1998 Review: New Coach, New Offensive System, New Draft Strategy
By 1998, Jerry Jones realized that the team was not simply a piece or two away from being a title contender. In January, Jones fired Barry Switzer as head coach, and the search was on for a replacement. Names being tossed around were plentiful—George Seifert, Lou Holtz, Norv Turner, Dave Wannstedt, Jon Gruden (then offensive coordinator with Philadelphia), college Rick Neuheisel (then Colorado’s head coach), Gerry DiNardo (then LSU’s head coach), and Terry Donahue (former UCLA head coach). Dallas assistants Joe Avezzano and Dave Campo were also in the mix. More names emerged during the month of January, including Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick.
In the end, Jones decided to go in a completely different direction by hiring a no-name in Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. The Steelers had just come off an 11-5 season and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, and Gailey’s innovative offensive system relied on versatile Kordell Stewart along with a bus of a running back in Jerome Bettis.
Colleagues praised Gailey, and many fans were willing to give the man a shot. At the same time, though, plenty of questions arose about how his system would work when the QB was a not-very-mobile Troy Aikman and the running back was Emmitt Smith, who appeared to be declining rapidly. Gailey’s offensive was quite different than the timing-based passing system the Cowboys had used since the early 1990s, so everyone would have some learning to do.
Dallas did not experience major free-agent defections but still lost some quality players. Mark Tuinei and Tony Tolbert both retired, as did Tony Casillas. Larry Allen moved from right guard to left tackle, and the Cowboys signed Everett McIver to fill in at right guard. Brock Marion signed with the Dolphins, and the Cowboys replaced him with George Teague.
One big concern was that the Cowboys did little to address their receiver position. Anthony Miller’s time in Dallas lasted only one season, and the team had no proven second wide receiver. When the Cowboys’ time came to make the eighth overall pick, Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss was still on the board. However, Dallas was still recovering from its image problems, and Jerry Jones decided to pass on Moss and take North Carolina defensive end Greg Ellis.
Here’s the rest of the draft:
1(8) Greg Ellis, DE, North Carolina
2(38) Flozell Adams, T, Michigan State
4(100) Michael Myers, DT, Alabama
5(130) Darren Hambrink, LB, South Carolina
5(138) Oliver Ross, T, Iowa State
6(188) Izell Reese, DB, Alabama-Birmingham
7(223) Tarik Smith, RB, California
7(227) Antonio Fleming, G, Georgia
7(237) Rodrick Monroe, TE, Cincinnati
Ellis spent 11 seasons in Dallas and was a starter for most of his career. However, the team to this day regrets not taking Moss, who could have teamed with Michael Irvin instead of Cris Carter. Adams was a huge pick in the second round, not only due to his size but because the team found a very good left tackle outside of the first round. Myers and Hambrink both became starters in Dallas, but neither lasted long with the Cowboys.