ALL NEW Cowboys Staff Tracker: Deep Dive Into Coach McCarthy Putting Final Pieces in Place

Mike Fisher

FRISCO - “I have the absolute final decision on my coaching staff,” new Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said late last week, and in an organization in which the Jones family has long been such an influence in that department ... Well, McCarthy's paws are all over this thing.

“We wanted Mike to pick his own staff,'' Jerry said on that introductory stage a week ago, his grey eyes twinkling and his grin turning crooked. "I have always thought that.”

And here we go, with updates upon updates, position coach by position coach ... brand-new stuff is in bold/italics and labeled Jan. 15 UPDATE ...

Head Coach - Mike McCarthy, new five-year contract


Offensive Coordinator - Kellen Moore is under contract and is a Jones favorite. And the 2019 Cowboys, by the numbers, were a high-ranking offense. 

We're told that McCarthy didn't meet all of the in-house guys, but that he did come away impressed with Kellen, who we believe turned down a college job (like the OC at the University of Washington back home) to stay here.

On Wednesday, McCarthy declined to be specific about any staffer plans. But he suggested that his system would remain in place from most of his 13 years in Green Bay. He meant, we're sure, that McCarthy himself will be the play-caller ... and that Moore, just 31, will learn by his side.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: We are sticking by our story that McCarthy will be the play-caller and will be assisted by Moore. However, Moore will not be McCarthy's top offensive aide. Read on ...

Quarterbacks - Jon Kitna (under contract) is a heck of a success story and Dak Prescott gives him lots of credit for his improvement as a QB. At the same time, Garrett and Kellen and Kitna and Doug Nussmeier (the tight ends coach with a QB background) ended up being a lot of chefs in the Dak kitchen.

UPDATE: Kitna is out. A shift of Nussmeier here is in play. There is social media gossip about chasing Tom Clements, a long-time McCarthy guy, but he's just getting started with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: We've been on this as well. Nussmeier is the new QB coach. Kitna is moving on.

Offensive Line - Marc Colombo is under contract and personally impressed the big boss, Jerry Jones, when the owner poked his head into O-line meetings. Colombo gets some credit for the huge reduction in sacks this year and for the development of right tackle La'el Collins. Colombo is that "ball guy'' type, an East Coast tough guy (he's from Boston, McCarthy from Pittsburgh)  who can strike some fear in his charges.

However ...

Colleague Bryan Broaddus has dropped the name of James Campen as a McCarthy connection. Campen's been with the Browns but he was a McCarthy O-line coach in Green Bay.

And on Wednesday,, learned that Colombo was in a 1 p.m. interview at The Star - but with COO Stephen Jones, not with McCarthy. The meeting did not result in Colombo, the former Dallas O-lineman, being told he was being retained.

Rather, two sources told us that while there might be an outside change of Colombo working here in some capacity, McCarthy not only wants to bring in old pal Joe Philbin to be the O-line coach, but will also name Philbin "assistant head coach.''

The full scoop above.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: We're right about Philbin (except the "assistant head coach'' part, which has not been announced ... yet). 

Assistant Offensive Line - Adam Kleffner served in this position last season. Jane Slater reports that Dallas is "currently working on hiring Browns assistant OL coach Jeff Blasko,'' who would assist Philbin. (That deal is now apparently being sealed.)

Running Backs - Gary Brown, himself a former NFL running back, is a jovial sort who has forged a deep big-brother relationship with Ezekiel Elliott - and it's clearly worked. But word is McCarthy has his eye elsewhere, on another RB coach with credentials.

UPDATE: The "eye'' is on University of Texas assistant Stan Drayton, who was "Zeke's guy'' at Ohio State.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: It is possible the Cowboys found Drayton to be too pricy. In any event, Dallas is hiring Skip Peete for this job. He has Cowboys connections ... and going way back, McCarthy connections, too.

Read the above for more.

Wide Receivers - Sanjay Lal represents a fascinating situation for Dallas. This is a bright and innovative position coach who is under contract. But sources tell us that Lal conflicted at times with Amari Cooper and the WR room, and in the Week 16 loss to the Eagles that essentially crushed Dallas' playoff chances, Lal was the fall guy for Cooper not being on the field in the clutch.

As of Wednesday morning, we do not believe Lal had met with McCarthy. Pending more information, we'll take that as evidence a change is coming.

UPDATE: on Wednesday evening conducted a one-on-one visit with Lal.

More to come on Thursday.

UPDATE: The Sanjay Lal exclusive is above.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: Former Browns assistant Adam Henry is interviewing for the job. 

He might enjoy the relative peace of the Dallas receivers room.

Assistant Wide Receivers - Kyle Valero served in this spot last year, but he is a young coach who has helped in other capacities, too.

Tight Ends - In another time and another place, Doug Nussmeier might be a QB coach or even an offensive coordinator. In Dallas? 

Despite his contributions, surely the Jones family would wish to check in on the plans of the maybe-retiring/someday-coaching Jason Witten before anything else is locked in.

UPDATE: We're told Nussmeier might be retained, but maybe not as the TE coach. How about a switch of him to the QB coach spot vacated by Kitna?

UPDATE: Nussmeier has indeed been retained and shifted, moving into Kitna's spot. Leaving a TE coach vacancy ... That Witten could in theory fill.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: We don't know Witten's plans yet. But we know the Cowboys', as they're moving on to former Giants TE coach Lunda Wells.

Offensive Assistant - Stephen Brown is a continuation of the Cowboys' habit of employing young developmental staffers.


Defensive Coordinator/D-Line Coach - Rod Marinelli has done it all and seen it all but he's not going to be the DC here anymore, as McCarthy has already lined up credentialed old pal Mike Nolan for that gig. 

Now, Rod was also officially the defensive line coach here. We never quite saw him  see him hanging on for that, especially as his contract is expired. ...

And now we know that McCarthy plans to grab Jim Tomsula in that role. Tomsula, 51, was the Niners head coach in 2015 after serving as their defensive line coach from 2007-14. Tomsula is a Mike Nolan protege and guess what else?

He's from Pittsburgh. He's a "ball guy.''

One more note on the coordinator ...

We say it's a "who-you've-known-longer'' business, as Joe Whitt Jr. is passed over here.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: We've got Nolan and Tomsula in, and Marinelli has a new job.

No, not in Vietnam. In Vegas.

Passing Game Coordinator/Defensive Backs - Kris Richard is an interesting case study. He's no longer under contract. He just interviewed for the top spot with the Giants. He's smart and fiery.

But, as one source tells us, "It didn't work.''

Maybe the meshing of the Marinelli/Richard philosophies didn't work, or maybe by "it didn't work'' our source means the rather secretive Richard conflict with linebackers coach Ben Bloom, which involved linebacker Jaylon Smith, eventually required the involvement of COO Stephen Jones, and resulted in Bloom missing time from work with the "flu.''

The Cowboys are not good enough to endure such silliness in 2020.

Multiple media reports - noting that Richard played for Nolan briefly in San Francisco - insist Richard is staying in Dallas. That's not what we hear. We will monitor.

UPDATE: Looks like we were steered right there as Dallas is, per multiple reports, hiring Texas A&M assistant Maurice Linguist, 35, to help coach the secondary, Linguist is  a former Baylor star (with Masters Degree), a former University of Minnesota assistant head coach and a Mesquite, Texas, native. 

Jan. 15 UPDATE: Here's more on what Linguist might bring to the Cowboys secondary.

Safeties - Greg Jackson held this role in 2019.

Linebackers - Ben Bloom is a bright guy who has collected wisdom from a variety of coaching trees. But 2019 was not a banner year for his group.

UPDATE: Some how, some way, some day ...

Wouldn't Sean Lee be a great addition in this department?

In the meantime, ESPN reports that Dallas is adding Scott McCurley, a McCarthy staffer in Green Bay, to "have a role with the linebackers.''

Defensive Tackles - Leon Lett is "family'' within The Star. Is that enough?

UPDATE: We're told, Lett, as of Friday morning was still working in the building, a hint of the possibility of retention.

Defensive Assistant - Andre Gurode was of course a top-notch O-lineman in his day and has worked in scouting, too.

Defensive Assistant - Ken Amato has this role.


Special Teams Coordinator - Keith O'Quinn held this role in 2019 and it did not go well for his overwhelmed group. We're told that O'Quinn, who has personal support from people in the scouting department, might be moved there while McCarthy pursues Rams special-teams boss John Fassel, one of the best in the business.

UPDATE: Dallas has closed in on Fassel. Full story below.

Special Teams Assistant - Phillip Tanner and Carlos Polk work here. Tanner, the DFW kid and former Cowboys running back, has a spark to the way he does his job.

Director of Advance Scouting and Special Projects - Judd Garrett is the brother of ousted head coach Jason Garrett. 


Director of Strength and Conditioning - Mike Woicik oversees a group that includes Brett Bech, Markus Paul and Kendall Smith. Woicik has a safe full of Super Bowl rings. But it's time to modernize here.

Jan. 15 UPDATE: It is done. No replacement named yet.

We would also add this: McCarthy (maybe teaming with Will McClay) would be doing the Joneses a favor by surveying the football ops and the practice sideline asking guys especially a former player or two not technically employed by the club), "What exactly is it you do here?''

We bet McCarthy also involves himself deeply in Cowboys analytics, something the Jones spend a fortune on but may have been under-utilized in the Jason Garrett Era.

Additionally, under grandfatherly Jerry, the Cowboys have a sort of open-door policy when it comes to former players coming and going. It's a lovely idea ... but what if said former player is a turd, a distraction or a leech?

If Mike McCarthy is really about "Fear, Accountability and Discipline'' ...  turds, distractions and leeches should be minimized.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

The big conflict will be with McCarthy and the offensive coordinator. One of them will be gone in a year.


Jimmy Johnson left in 1994, not 2004


Longtime Cheesehead/Packer fan here. McCarthy ruined the prime of Aaron Rodgers, and was fired about 4-5 years too late. Unless he has changed, the McCarthy era in Dallas will not be characterized by ‘Fear, Accountability and Discipline.’ He’s a fake tough guy who instills fear only in unprotected doughnuts and pastries.