Cowboys' Flashback: Offensive Coordinators of Dallas' Past

With the news last week that Bill Callahan is taking over the play calling duties from Head Coach Jason Garrett, I wanted to take a look at the past play callers for the Dallas Cowboys.  The list isn’t as long as some teams due to the simple fact, one of the play callers held the job for over 25 seasons.

TOM LANDRY (1960-1986)

Tom Landry had several coaches with the title of “Offensive Coordinator” such as Jim Myers from 1975-76, then Dan Reeves held the title for three seasons in 1977-80.  After Reeves left to become the Head Coach of the Denver Broncos, Landry didn’t hand out the title of OC out until 1986.

During Landry’s time as play caller for the Cowboys went to a total of four Super Bowls while winning two of those (Super Bowl VI and XII).  Landry’s offense during the 60’s and 70’s was the most innovative offense seen during that time period; the offense relied on timing and reads while other teams used power and talent.  Time caught up his offense, in the 1980’s; the offense had become predictable so Owner Bum Bright demanded the hiring of Paul Hackett.

PAUL HACKETT (1986-88)

Paul Hackett was fired away from the San Francisco 49ers.  Landry gave him the title of Offensive Coordinator but didn’t relinquish the job 100%.  Instead of Hackett installing his offense all the way, it was a marriage of programs so to speak as Landry and Hackett meshed both of their playbooks together.  The system had seemed to work up until Danny White broke his wrist against the New York Giants.  After that point, the combined system didn’t work for the next two seasons.  Hackett was demoted by Landry and then Landry was fired shortly after.  Hackett went on to be the Head Coach at USC before Pete Carroll got his shot.

DAVID SHULA (1989-90)

Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback coach Mike Shula yells to the team from the sidelines during second half of their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Carolina Panthers defeated the New Orleans Saints 44-38. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Johnson’s first hire was his offensive coordinator and that was son of legendary Miami coach Don Shula, David Shula.  Baby Shula had a hard time with having two rookie quarterbacks at the helm; Troy Aikman eventually won the job over Steve Walsh but then was injured in latter part of 1990.  Walsh was already gone so they had to play Babe Laufenberg and losses to Philadelphia and Atlanta ended any chances of the Cowboys making the playoffs.  Shula was demoted but he eventually left and became the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 1992-96.

NORV TURNER (1991-1993)

Norv Turner’s offense garnered the Cowboys two Super Bowl Championships.  Much like Landry’s offense, the timing scheme play in favor of Troy Aikman’s precision and the size of the wide receivers, but after winning Super Bowl XXVIII, he jettisoned to the hated Washington Redskins to be their Head Coach.  He also coached in Oakland and now serves as the Head Coach for the San Diego Chargers.


When the master mind of an offense leaves, you hire the mentor who trained that master.  Ernie Zampese, being Norv Turner’s Yoda, became the OC and led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl with a victory in Super Bowl XXX.  Unfortunately, that is as good as it had gotten.  In 1996, Michael Irvin’s drug suspensions hurt the offense, while free agency tore apart the franchise, and the team’s stars starting showing their age as they were not as effective in 1997.  He did return as a consultant in 2000.

CHAN GAILEY (1998-99)

Chan Gailey was hired from the Pittsburgh Steelers to fire up the offense and give it some life.  Troy Aikman was revitalized as they returned to the shotgun formation for the first time in many years.  The offensive line learned a new blocking scheme.  Dallas had some new talent in the way of Rocket Ismail but a career-ending injury to Michael Irvin and Aikman’s concussions held the offense down and by 1999, Gailey was fired.  He eventually moved on to Georgia Tech as their Head Coach and also was the HC for the Buffalo Bills.

JACK REILLY (2000-01)

Jack Reilly brought about the “Greatest Game on Turf” in St. Louis as the Rams’ offensive coordinator.  Jerry Jones was hoping he would bring the same magic to Dallas, needless to say that didn’t happen.  Troy Aikman started the season as well did Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail but they didn’t finish as injuries closed the season for Galloway and ended the career of Aikman.  The next year, the ‘boys drafted Quincy Carter as their next franchise quarterback, and although Reilly stayed to coach him, it didn’t work out at all.


Coslet was brought in to institute the West Coast offense, an offense better suited for Quincy Carter.  The institution was a disaster; the Cowboys continued to play poorly as Carter was benched for former minor league baseball player Chad Hutchinson.  In many eyes, the offense simply didn’t work.  Coslet was fired upon the hiring of Bill Parcells.


Bill Parcells didn’t have an offensive coordinator per say, he had running game and passing game coordinators.  Parcells’ offense seemed to work and improve the team but the problem they had was they had too many quarterbacks in a short time period.  Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, and eventually Tony Romo all were signal callers in these three seasons.  On a positive note, three of the four “coordinators” became head coaches, Payton (Saints), Sparano (Dolphins), and Haley (Chiefs).

JASON GARRETT (2007-2012)

Jason Garrett was hired before Head Coach Wade Phillips was, a pick that Jerry Jones made as this selection was questioned at first.  As Garrett began the season, he made Jones look like a genius.  As an OC, he was credited for being making adjustments during the course of a game.  After Phillips was fired in the middle of the 2010 season, he took over as interim coach and eventually given the full time job after the season was complete.  Garrett continued to call the plays, never hiring an offensive coordinator until 2012 when he hired Bill Callahan.  Garrett has relinquished the play calling duties for the 2013-14 season.

Bill Callahan’s fate has been written yet but our fans hope it is similar to the Landry days of the 70’s or the Turner-Zampese days from the 1990’s.  We all want the end result to end up with a sixth trophy, much like his predecessors, he will have a lot of eyes watching his every call.

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