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Kellen Moore vs. Mike McCarthy? Cowboys Face ‘Sean Payton 2.0’ Choice?

A Cowboys' coaching choice, a Rangers' PR gaffe and a Mavs' opening-night air ball, all in this week's DFW sports notebook ...

 WHITT’S END: 10.22.21

Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End …

*As someone who habitually buys green bananas, I admit to keeping an eye on the near future. But Dallas Cowboys fans are inexplicably obsessed not with what’s now, but what’s next.

Case in point: There’s just as much focus on what will happen with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in 2022 as the team’s sparkling 5-1 record in 2021.

But, after further review, I might understand the source of their angst. Goes by the name “Sean Payton.”

In 2003-05, Payton was the hotshot offensive mind diagramming plays and inventing ways to help the Cowboys and quarterbacks such as Quincy Carter and Drew Bledsoe win 10 games and make the playoffs. Head coach Bill Parcells got the big money and the bigger media attention, but Payton drew interest from around the league as a rising, innovative, offensive genius. In 2005, owner Jerry Jones stiff-armed the Oakland Raiders’ flirtation with Payton by doubling Sean's salary to $1 million and adding “assistant head coach” to his title.

But in 2006, the New Orleans Saints knocked even harder at Payton’s door and Jones was forced to make a difficult decision: Stick with his 64-year-old, future Hall-of-Fame coach, or fire Parcells and promote Payton. Hindsight assures us that Jones made the catastrophic wrong move.

Parcells quit only a year later after Tony Romo’s bobbled snap ended the 2006 season. Payton went to New Orleans and immediately won NFL Coach of the Year, leading the Saints to the NFC Championship Game in his first season and a win in Super Bowl XLIV in his fourth. Still the man in New Orleans 16 years after bolting Dallas, Payton has guided the Saints to the playoffs nine times. In his post-Payton era, Jones has employed as many head coaches and he has enjoyed playoff wins: three.

Which brings us to all this Cowboys consternation during what should be a celebratory bye week. Kellen Moore is Sean Payton 2.0.

Under a grizzled head coach (Mike McCarthy) with a Super Bowl resume, the young offensive mind has created the NFL’s most productive offense. Led by Dak Prescott and Moore’s creativity which has featured a receiver (CeeDee Lamb) taking a hand-off in the backfield, a receiver (Cedrick Wilson) throwing a pass and a running back (Ezekiel Elliott) both pitching the ball on an option and catching a pass after a fake option pitch, the Cowboys lead the NFL in scoring at 34.1 points per game and are on pace to be the highest-scoring offense in franchise history. Those gaudy numbers, mind you, are without production from starters Michael Gallup and La’el Collins.

Listen weekly to TV analysts like Troy Aikman and Tony Romo, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Moore will be a head coach in 2022. But where? He received interest – but not an official offer – from his alma mater, Boise State, last offseason. Who knows, he could get a sniff for the imminent opening at LSU (not for nothing, the Tigers’ next star quarterback is four-star recruit Garrett Nussmeier, son of Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach, Doug.) And at the Cowboys’ current torrid pace, Moore will likely have multiple suitors in the NFL.

Said team vice president Stephen Jones in a radio interview this week on 105.3 The Fan, “You always want to keep guys that are helping you have success. At the same time, that’s part of this business. Hopefully you have some great coaches on staff who are ready to step up if someone leaves.”

If Moore stays in Dallas, Jerry will likely have to pull the trigger he didn’t 15 years ago. To keep one of the brightest, young offensive minds in the league, will the Cowboys’ owner have the guts to part with a head coach – despite his numerous game-management gaffes – that has him team 5-1?

I guess it depends on how the 79-year-old feels about green bananas.

*Jason Kidd’s third debut with the Dallas Mavericks opened Thursday night with a … resounding air ball. Yikes. Under their former-point-guard-turned-new-head-coach, the Mavs were flat and flawed, smothered by the more energetic Atlanta Hawks.

(Familiar echo: What do the Mavs see in Dwight Powell that I've never seen?)

Luka Doncic was uncharacteristically inept, producing more turnovers (five) than baskets (four) through three quarters as Dallas tripped into a 22-point hole.

As first impressions go, Kidd did not look like a coach able to take Luka's game to the next level.

Only three times last season did Doncic play more than 30 minutes and score fewer than 20 points. Against the Hawks: 18 points in 35 minutes.

At this rate, Luka will play his way off the NBA's future 100-Year Anniversary Team.

Kidd fell to 1-2 in his Mavs’ lid-lifters: beating the Nets as a rookie in 1994 and losing to the Rockets in his 2008 return before last night’s debacle.

*Seeking a silver lining? Mavs' 26-point loss is only their second-worst on opening night in franchise history. The 1992 team lost by 41 (140-99) to the Spurs en route to a 22-60 season. Feel better?

*Texas Rangers lost 100 games this season. Make it 101. Before they can gear up for the Hot Stove, they've jumped into hot water. The organization earned its most embarrassing L of 2021 Thursday when it blatantly went off-script from Major League Baseball’s social media participation in #SpiritDay, an international campaign to bring awareness and hopefully stop bullying of teens in the LGBTQ+ community.

Oh, the Rangers sent out a tweet alright. But – unlike other teams – they conveniently left out the #LGBTQ+ hashtag. Also missing: The link to the GLAAD organization’s “Spirt Day” website. 

I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt but, nope, this strategic move merely continues a nauseating, disgusting pattern impossible to ignore: The Rangers refuse to acknowledge the LGBTQ community, much less lift a social media finger to help it.

More proof: There is only one MLB team yet to host a “Pride Night”. Venture a guess? Yep, same team that hosts theme nights for colleges, faith, police, military and even dogs. The same franchise that boasts #straightupTX as its official hashtag (insert sarcasm).

But why should this matter? Allow me.

“Spirit Day” was created in 2010 after an alarming uptick of teen suicides among LGBTQs. Research suggests bullying of non-traditional teens leads to depression and a suicide rate that is three times higher than heterosexuals. But instead of a small act that could make a big impact, the Rangers are going out of their way – publicly – to distance from their MLB partners and ignore LGBTQ bullying.

This isn’t even lip service. It’s an undeniable looking the other way.

I know a couple Rangers employees who, privately, are humiliated by their team’s actionable indifference. And I can only imagine how this front-office roundtable decision landed: “Yeah, but if we include ‘#LGBTQ+’ we’ll offend the core of our fan base.”

They’re not wrong. But they’ve never been more wrong.

*Behind only Tom Landry, he’s the second-longest tenured head coach in DFW sports history. And he’s the last team leader to lift a championship trophy. So … why does it not bother me even a little to see Rick Carlisle coaching the Indiana Pacers? Watched his debut this week and, nope, zero warm-’n-fuzzies for the man who roamed the Mavs’ sideline the last 13 seasons.

I think the void is a product of Carlisle being heavy on "prickly'' and light on (outward) "passion,' and credit for Dallas’ 2011 title going 99.9 percent to Dirk Nowitzki.

*Dallas-Fort Worth in a nutshell: During its 24-day run, the State Fair of Texas sold 520,000 corny dogs at $6 a pop and issued 1,000 COVID vaccines free of charge. No secret, we cherish being full over being fully vaccinated.

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*Stop overthinking it. Why worry about the Cowboys being too low in some media outlet’s irrelevant “power rankings” or cornerback Trevon Diggs being disrespected by Pro Football Focus’ grades? The only numbers that matter: Dallas is 5-1 and Diggs leads the NFL with seven interceptions. The end.

*Cowboys have already clinched the playoffs. Don’t kill the messenger, I’m only relaying a history that says they’ve made the postseason all 14 times they’ve began a season 5-1.



*If you’ve ever suffered a strained calf muscle, you know they’re tricky. And debilitating. Couple days after the injury you feel okay. Walking fine. Even slow jogging. But first time you push off full-strength it’s – bam – back to square one.

Cowboys have to be careful with Dak Prescott. Just ask Gallup, who pulled a calf against the Buccaneers and hasn’t been able to practice for six weeks. Or Browns’ running back Kareem Hunt, who suffered a similar injury to the Cowboys’ quarterback last Sunday and was carted off the field and immediately pronounced out at least three weeks. Or McCarthy, who was coaching the Packers in 2015 when his quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) tore his calf but managed to limp his way to 316 yards and three touchdowns in a divisional playoff win against, yep, the Cowboys.

(In case you are wondering, there is no logical etymology for calling the muscles in the back of your lower leg a “calf.”)

*Fifty years ago Sunday one of the most iconic landmarks in the history of DFW opened – Texas Stadium. I was fortunate to attend the stadium’s first game, a 44-21 Cowboys’ win over the Patriots on Oct. 24, 1971. Though it was imploded in 2010 and is now just an unsightly patch of industrial pieces and parts, I still slow down at the intersection of Loop 12 and Highway 183 in Irving to breathe in the history.

Thanks to the Irving Archives and Museum, you don’t have to cause an accident to relive the stadium via its “50 for 50” Texas Stadium moments.

Among the highlights: The stadium was built for $35 million (AT&T Stadium for $1.2 billion) … Cowboys played there for 37 years, going 219-99 and winning all five of their Super Bowls … It was also home to Billy Graham crusades, SMU football, soccer’s Dallas Tornado, the 1973 Pro Bowl (O.J. Simpson was the MVP), lacrosse, wrestling, motocross and concert tours including Madonna, Michael Jackson and Farm Aid ... Featured in the opening to the hit series Dallas, the movie Any Given Sunday and the legendary Coke commercial where “Mean Joe Greene” tosses his jersey to a kid.

*Admittedly I’m a neophyte when it comes to NFTs. It stands for non-fungible token. And here I am not even aware of fungible tokens. Where the investment rage of NFTs immediately loses me is the fact that, well, it’s a scam. No tangible product. Convince me that buying an NFT is different that falling for one of those companies wanting you to pay money to name a star. You get a certificate maybe, but that means zilch. There is no recognized library of star names. There are merely multiple companies claiming so. Same with NFTs, whose owners just boast that their units of digital data have value. The common denominator between star-naming and NFTs? Gullible, lazy consumers. Lord knows the past couple of years have proven we’re up to here with those. Same with cryptocurrency. Just ask the 13,000 local investors scammed out of $24 million.

*Credit the Rangers. Or, blame them? It was 2010 when they – first to do it was Nelson Cruz – began celebrating important hits or stolen bases via base-runners sending a “Claw” or “Antlers” hand gesture toward the dugout.

A decade later baseball celebrations have become preposterous. Every hit in the playoffs in punctuated by each team’s signature celebration. And the Red Sox, for some reason, now dump a home-run hitter into a laundry basket and roll him down the dugout. The proliferation of over-celebrated success within a game – regardless of the eventual outcome – has spilled into college football, where last weekend I saw winless UNLV revel in a rare touchdown by jumping and gyrating around a slot machine placed behind its bench.

I hate to be the old man screaming “Get off my lawn!”, but what … are … we … doing?!

*As I watched referees refuse to signal a touchdown despite Prescott literally laying in New England’s end zone from the thighs up last Sunday, I thought – as I often do – about tennis. My sport has it figured out.

A high-tech brew of computers and cameras has made human lines-people obsolete. Every ball is called in or out, correctly and perfectly. No more challenges. No more arguing. No more mistakes. It’s past time all sports embrace this 21st century technology.

Baseball’s product continues to suffer because of arrogant umpires clinging to the belief that the strike zone is up to their personal interpretation. In this week’s Game 4 of the ALCS, home-plate umpire Laz Diaz missed – according to tennis-like tech available but not implemented – 21 calls on balls and strikes. One of them was a 2-2 pitch in the top of the 9th of a tie game between the Red Sox and Astros. It was a strike that should’ve ended the inning. Instead, Diaz called it a ball, continuing the at-bat and opening the door on a seven-run Houston eruption that evened the series.

The NFL doesn’t need replays or better angles when determining spot plays such as Prescott’s non-touchdown touchdown. It just needs tennis’ technology. Maybe even a computer GPS chip in the ball to pin-point its location under a pile of humanity.

Jerry Jones was asked about this on weekly 105.3 The Fan radio show and responded that “Tex Schramm used to call that, ‘Let’s don’t become a game of Star Wars.’.”

Give me Stars Wars over another episode of Humans Being Human. And don’t me started on the existence of the archaic, hand-held first-down markers used to calculate and determine the results of the NFL’s $12 billion-dollar industry.

*The Mavs couldn’t pat themselves on the back hard enough when they took Stanford guard Tyrell Terry with the 31st pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He broke the IQ record for an NBA rookie! He’s the “steal” of the draft! He … was released this week after scoring just 11 points in 11 games. So, what happened? Ironically, and sadly, the guy with the big brain struggles with mental health.

*Romo has regressed as an analyst. Sounds like he’s trying too hard for witty banter with Jim Nantz at the cost of abandoning his superlative Xs and Os. To me, there’s NBC’s Cris Collinsworth and then there’s everybody else in a mediocre pile behind him.

*Washington State’s football coach, Southwest Airlines employees and now an ESPN sideline reporter all losing their primo jobs because of their refusal to get the COVID vaccine. Again, nobody is making them get the vaccine. It’s just that their precious “liberty” and “freedom” of choice is equipped with consequences. No shoes, no shirt, no service. No vaccine, no workie. ESPN’s Allison Williams says she refuses to get vaccinated after her “research” found it was dangerous to expectant mothers. Her research obviously didn’t include a stop where it should have started – the CDC website.

*In the first 10 months of 2021, TSA agents at U.S. airport security checkpoints confiscated 4,650 guns. Are we that stupid? Or merely that stubborn?

*Prescott has never thrown an incompletion in overtime, going 18 of 18.

*Luka is a gem on the court. And, these days, also off it. This surprise assist will cause your goosebumps to have goosebumps.

*Sadly – but not totally surprisingly – former Mav Delonte West’s recovery has hit a speed bump. Arrested in Florida this week for being belligerent with police and carrying two open containers of alcohol – one beer and one mango vodka.

*Where are all those folks that were “done” with the NFL and the Cowboys after players had the audacity to kneel during the national anthem? They’re watching football, that’s where. Last week’s Cowboys-Patriots was CBS’s most-watched national game since 2015. And last Saturday’s Georgia-Kentucky on CBS blowout drew a million more viewers than Fox’s ALCS Game 2.

*Bad year to be a bookie in DFW. As 3.5-point favorites over the Patriots, the Cowboys would have “lost” against the spread had they kicked a field goal in overtime last Sunday. Instead, Prescott’s walk-off touchdown to Lamb provided a six-point margin and improved the Cowboys to 6-0 against the odds.

If you – like so many in DFW do – bet on the Cowboys every week, you are undefeated and likely quite profitable.

*Another sign we’re finally returning to normalcy: After being COVID-canceled last year, the Dallas White Rock Marathon will be held Dec. 12.

*No. 1 at our box office: Halloween Kills. No. 1 on our Netflix: Squid Game. Americans have this delicate dance of making our lives safer but our entertainment more dangerous than ever.

*After last Sunday’s emotional roller-coaster in Foxboro, your Cowboys heart could probably use a bye. The 35-29 overtime survival was one of Dallas’ Top 10 all-time wildest wins.

*This Weekend? Saturday let’s hang out with Big Brothers Big Sisters lil’ bro Ja. Sunday there’s no Cowboys, so how about we head to Granbury for a little fun in the form of conquering 30 obstacles over 13.1 miles. As always, don’t be a stranger.