You want the Dallas Cowboys to go on a deep playoff run? Of course you do. You’ve been waiting for a team like this for a few years now, one with the goods and poised to get to a Super Bowl. This one has it.
You want it because you remember those three Super Bowls in four seasons with those Triplets. You want it because you remember the heartbreak of 2007 and 2014. You want it because you want your Cowboys to join the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only NFL team with six Super Bowl victories and being behind the Steelers in anything is, in your mind, unacceptable.
But you want it for another reason. You don’t want to lose members of this coaching staff or the front office, one that seems to have finally settled in and gotten it right after several fits and starts. And a deep playoff run can help protect the two coaches and one administrator you’re probably the most worried about — offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and player personnel guru Will McClay.
So there are six head-coaching openings right now, plus one general manager opening in San Francisco. Success begets interest in the NFL. The rest of the league sees what the Cowboys did this year and they know which coaches are driving that success. Since Jason Garrett isn’t going anywhere, they look to his top lieutenants — Linehan and Marinelli — to fill a potential opening. McClay, being the guru of the Cowboys’ Big Board on draft day, could generate interest because he is a co-author of one of the best drafts in recent Cowboys history. Becoming a GM would be a huge promotion for McClay and something that isn’t likely to happen in Dallas, the Joneses being in charge as they are.
All of that makes this a dangerous week. Because the Cowboys are on a bye their coaches can be allowed, with permission, to talk to other teams about their coaching openings. Two coaches that are generating interest right now are New England OC Josh McDaniels and Atlanta OC Kyle Shanahan. Both are interviewing this week and both can do so because their teams don’t play this week.
Jerry Jones has a history of allowing his coaches to interview with other teams, as long as the openings they’re interviewing for are promotions. Head coach would be a promotion for both Linehan and Marinelli and both have been a head coach before. I can see both generating interest.
Of the two, Linehan would be more desirable. He’s the play-caller for one of the most dominant offenses in the NFL and one of the key architects of its success to this point. His 11-25 record in his three seasons as head coach in St. Louis was mostly the product of coaching a bad team. He’s now shown what he can do with better ingredients in both Dallas and Detroit. He’s earned a second chance.
“I don’t know if (reports of his candidacy are) true,’’ said Linehan, who like defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli signed a three-year deal two years ago worth $2 million annually. "But if that’s true, it’s all related to the fact that we’re having success this year. It’s because of how our kids have played as a football team and what happens to people if they get probably more credit than they deserve when that happens and when you’re not doing well you probably get more blame. That’s just the way the world works.’’
However ... The clock is ticking and as of Friday morning we've heard no buzz of Linehan being contacted by any of the teams with head-coaching openings. If the Cowboys can get through the playoff bye without a phone call to Linehan, then he would be barred from interviewing for a head-coaching job until either the Cowboys’ season ended or during the week between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. By then the openings may be filled, assuming no more jobs open up.
Indeed here's Fish with Linehan on Friday afternoon from inside The Star in Frisco:
Linehan tells me as of Friday afternoon that he has not received an invitation to interview for a head-coaching vacancy — and he seems unperturbed by that.
“Nothing there,’’ Linehan told me while getting ready to dig into a gigantic salad courtesy of the training table at The Star in Frisco. “Hey, we’re preparing for the friggin’ playoffs!’’
Vacancies now dot the NFL landscape, and so so multiple requests for multiple interviews with candidates who are arguably not more accomplished than Linehan, the overseer of what might be most explosive, most versatile and best offense in football. With the Cowboys owning the first-round bye this week — the result of another “best’’ as Dallas is the NFC’s top seed — Linehan has been eligible and free to interview with teams.
Linehan, who had a previous shot as a head coach in 2006-08 but went 112-25 before being fired by the Rams, has the endorsement of his boss, head coach Jason Garrett.
“He’s done a fantastic job and it goes all the way back to the start of the offseason program and what we wanted to be on offense, the evaluations that we got in the draft, bringing guys to our team, and then once guys are here putting them in position where they can be successful,” Garrett said. “The obvious one is the quarterback. A rookie quarterback in the NFL is quite a challenge, and Scott’s done a great job with quarterbacks throughout his career. Veteran guys, young guys, guys with different styles and I would say his No. 1 strength is his ability to try to create an environment for those guys to be successful. He’s done a fantastic job of that this year. We’ve been a balanced offense. We’ve attacked a lot of different ways. I think we’ve made it hard on defenses and he’s the guy behind that.”
But if somehow Linehan remains in a good situation in Dallas because he’s not as coveted as others?
For the Cowboys, that’d be a good thing, too.
I’m less worried about Marinelli, who, of course, coached the Detroit Lions for three seasons, went 10-38 and famously presided over the Lions’ 0-16 season. It has less to do with capability. I just believe that, at 67, he’s happy being a coordinator and working with his defense on a daily basis. (CowboysHQ.com in fact might suggest that Rod will consider retirement when his contract expires after the 2017 season, at which time Matt Eberflus will be a fine guy to elevate.)
Unlike coaches, potential GM candidates are not necessarily bound by the same exclusivity rules because they’re not involved in game planning activities. So McClay, if he were so inclined, could interview anytime as long as he has Jones’ blessing. He would be deserving of an interview. He’s run the Cowboys’ Big Board for three seasons and these past three drafts have all produced solid players, with the 2016 Draft being the high water mark. McClay has paid his dues and as the assistant director of player personnel he has as much sway over personnel as is possible in an organization run by Jerry Jones.
With just one GM opening, McClay would seem safe. But the Niners are in complete rebuilding mode and, while, it’s unlikely they would want to work with a first-time GM, there’s always a chance. (Worth noting: The Niners are on record as saying they like the idea of a GM/coach tandem. And they've interviewed that way, while not yet calling anybody in Dallas.)
Linehan and McClay are both highly-compensated and in fine positions. While most captains eventually wish to run their own ships. there might not be a coaching spot for Scott that's better than the one he's got ... and there might not be a leadership set-up better than McClay's.
So this week, winding down now, is a big one at The Star, and not just because players are getting rest and Randy Gregory is getting the NFL boot and Jaylon Smith is talking about getting rid of the nerve brace .... and preparations are being made for the next game.
The Cowboys are also hoping to protect their staff and in a few days we’ll know if fate has left them successful.
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