Cowboys UPDATE: Ambition Of Will McClay

IRVING - Will McClay is suddenly a 'hot-property' job candidate. There's buzz, too, about Marinelli, Linehan, Callahan and even Garrett. As the Cowboys advance in the playoffs, a exclusive that sets the record straight with the very latest:

The mainstream media covering the Dallas Cowboys has portrayed Will McClay, the team's assistant director of player personnel, as some sort of "man of mystery.'' In fact, his ascension to a position on the organizational tree below Jerry and Stephen Jones but almose alongside valued coach Jason Garrett has allowed McClay some level of accessibility and openness with those who have earned his respect and trust.

So we can tell you that two Sundays ago, within minutes of the NFL Network report that the Jets have him on their short list of GM candidates, McClay -- with not a whiff of mystery -- responded to's request for a quick comment.


"No,'' Will told us. "I haven't heard anything.''

That's not mysterious or mythic or cryptic; it's just true.

It's certainly true that Jerry is the GM, as he's always been, and that along with that ownership self-assignment comes the responsibilities, the hassles ... and the two weekly radio shows on which he gets to spew X-and-O's thoughts and also discuss the difficulty he recently had wrapping fruitcakes as Christmas gifts.

Stephen, the COO of the Cowboys, also has two radio shows and while his on-air/on-camera approach is more stoic than his father's, he certainly enjoys the fruits of power and money and success -- and at 12-4 and surging into the playoffs now for the first time since 2009, the Cowboys have much to enjoy.

And here's the decision -- this year, next year, some year, as long as the Cowboys he's helped build stay built -- that is about to face Will McClay: How much would he enjoy the fruits of power and money and success? Just as the Joneses are exercising their right to plant and nurture their own tree ...

What if Will McClay wishes to do the same?

The short answer: He does. He most definitely does.

There is a process here, though. As Dallas' season is still alive, protocol requires the Jets to call Cowboys ownership for permission to speak to McClay. Jerry can deny that, should he wish, until Dallas' playoff run is over. Would the Jets (or anyone else) wait? Quite likely, because of another issue of NFL protocol: Rules require teams with such high-level openings to interview minorities. McClay is both qualified and African-American, both factors in helping him get an interview whenever his present employer allows.

“I own Will McClay. I own him. He can’t go anywhere,” Jones reportedly said on Sunday, and while he is joking (in what I might call an inappropriate way), it's true that Jones "owns the right'' to dictate his employee's interview future.

UPDATE: Contrary to NFLNetwork's assertion, the McClay calls are not rolling in. I'm been told by those close to him that he does not expect to leave the Cowboys this offseason. That doesn't change the "ambition'' part of this story. But it relieves the panic of some Cowboys fans who wish to delay the loss of a valuable contributor.

This is also a good spot for me to reiterate: Those Sunday morning NFL network shows are designed to create firestorm attention when it comes to transactions. Players for most of the year ... coaches and execs now. This past Sunday, before the playoff win over the Lions, reports made it sound as if there should be panic in the streets over Garrett, Linehan, Callahan and Marinelli coaching on without a contract for 2015. There is nothing unusual about any of this. Look for Linehan to be very picky here; he's in no hurry to interview with Oakland. Marinelli's relationship with Lovie Smith in Tampa is a 24-month-old story, nothing new there. Callahan wanted out last year. He'll surely look for a promotion elsewhere. Garrett will sign a deal here, all the media silliness aside. And heads-up on Rich Bisacchia, who would like to be a head coach someday, maybe at the college level.

There's the straight dope on McClay and the rest.

McClay's recent promotion allowed him to assemble the team's final draft board, which resulted in the selection of guard Zach Martin, a rookie Pro Bowler. It's allowed his voice to be heard by Jerry and Stephen, and no matter how much they see themselves as "football men'' they are not scouts and they are not coaches. McClay has been both, and with the aura of a politician (I mean that in a positive way) he is able to serve both the Joneses on that side of the building and Garrett and staff on this side.

"That’s what success does, always does, it creates a lot of opportunities in a lot of different ways for a lot of people,'' Jerry said. Obviously, have been for years, sold on him and appreciate the job he has done and he’s doing.”

But just as Jerry does none of this alone (NFL Executive of the Year candidate though he should surely be), McClay hasn't built this alone, either. All these other young studs now starring for Dallas? They come from recent draft boards built by Tom Ciskowski, who now works under McClay. Their development? That comes in part from coaching-staff members like defensive coordinator Marinelli, special-teams coordinator Bisaccia and run-game boss Callahan, who are all at the end of their contracts.

What if Callahan, Bisaccia (who would make a terrific college head coach) and/or Marinelli (with his best friendship with Tampa Bay's Lovie Smith) depart? Assuming Garrett (also in need of a new deal) re-ups ... aren't all these other guys almost invaluable? What are the Joneses to do?

"Jerry's history says he says to Will, 'Listen, if they blow you away with money and you want to be a GM, I wish you luck and go do that,'' says a source close to Jones. "Jerry's the GM. If Will wants to be a GM, it'll have to happen somewhere else.''

Will this be a matter of ego? Likely yes -- on the part of both sides. Jerry could swallow his, and give McClay anything he wants. Or Will could swallow his and decide that his climb to power -- tours in the Arena Football League culminating with the head coaching job for the Joneses' Dallas Desperadoes -- is a benefit of sharing loyalties with Jerry.


"On the one hand, if you want to be a GM in New York, you better do it when you're hot but you also better understand that you can get fired after one bad season,'' says an NFL source who has a relationship with both men. "On the other hand, look at Jerry's loyalty to guys in the bad times. Look how he stuck with Garrett through the 8-8's. Look at (Larry) Lacewell's involvement here, which is pretty much a lifetime thing here now. Look at how Jerry still values what he had with Jimmy (Johnson) and (Bill) Parcells.

"If you want loyalty and security, being in Jerry's inner circle is a good place to be.''

McClay has, at age 48, has earned both Jerry's loyalty and his next climb up the ladder. By 2004 he was the Desperadoes head coach while also double-timing it by laboring in the Cowboys personnel department as an underling. ... a tape-review guy. There was quality-control stuff and eventually some advanced-stats stuff.

That was a decade ago. Soon, it will be his time. He's been instrumental in the Cowboys-off-the-couch movement, the former Rice DB having helped Dallas find and sign a host of their defensive players. In the draft, Martin was his guy (but so was DeMarcus Lawrence, adamantly so, and the Cowboys got that payoff in the end against the Lions.) But 12-4, now 13-4, means other organizations want to rub themselves up against you for good luck.

Does Will McClay want to rub back?

"He's going to have to make a decision about leaving Dallas, about leaving Texas, about being the father to his young son (Gabriel) and how and where to do that,'' a friend of McClay's says. "I think he's been too focused on this task to concern himself with the rest. But ultimately, does he want to run his own show, without having to go through three bosses to make moves? Of course.''


A year ago, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten told the Dallas paper, “It seems like he sees everything.''

Will McClay does not see everything; that's putting too much on him, even with his intelligence, work ethic and ambition. But he sees this: GM's get to pick their own players, even pick their own head coach, and only answer to one superior. Just as it in in GM Jerry Jones' makeup to want to do that in Dallas, it is in future GM Will McClay's makeup to want to do it ... somewhere.


*Here's Fish taking us inside the Cowboys room for the story of the gameplan for the playoff-clincher - and Romo's "stolen'' jersey. Premium stuff!

*An in-depth stat study: Romo as the MVP.

*We're on the Cowboys team plane for the ride home from D.C. ... and "onto The New Season!''

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