'Chain of Command': Inside How McCarthy Built His Cowboys Coaching Staff

Mike Fisher

FRISCO - Something old. Something new. Something borrowed. Something blue ... and silver.

That's one way to describe the construction of the 2020 Dallas Cowboys coaching staff under new boss Mike McCarthy, who when I asked about any "wrestling'' with the Jones family over his authority to design his own staff his own way said the issue really never came up over the course of the two-day interview process to make McCarthy the ninth head coach in franchise history.

“To be honest with you, if that was the case in the past, I was not aware of it,” McCarthy told me. “It wasn’t a conversation. We just talked more about culture and the program and how I view things and how we did it in Green Bay and how they’ve done it here.''

Meaning, "I have complete authority to choose my own staff'' was largely just assumed ... because, simply, that's the way it should be.

McCarthy also used the phrase "chain of command'' in his mindset in the assemblage of this collection of assistants. It's an important concept for a franchise that, for so long in the Jerry Jones Era has featured an organizational chart full of criss-crosses and U-turns and the ability of a player to simply bypass his position coach and even his head coach to instead march straight into the always-accessible office of Mr. Jones.

"My view of building a staff,'' McCarthy said, "is to (first) set the coordinators. I believe in chain of command, so I wanted the coordinators to be part of the hiring process.''

That meant, right off the bat, an interview with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and the decision to retain him, a call to Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan to make him the defensive coordinator (though we can take you inside the debate here), and a gem - because unlike Moore and Nolan, he has no ties to Dallas or McCarthy - a luring of Rams special-teams coordinator John "Bones'' Fassel to The Star.

Right alongside those calls was one to McCarthy's long-time offensive line coach, Joe Philbin, at which point is became clear that the new coach put a premium on "who-you-know'' guys but also on skins on the wall.

"Experience was something I valued (in assembling this staff),'' McCarthy said. "I think that the experience in this league is something that in my opinion can really help develop players.''

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula fit there; like Nolan and Philbin, he has experience as an NFL head coach. Quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier does, too, in a way; he's a carryover from last year's staff, when he served as Jason Garrett's tight ends coach. Nussmeier developed a rapport with QB Dak Prescott, and that played a role in the decision to keep him. Also in play: I believe that as McCarthy leaves the Cowboys' offensive "language'' in place, meaning the head coach will be the one learning, it'll be Nussmeier - with experience in a variety of systems - who serves as his teacher/translator.

Linebackers coach Scott McCurley is another old hand from Green Bay. And then, in quick order, came decisions on secondary coach Maurice Linguist, running backs coach Skip Peete, tight ends coach Lunda Wells, assistant defensive backs coach Al Harris and wide receivers coach Adam Henry.

Strength-and-condition coach remains the one major spot yet to be finalized. And there can be other additions in minor roles, including the possible retention of D-line assistant Leon Lett and the hiring of long-time McCarthy friend Jim Haslett's son, Chase Haslett. (There is also the still-to-be-determined issue of Jason Witten and his plans.)

There is a mix here of "old heads,'' "Cowboys guys'' and younger African-American coaches. "Personalities'' and how they mesh was also top-of-mind when McCarthy made his decisions.

"That’s a priority of mine when I’m establishing what we’re trying to do as a coaching staff, the personalities,'' McCarthy said. “There’s a certain personality that I was looking for with these staff members, how they fit together. That’s why I think it’s important to hire the coordinators first and make sure that those assistants clearly understand that there’s a chain of command and it fits together.''