A Short History of Cowboys’ Offensive Coordinators

Dallas CowboysNow that Jason Garrett is going to be here a while, seems like a good time to provide a summary of the offensive coordinators in team history. This is not as extensive of a list as it may seem, for one man ran the offense for most of the first 29 years.

Tom Landry (1960-1988)

Although Landry was famous as a defensive coach when he arrived in Dallas in 1960, he immediately took over the offense. Landry’s offensive system went against the grain of what most teams did during the early days, relying on timing and reads as opposed to raw power and talent. But by the mid-1960s, the system proved to be effective, and it remained so for the most part for the next 20 years.

Paul Hackett (1986-1988)

By the mid-1980s, the offense that Landry had developed and used for so many years had begun to become stale. Owner Bum Bright, who feuded with Landry often, demanded the hiring of Paul Hackett as offensive coordinator. Hackett had more recently been on the staff with San Francisco, helping to coach Joe Montana to greatness. He was brought to Dallas to make the offense more exciting.

For eight games in 1986, the combination of Landry’s and Hackett’s systems worked. Then Danny White broke his wrist against the Giants, and nothing worked well after that point during 1986 or even during the two seasons that followed. Before being fired himself, Landry demoted Hackett, effectively ending his term in Dallas.

Hackett eventually went on to be the head coach at USC, preceding Pete Carroll. He is currently the quarterbacks coach with Tampa Bay.

David Shula (1989-1990)

Jimmy Johnson’s first choice as offensive coordinator was David Shula, son of legendary Miami coach Don Shula. The younger Shula struggled as he played rookies Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh in 1989. The following was more promising, as Dallas had a chance to make the playoffs. But an injury to Aikman forced the Cowboys to play Babe Laufenberg, and losses to Philadelphia and Atlanta ended the Cowboys’ season. Shula was thereafter demoted and then left the team.

After serving as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 1992-1996, Shula eventually left football altogether.

Norv Turner (1991-1993)

Turner is credited with developing the offense that helped Dallas become a dynasty. The timing-based system took advantage of Aikman’s precision, as well as the physical nature of the Dallas receivers.

Turner left Dallas to become head coach at Washington. He later coached at Oakland and is now the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.

Ernie Zampese (1994-1997)

When Turner left, Dallas hired his mentor, Ernie Zampese. Zampese left the Dallas system in place, and it worked just fine for the first two years. In 1996, Irvin’s suspension for drugs, coupled with a general loss of talent due to free agency, hurt the Dallas offense, although eventually the stars stepped up. The 1997 season, though, was a disaster, as the timing-based system failed to work effectively as the team’s stars began to decline.

Zampese returned to Dallas as a consultant in 2000. He has also been a consultant with the Rams and Redskins.

Chan Gailey (1998-1999)

Jerry Jones hired Chan Gailey from Pittsburgh to ignite the Dallas offense, and he was rather successful. Troy Aikman returned to the shotgun and was asked to do more by way of reading defenses. The offensive line learned a new zone blocking scheme that was foreign to the team during its heyday earlier that decade. Even when Aikman went down with a collarbone injury in 1998, backup Jason Garrett was able to step in a win three of five games, which kept Dallas in contention to win the NFC East.

Part of the problem in 1998 was the lack of talent and depth on offense. Billy Davis started opposite Irvin, while veteran Ernie Mills served as the third receivers. Second-year tight end David LeFleur was slow to develop.

To help Gailey’s offense, Dallas signed Rocket Ismail to complement Irvin. A 3-0 start looked very promising, as the Dallas offense appeared to be clicking. But a career-ending injury to Irvin in week 4 set in motion a decline that led to Gailey’s dismissal at the end of the 1999 season. Many times during the 1999 season, critics questioned why Gailey did to attempt more timing-based pass plays, which had been so successful for Aikman earlier in his career. By the end of the season, it didn’t matter.

Gailey later served as head coach at Georgia Tech and was recently hired as offensive coordinator with Kansas City.

Jack Reilly (2000-2001)

The success of the Rams’ timing-based system in 1999 led Jerry Jones to hire Jack Reilly to reinstall a timing-based offense in Dallas. This was true notwithstanding the fact that Dallas had fired Reilly as quarterbacks coach after the 1997 season. The Cowboys were supposed to have one of the fastest receiving corps in the NFL in 2000, with new receiver Joey Galloway and holdover Ismail. Neither of the receivers, nor Troy Aikman, finished the 2000 season.

Dallas drafted Quincy Carter in 2001 to be its next franchise quarterback, and retained Reilly to coach him. It didn’t work well, to say the least.

Bruce Coslet (2002)

Year 2 of the Quincy Carter Experiment saw the hiring of Bruce Coslet, an expert in the West Coast Offense. This offense was believed to play to Carter’s strength as a mobile quarterback. Midway through the season, though, the Cowboys benched Carter in favor of Chad Hutchinson, who had returned to football after several years in minor league baseball. Coslet’s offensive system simply did not work, and he was dismissed after the hiring of Bill Parcells.

Maurice Carthon/Sean Payton/Tony Sparano/Todd Haley (2003-2006)

The Bill Parcells’ years were characterized by the introduction of running game and passing game coordinators. Two of the four who had these titles are now head coaches (Payton and Sparano). The offenses are difficult to classify because they were run by such different quarterbacks: Carter (mobile but not accurate), Vinny Testaverde (immobile but with a strong arm), Drew Bledsoe (as immobile as a quarterback can be, but with a strong arm), and Tony Romo (mobile and with a strong arm). Except for the 2004 season, the Dallas offense generally improved in each of the seasons that Parcells was here.

Jason Garrett (2007- )

Jones hired Garrett at the end of the 2006 season, even before the Cowboys had hired a head coach. Garrett’s strengths as a coordinator in 2007 seemed to be the adjustments that he made during the course of the game. He was not afraid to go to the same player several times in a row, whether the receiver was Owens or Witten. Garrett’s inexperience did not matter at all, and the Cowboys were fortunate to be able to retain him. The key now is to restock his weapons for 2008.

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Article by Matt Cordon

Blogging impatiently about the Cowboys since 2006. Being a fan since 1977 hasn't required quite as much patience.
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