The History of Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinators

Yesterday, it looked as if the St. Louis Rams were going to hire Jason Garrett to be their head coach. Today, however, stories revealed that the job would go to Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo. In all likelihood, Garrett will remain in Dallas.

I indicated in a post yesterday that I would list the offensive coordinators in team history. There have been more coaches who have held that title than has been the case on the defensive side of the ball, but the various coordinators have had different roles. None of the coordinators under Tom Landry had exclusive playcalling responsibilities, whereas all of the coordinators under Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer called the plays. Head coach Chan Gailey was the offensive coordinator, but coach Dave Campo had little to do with the offense. The coordinators under Bill Parcells shared playcalling and game-planning duties with others, while Garrett has called all the shots under Wade Phillips.

Here is a list of the team’s coordinators:

Tom Landry, Head Coach, 1960-1988

Landry devisted the multiple offense, and he retained responsibility over the offense for nearly all of his 29 years as head coach. The irony that most people note is that he was hired as a defensive expert but quickly developed into an offensive mastermind. It is not surprising that he was a capable offensive coach, though, given that he had a background as a quarterback and that he was in the best position to counter the 4-3 defense that he designed.

Jim Myers: Offensive Line (1962-72); Offensive Coordinator (1973-74); Offensive Coodinator/Offensive Line (1975-76); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line (1977-86)

Myers was the former coach at Iowa State and Texas A&M when he was hired by Dallas in 1962. He held the title of offensive coordinator, but his primary responsibility with Dallas was as offensive line coach and not as playcaller.

Dan Reeves: Offensive Backfield (1970-72, 1975); Special Teams (1974); Quarterbacks/Receivers (1976); Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Backs (1977-79); Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks/Receivers (1980)

Reeves focused on several positions during his time as an assistant with Dallas. Like Myers, however, Reeves never had playcalling duties with the Cowboys. On the other hand, he did install the Cowboys’ offensive system when he arrived in Denver in 1981.

Paul Hackett: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks/Receivers (1986); Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (1987-88)

The Cowboys hired Hackett in 1986 to inject some new life into the team’s offense. This move was not initiated by Landry, who resisted the new offensive coach. Dallas had a little bit of success with the playcalling team of Landry and Hackett, but after the team’s collapse in 1986, Landry resumed control the offensive playcalling.

Dave Shula: Offensive Coordinator (1989); Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (1990)

The first offensive coodinator under Jimmy Johnson was Dave Shula, son of legendary coach Don Shula. The move was a disaster as the Cowboys finished near the bottom in yards gained and points scored in both 1989 and 1990.

Norv Turner: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (1991-93)

In three seasons with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, Dallas improved from the worst offense in the league to an offense ranked in the top five in most categories. It helped, of course, that the team’s talent got progressively better.

Ernie Zampese: Offensive Coordinator (1994-97)

Zampese was formerly with the Los Angeles Rams when he took over for Turner after the 1993 season. Little changed in the offensive philosophy between the Turner and Zampese eras, but the talent level started to decline after the 1995 season. By 1997, the offense needed a change in direction, leading to Zampese’s dismissal.

Chan Gailey: Head Coach (1998-1999)

Gailey assumed the role as both head coach and offensive coordinator when he arrived in 1998. He completely changed the offensive philosophy in Dallas, including the blocking scheme, and for the most part the transition was successful. Emmitt Smith had a resurgence in 1998, and the team improved from 6-10 in 1997 to 10-6 in 1998. Dallas started well in 1999, winning the first three games. However, an injury to Michael Irvin ended his career, and Gailey’s offense struggled for the rest of the season.

Jack Reilly: Quarterbacks (1997); Offensive Coordinator (2000-01)

With the success of the Rams’ timing-based offense in 1999, the Cowboys decided to reinstall a form of the offense that had been in place for most of the 1990s. It failed. Troy Aikman was but a shell of his former self, and the experiment of using Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail blew up when Galloway was hurt during the first game of the season. Reilly remained as coordinator in 2001, but that season was also a failure.

Bruce Coslet: Offensive Coordinator (2002)

The Cowboys decided to install a West Coast offense in 2002 to take advantage of Quincy Carter’s skills. Former Cincinnati head coach Bruce Coslet was brought in to install the offense, but that season was largely a disaster. Carter was benched, and the team could only manage two wins in the final nine games unded Chad Hutchinson.

Maurice Carthon: Offensive Coordinator (2003-04)

When Bill Parcells arrived, he brought with him former Giant fullback Maurice Carthon to serve as offensive coordinator. Offensive playcalling duties were divided among several coaches, so it was difficult to tell how much Carthon was responsible for the improvements on offense in 2003 or the struggles in 2004. Carthon left in 2005 to become the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator.

Sean Payton: Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks (2003-04); Assistant Head Coach/Passing Game Coordinator (2005)

Payton never had the title of offensive coordinator per se, but he was the passing game coordinator for one season. He was a behind-the-scenes guy under Bill Parcells, but his talents as an offensive mind showed later when he was the head coach in New Orleans.

Tony Sparano: Tight Ends (2003-04); Running Game Coordinator/Offensive Line (2005); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line/Running Game (2006); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line (2007)

Like Payton, Sparano never had the offensive coordinator title, but he was heavily responsible for game-planning in 2005 and 2006. And like Payton, Sparano showed his talents when he moved on to become head coach of the Dolphins in 2008.

Jason Garrett: Offensive Coordinator (2007-present)

Even before the Cowboys hired Wade Phillips as head coach, Jerry Jones brought Jason Garrett in to run the offense. Garrett looked like like a genius in 2007, leading to offers for him to become a head coach. However, the Dallas offense struggled in 2008, and many blamed Garrett’s scheme and playcalling for the problems. Garrett interviewed for positions in Detroit, Denver, and St. Louis during the current offseason, but those jobs went to others.

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  • Good morning
    I think a very big mistake if the Dallas Cowboys have Jason Garrett does not believe in any chance of success with him and Wade Phillips.
    Sorry to hear that the possibility of him staying is great.
    With that Terrell should leave the Dallas, and I think that Dallas has only to lose with it; Terrell may be a difficult person to live, the more it is very good as WR.
    I am very sad to hear that Garrett should stay.
    Douglas Bete
    Sorocaba SP