May 10, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett (L to R) offensive line coach Bill Callahan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson watch a drill during the rookie minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters in Irving, TX. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Although given the title of offensive coordinator, along with offensive line coach when he was hired, Bill Callahan was hired just to coach the offensive line. The title of offensive coordinator was likely given to him out of respect for his experience, which included being a head coach at both the college and pro levels. So, when owner and general manager Jerry Jones decided that head coach Jason Garret should no longer be the offensive play caller, Callahan, with his experience, was an easy choice as the one to take over the play calling, at least as far as Jerry was concerned.
Since he was apparently no longer going to be the play caller, Garrett suggested hiring recently fired head coach of the San Diego Chargers, Norv Turner. Turner was an expert on the Cowboys’ offense, the same one he ran during the Cowboys’ super bowl runs in the 90’s. But Jerry didn’t go for it. He thought Turner would be too much like Garrett and he wanted to shake things up. It was that thing about making things uncomfortable around the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters I suppose that led to this line of thinking. Anyway, as the owner and GM, Jerry won that argument and the team went forward with the decision to have Callahan call the plays.
The problem with this decision was that Callahan had no experience running this offense. Callahan had always been a disciple of the west coast offense. But, being a dutiful employee, Callahan decided to forgo his vacation so that he could immerse himself into Garret’s offense and be up to speed when the time came to help create game plans and call plays. As the season progressed Callahan seemed to do what many of us do, revert to past behavior, which in this case meant calling the game as if the Cowboys were running the west coast offense, which is based on a minimal running game and lots of short passes.
The Cowboys did show improvement with touchdowns in the red zone, no doubt helped by them getting good at the short passing game. But almost every other measurement of offensive success was down, including average yards per pass and run attempts. You see, in the west coast offense, the short pass is a substitute for the run and there are less running attempts. Speaking of that, it’s amazing to me that under these circumstances running back DeMarco Murray ran for over 1000 yards. Imagine what he could have done if the run had been featured properly. But what we saw instead was the team continuing to pass when they should have been running and shortening the game. Need I remind you of the fiasco that occurred when the Green Bay Packers came to town?
Now let’s fast forward to the last few weeks, after the season ended for the Cowboys. Garrett is in the final year of his contract with no extension in sight. After three consecutive seasons of 8-8, I guess Jerry wants him to play this next year out and earn the extension, much like players often have to do. That being the case, Garrett was not willing to tie his future to Callahan as the play caller. Coincidentally, Garrett friend and mentor, Scott Linehan became available having been fired as offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions, along with his head coach and the rest of the staff. Garrett forced the issue and was able to add Linehan to the staff as passing game coordinator and offensive play caller.
It was Linehan that hired Garrett as quarterback’s coach of the Miami Dolphins when Linehan was the offensive coordinator there. And it was Linehan that wanted to make Garrett his offensive coordinator when he received the head coaching gig with the St. Louis Rams. The Dolphins would not allow Garrett to leave, but he did eventually leave to become offensive coordinator for the Cowboys, under then head coach Wade Phillips. We all know what happened next with the 2010 season getting off to such a terrible start that Phillips was fired. Garrett was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season and officially became the head coach at the start of the 2011 season. But until now, Garrett has been trying to succeed with a staff not chosen by him.
So, what can we expect? Linehan’s detractors will tell you he is all about the passing game and will point to the Lions during Linehan’s tenure there as proof. While this is the case with his first few years there, things changed this last season when the Lions signed Reggie Bush to be their featured running back. With Bush onboard, the Lions ran for more yardage in 2013 than they had in years and, in fact, more than the Cowboys ran for in 2013. I think we can expect a robust downfield passing game, with more targeting of wide receiver Dez Bryant, much the way the Lions did with Calvin Johnson. And, believe it or not, I think we will see more commitment to the run, much like the Lions of 2013.
The only thing I don’t understand is why the Cowboys wouldn’t let, the now unhappy, Callahan interview for offensive coordinator positions with the Ravens and the Browns. I guess the Cowboys still value his ability to coach the offensive line. However, the offensive line showed much more improvement in 2013 than they did in 2012, and much of the credit for that is given to assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who arrived in 2013. In light of that, I personally would have let Callahan walk.
Bottom line, Garrett should have, and now has, the right to fail or succeed with a staff more of his own choosing. That’s why he had to throw Callahan under the bus.