats of diamonds. Ha, the Chiefs just unleashed their Super Bowl LVII ring, complete with 613 diamonds, 609 of the sucker round and four more marquise, and oh, don’t forget the 35 rubies, a total estimate of 16.1 carats.
Let’s go to Micah Parsons for this week’s final word since we began this discussion talking about the number of veteran assistant coaches departing this season. And one of them, George Edwards, had taken over the linebacker room ever since the Cowboys made Parsons their first-round pick in 2021. Edwards certainly took the young linebacker under his wing, and here’s what Micah had to say when asked how Edwards is no longer in the room.
“It’s totally different. We talked today, man, I miss George,” Parson began. “People used to say that George was my father. It’s like even when he wasn’t looking, he was watching over me, and I kind of miss that person who’s always in my head. And I think he always wanted me to be bigger. He saw something I never saw and I’m kind of starting to see it. Part of being great is doing the little things and following the plan because there’s always a bigger picture.
“George said, “Hey, you just have to do this.” He wanted to advise me, and I said, “No, George, I get it.” And you know, the wear and tear continues, and now when he calls me—calls he still to me – and he reminds me now: ‘How are you? Are you doing this?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I do, George.’ And he says: ‘Yes, that’s good.’ Just all the little things a father would tell a son.”
Yes, a big change there too.