With the departure of Wes Phillips to the Washington Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys had a vacancy to fill at tight end. Rather than promoting from within as they had done the previous year when the head coach’s brother, John Garrett, left for Tampa Bay to get out of his brother’s shadow, the Dallas Cowboys went stuck to their current philosophy of surrounding Jason Garrett with older, experienced coaches.
Mike Pope has 31 years of NFL experience, which began in 1983 as a tight ends coach for the New York Giants on Bill Parcells’ staff. He left the Giants in 1992 and joined David Shula’s staff in Cincinnati for two seasons. In 1994, Pope rejoined Parcells in New England, leaving the club after the 1996 Super Bowl berth when Parcells went to the Jets. Pope coached tight ends in Washington from 1997-99. From 2000-13, he served a second tour of duty as the New York Football Giants’ tight ends coach. He was one of the few assistant coaches to carry over from the Jim Fassel era (1997-2003) to the Tom Coughlin regime (2004-present).
The names that have played under Mike Pope are legendary — well, two of them. Mike Bavaro and Ben Coates come to mind, but the rest of his tight ends weren’t so spectacular. Do you remember the amazing plays of guys like Stephen Alexander or Tony McGee?
What inspires Dallas Cowboys fans, the knowledgeable ones who don’t get featured in John De Lancie’s stunt double’s retweets, about Pope is what he did in New York during his second tour of duty. He was able to get good utility out of guys like Visanthe Shiancoe, Dan Campbell, Kevin Boss, Bear Pascoe, and Jake Ballard. We could throw Jeremy Shockey in there as one of Pope’s failures, since Pope had him as a rookie up until the 2007 season, but it is evident Shockey didn’t have the humility to buy into what Coughlin and his staff were selling.
Dan Reeves, former Cowboys runningbacks coach in the Landry era who later became one of the best head coaches to never win a Super Bowl (despite having reached four), remarked that the drafting of Tony Dorsett instantly made him a better runningbacks coach. Similarly, any tight ends coach is going to look like a genius with Jason Witten under their contractual tutelage. Why the Cowboys brought Pope in, how he will be judged in Dallas is what utility he gets out of reserve tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar. Being the third second round tight end the Cowboys have taken since 2006, Escobar is an easy target for facile Cowboys critics. Pope’s job is to make him an easy target for Tony Romo.
The fact Pope didn’t do so well in his other stops is something to keep an eye on. Is it because he felt more at home in New Jersey? Was he merely collecting a paycheck? Those questions will arise if Pope doesn’t get improved play out of either Hanna or Escobar. And it’s warranted. After all, Pope is not infallible.