Dallas Cowboys: Is Scott Linehan a new Norv Turner?


Among the biggest questions as the Dallas Cowboys prepare for training camp in Oxnard, California is this one: Is offensive coordinator Scott Linehan the new Norv Turner for America’s Team?

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Let me explain the ironic relationship between these two assistants, one that could grow even more ironic as this coming season unfolds.

To start with, Linehan and Turner both made significant impacts to the Dallas offense in their respective inaugural seasons with the franchise in 1991 and 2014. While Linehan’s title might not have been altered cosmetically to reflect OC status until last January, he was obviously the de facto emperor of the offense last season, despite serving as passing game coordinator while “OC” Bill Callahan was still on the staff.

Linehan ended years of poor offensive strategy and concepts engineered by both Callahan and current head coach Jason Garrett.

Turner, in quite similar fashion, brought balance and rapidly increased effectiveness to a younger franchise in the early 1990s that had three future Hall of Fame players in quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. Despite the presence of these players, and a few good offensive linemen as well,  previous offensive coordinator Dave Shula, son of legendary head coach Don Shula, couldn’t really make due with the goods.

Both of these assistants have extensive experience at the college level, Turner having spent time at University of Southern California and Linehan at the University of Washington. Both have spent plenty of time with quarterbacks at both the college and professional levels.

What’s interesting is the timing in which both of these coaches arrived in Dallas, each seeming to push the franchise forward, from an offensive standpoint, at a time when all the right tools were in place to do so. Despite much emphasis on the passing game over the course of their careers, each assistant created NFL rushing champions in their first season with the Cowboys.

Think about that.

Unlike Turner, Linehan will not have the services of his rushing champion heading into his second season on the job, with running back DeMarco Murray heading for the Philadelphia Eagles during free agency last spring. Time will tell if Murray’s departure creates headaches for Linehan in 2015, but I’m betting that whatever headaches he might get will come via other factors.

Things were certainly easier on Turner, what with Smith going on to win three more rushing titles in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

But the ultimate irony could later if preseason expectations for the Cowboys become a reality early next year.

Turner drove a vastly improved offense in ’92 straight to Super Bowl XXVII, a blowout win for Dallas over the Buffalo Bills. He did so again the following season, against the same opponent no less, just prior to becoming a head coach with the Washington Redskins.

Well, Linehan has aready tried his hand in the head coaching arena. It’s his performance over the next season or two that might very well determine whether or not he returns to that status any time soon.

But the opportunity is there as the Cowboys seem to be on the right wave offensively heading into Linehan’s second season on the job.

Can Linehan match Turner’s dramatic second season with the Cowboys?

Well, many feel that he can. This week, Skip Bayless of ESPN, a former Dallas-Ft. Worth journalist, boldly predicted a Cowboys appearance in Super Bowl L next February. Quarterback Tony Romo has made similar comments.

Compelling is the fact that Turner also had the benefit of an added pass-rush specialist, Charles Haley, over the summer of ’92 that pushed the other side of the ball to a championship level.

Linehan, also missing a pass rush on the defensive side during his first season, gets Greg Hardy, another cast-off from a different team that might very well regret having let this skill set slip between its fingers.

So, it’s Super Bowl or bust for the Dallas Cowboys in ’15 – training camp practices begin tomorrow.

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