SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — In just one week following the season ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the NFC Playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys have made some big moves.
We already knew heading into the weekend that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn would be passing on head coaching possibilities for a second straight year to remain with the Cowboys, never mind the reasons why this is the case because there are too many we are likely not aware of. This might be more of a decision than a move, but it’s still big.
In somewhat of a surprise move, Dallas has moved on from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. This ‘mutual’ decision was announced Sunday night, and this obviously comes after the Carolina Panthers interviewed Moore for a head coaching gig that ultimately went to Frank Reich.
The only thing about this news that I find odd is that it came as late as it did. The Cowboys parted ways with multiple assistant coaches last week, and it’s a bit curious that the front office didn’t reach this conclusion with Moore until a matter of hours ago.
After all, back-to-back losses to the 49ers, home and away, in the divisional playoffs is not something that’s going to fly with Cowboys Nation – not at all. Had this been a case of Dallas running into a juggernaut in the Bay Area winning multiple championships like it was the late 1980s, then okay.
But Sunday’s NFC Championship Game proved that San Francisco had far greater issues than anyone thought, and a Philadelphia Eagles squad that has been off-and-on at best for more than a month proved that the 49ers were highly vulnerable.
Yeah, you would have liked to have seen Quinn’s defense generate a few more sacks, and maybe an interception or two against a rookie quarterback named Brock Purdy, who has less than half a season of starting work under his belt.
Those dynamics likely would have happened if Moore’s offense had not been a virtual no-show – again.
Let’s remember that this year’s playoff loss was decided by seven points, not much more than last year’s playoff loss decided by six points. In both games, San Francisco scored nowhere near 30 points.
But Moore was even farther off.
I have never been a fan of the ‘young’ head coach or coordinator in the NFL, and especially when on-the-job training is part of the project. Jon Gruden capitalized on his youth back in 2002 when he bolted the Oakland Raiders to go lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and then beat the former in the Super Bowl, but also with a team that Tony Dungy had built. Still, Gruden had been a head coach when he arrived in Tampa-St.Petersburg.
Better positive examples include Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, and Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers. We could also add in Sean Payton as a then-young head coach who single-handedly changed the culture of a New Orleans Saints franchise that had spent most of its existence in futility until he arrived.
But for every one of those guys, there’s also a Josh McDaniels, Lane Kiffin and – Jason Garrett.
You can do the math on the respective ages of the fellows above when they got head coaching opportunities in the NFL, but I can save you the time in simply saying that youth generally doesn’t pan out when you’re talking about leadership in professional football’s most competitive landscape.
Moore is just now 34 years old, and his odd play-calling and inability to keep his starting quarterback in advantageous positions was becoming more and more obvious. Further, Moore’s inability to maintain a commitment to getting yards on the ground was a huge concern, especially when you get into the playoffs and there is no tomorrow.
The San Francisco game is a prime example: Running back Tony Pollard goes down with a broken leg in the second quarter, thus taking Dallas’ most explosive weapon out of the equation, but also leaving Ezekiel Elliott as the remaining running back, right?
Malik Davis had shown some promise at times during the regular season, and in just about every one of his appearances he looked better, especially in the open field, than Elliott. But did Davis see any carries in Moore’s pass-a-thon down the stretch in the fourth quarter against the ‘Niners with the game still in reach?
No. Davis, albeit a rookie, does not even show up on the stat sheet.
The Cowboys needed a spark in that playoff loss, and Moore did next to nothing to change the momentum of the game, period.
Again, along with age comes experience, which is not something Moore is blessed with.
In fact, if we go back to the 1989-90 seasons in Dallas, we find that a very young assistant coach named Dan Shula was anointed offensive coordinator under then-head coach Jimmy Johnson. Long story short, the Cowboys, while obviously rebuilding at that time, did not make the playoffs in either of those seasons. Dan is the son Don Shula, a Hall of Fame head coach who had a championship pedigree like few others. But Dan never even entered the ballpark when it came to replicating his father’s accomplishments, meaning the attraction to him was based almost solely on his last name.
To start the 1991 campaign, Norv Turner was brought in as Shula’s replacement and the results were not only obvious, but historic. Dallas would make the playoffs in Turner’s first season guiding quarterback Troy Aikman and an offense loaded with potential before winning the next two Super Bowls in 1992-93.
Turner came to the Cowboys with deep assistant coaching experience within some impressive offensive circles.
Moore can’t say anything similar to that, regardless of the potential he still has to build a successful career as an NFL participant.
As things sit right now, head coach Mike McCarthy will be calling plays for the Dallas offense in 2023, something he has done before, although not with the Cowboys. While nobody has a crystal ball with which to see how this will turn out, it seems like a safe bet that having a coach with Super Bowl-winning experience guiding a suddenly inconsistent quarterback in Dak Prescott is better than anything Moore can bring to the table right now.
On a final note, former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips had to accept an in-place offensive coordinator in Garrett when he was hired in 2007, but he didn’t survive the fallout that ensued due to that poor arrangement put in place by Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
McCarthy had a similar arrangement with Moore when he arrived to replace Garrett as head coach in 2020, but he has survived a similar problem that he can now solve on his own, and rightly so.