• Mike McCarthy taking over as play caller: While the Dallas Cowboys are in the market for a new offensive coordinator, play-calling won't be on that position's list of duties, as McCarthy appears to be taking the reins on offense.
• Retread candidates: Both Brian Schottenheimer and Scott Turner have the kind of offensive coordinator experience that Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy can rely on if hired.
• Young up-and-comers: Even though Zac Robinson and Bobby Slowik don't have any offensive coordinator experience, both could inject some cutting-edge wrinkles that could help optimize the Cowboys' offense moving forward.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
After ranking fourth in points per game in a season where quarterback Dak Prescott missed five games due to injury, the Dallas Cowboys surprisingly opted to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who appeared — at times — to be in the midst of being groomed to be team's next head coach. Moore was quickly gobbled up by Brandon Staley and the Los Angeles Chargers to run their offense, and the Cowboys must now begin looking for his replacement.
While Moore's Dallas offenses often fared well, especially with a healthy Prescott, head coach Mike McCarthy and the team's executives obviously felt that a change was necessary, as the offense frequently failed to break through during the biggest moments in the playoffs. The straw that broke the camel's back appeared to be the lack of success in the team's two postseason losses to the San Francisco 49ers over the past two seasons, as Moore's offense failed to breach even -0.10 expected points added per play in either game.
Now, the Cowboys must turn their attention toward finding a new offensive coordinator while also filling out the rest of their offensive and defensive staff after parting ways with more than a half-dozen assistants since the season's end.
Nonetheless, it's important to note that it appears as though McCarthy will take the offense's reins as the team's new play caller, per the Dallas Morning News' David Moore, meaning any offensive coordinator hired will have to fill all of the position's normal duties sans play-calling. While this won't preclude the Cowboys from making an effective hire, it will limit the potential candidate pool, as it likely eliminates former head coaches and any current offensive coordinators who would likely need play-calling duties to take the Cowboys' offensive coordinator gig (sorry to those of you hoping Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy would make the lateral move to help run Dallas' offense).
Therefore, the Cowboys would be wise to search every nook and cranny to find their next offensive coordinator. Here are five candidates who could earn the job.
- 2022 job: Cowboys consultant (Cowboys)
Even though he's one of the least exciting candidates, former Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer may also be the most likely to land the Cowboys' offensive coordinator job due to his familiarity with McCarthy and the personnel, in addition to his wealth of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator.
Before spending the 2022 season as a consultant for the Cowboys, Schottenheimer had three different stints as an offensive coordinator (New York Jets in 2006-11, Los Angeles Rams in 2012-14, Seattle Seahawks in 2018-20). While Schottenheimer truly struggled to cobble together competent offenses with the Jets and Rams, posting just one top-10 finish in points per game over those two stretches, his Seahawks offenses ranked top 10 in points per game in each of his three seasons as offensive coordinator. Over his three years in Seattle, the Seahawks' offenses ranked ninth in EPA per play (0.023) and 16th in successful play rate.
Schottenheimer loves to lean on the run and play-action passing games to create effective offense. Over his three seasons with the Seahawks, they ranked sixth in run-play rate (42%) and eighth in play-action rate (28.4%). Additionally, the Seahawks ran the ball on 51.5% of their first downs, which is surprisingly a bit less than Dallas' 57.1% rate in 2022.
Interestingly, Schottenheimer's presence as offensive coordinator could push the Cowboys to make “inside zone” their primary run concept rather than the outside zone variation the team has leaned on heavily in the past (though Dallas employed a steadier diet of man/gap concepts in 2022 than in the past). Schottenhimer's Seahawks ranked third in inside zone rate (41.1% of called runs) during his tenure, while the Cowboys ranked 19th (20.0%) this past season.
Unfortunately, Schottenheimer's offenses were often criticized due to their predictability on account of a lack of creativity as a play caller — those aren't the kind of critiques that will inspire Cowboys fans after the team jettisoned a boy wonder for this retread candidate. Luckily for Dallas, the predictability of Schottnehimer's play-calling shouldn't be an issue because McCarthy will be calling plays. That could allow Schottenheimer to focus on what he does best: designing an offense that intertwines the running, play-action passing and dropback passing games at a high level.
Cowboys fans will be happy to hear that hiring Schottenheimer would likely mean a move away from the hitch/curl routes that were so frequently leaned on during Moore's tenure as offensive coordinator. The Cowboys targeted hitch routes the fourth most in the NFL; however, Schottenheimer appears to favor routes where his receivers are on the move rather than a stationary target, as his offenses are littered with drive, shallow-cross, spear and “China” passing game concepts — none of which have a stop, curl or hitch route baked into the basic play.
- 2022 job: Los Angeles Rams QB coach
While Robinson doesn't have any offensive coordinator experience, he's a young and upcoming star in the assistant coaching ranks, as he's done an excellent job coaching the Rams' quarterbacks since being hired to be an assistant quarterbacks coach in 2019. Since then, Robinson has moved up the ladder to become the team's primary quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator.
And even though Los Angeles' passing game struggled mightily in Robinson's first season as passing-game coordinator, that was mostly due to the litany of injuries the Rams had to overcome at the position. Nonetheless, it shouldn't be discounted that Robinson helped create some effective offense behind Baker Mayfield, who was signed midseason after being released by the Carolina Panthers. While it's difficult to parse just how much credit head coach Sean McVay, offensive coordinator Liam Coen and Robinson deserve for the turnaround, credit is certainly deserved, as the Rams finished 12th in EPA (0.005) per passing play from Weeks 14-18 with Mayfield under center after ranking 29th (-0.10) over the first 13 weeks of the season.
It's impossible to know what Robinson's personal offensive playbook would look like if elevated to offensive coordinator because he's never done it before; however, if it's anything like his mentor's (McVay), then it would be a great addition to the Cowboys' offense. McVay's offenses are lauded for their design, as they lean heavily on pre-snap shifts and motion to identify coverage indicators and create advantageous leverage/matchups. Additionally, McVay's offenses are built on melding the passing and run games to create one of the most play-action-heavy passing offenses in the league.
Even though Robinson's inexperience may be a knock against him for most teams, it shouldn't be an issue in Dallas due to McCarthy taking over the play-calling responsibilities. Plying his trade as Dallas' offensive coordinator would provide Robinson with valuable experience running an offense while also giving the Cowboys a young, innovative mind who can inject the necessary changes to take it to the next level.
While NFL teams often get made fun of for hiring anyone who's even been in McVay's presence, hiring Robinson from the McVay coaching tree would be a wise move by McCarthy and the Cowboys' front office.
- 2022 job: San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator
Similar to Robinson, Slowik is a young and upcoming name in the assistant coaching ranks who could be just what the doctor ordered for the Cowboys' offense. Even though Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers' offense are praised for their unique and innovatively designed running game, which is a big reason why the Miami Dolphins hired San Francisco's Mike McDaniel (49ers run-game coordinator 2017-2020) to be their head coach in 2022, the passing game is just as innovative and cutting edge. And the Cowboys would be wise to tap into that by hiring Slowik, who was the 49ers' passing-game specialist in 2021 before being promoted to passing-game coordinator in 2022.
Similar to Robinson, Slowik hails from a coaching tree rooted in the West Coast offense, though both offenses go about it in different ways. While Robinson and McVay lean on receiver-heavy personnel groupings, Shanahan and Slowik tend to rely on more two-back and tight end formations to create new looks and advantageous matchups in the running and passing games. For this reason alone, Slowik could be a more enticing candidate than Robinson, as the Cowboys have a deep and talented tight end group to go with a less talented wide receiver corps.
Nonetheless, while Shanahan rightly receives the lion's share of the credit, Slowik deserves props, as well, for San Francisco's effective passing game in 2022. Despite dealing with myriad injuries to the quarterback position, the 49ers somehow were able to field the third-best passing offense in terms of EPA per play (0.166). While San Francisco's offense is full of talent at every other position, it would be interesting to see if Slowik could help create similar passing-game efficiency with Prescott, who is a much better quarterback than any of the signal-callers who took snaps for the 49ers in 2022.
- 2022 job: Washington Commanders offensive coordinator
If looking only at the results from Scott Turner's three years as the Commanders' offensive coordinator, as Washington failed to rank higher than 23rd in points per game during his tenure, then you're probably unenthused about this potential hire — especially after he was dismissed almost immediately following the 2022 season.
Nonetheless, don't fall for it, as Turner was simply the fall-man for a dysfunctional Washington team that somehow played above expectations and was in the playoff hunt for most of the season despite a terrible quarterback situation. When looking at the advanced statistics, Turner made a ton of wise schematic decisions that likely enabled Washington to be competent on offense despite its lack of talent where it mattered.
In 2022, Turner called plays that used motion 649 times — the sixth most in the NFL — and motion has proven to a productive wrinkle to maximize an offense's effectiveness. Moreover, Turner's offenses lean on bunch/stack alignments (38.8% rate; eighth in NFL) to help create beneficial matchups, free releases and defensive miscommunications to general an efficient passing game. Turner also leaned on RPOs (11.4% RP rate; ninth) to help provide easy wins for the offense.
In fact, Turner has proven to excel at getting his best players the ball frequently, and look no further than Terry McLaurin‘s career year in 2022 as evidence. Turner did a fantastic job creating situations where McLaurin could thrive using formation diversity and motions, and there's no reason to think that he couldn't do the same with CeeDee Lamb in Dallas.
While Turner likely wouldn't call plays in Dallas, his ability to design a cutting-edge offense would be a huge benefit to McCarthy and the rest of the Cowboys' offense.
- 2022 job: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback coach
The Eagles finished the 2022 regular season second in EPA per play (0.0570) with one of the NFL's best and most innovative offenses, so it's certainly not a bad idea for the Cowboys to pluck one of their top coaching talents.
Over his two seasons as Eagles quarterbacks coach, Johnson has done wonders with Jalen Hurts. While Hurts' running ability receives the most acclaim, Johnson deserves a ton of credit for the strides Hurts has made as a passer in 2022, boosting his accuracy rate from 58.8% in 2021 to 62.4% in 2022 while dropping his uncatchable inaccurate rate from 18.6% in 2021 to 15.9% in 2022. And while Prescott is much more experienced than Hurts, Johnson's presence could have similar effects on the Cowboys' signal-caller moving forward. Heck, Johnson has already proven to be able to maximize Prescott, as he was the veteran's quarterbacks coach during his junior and senior seasons at Mississippi State.
Johnson's presence in Philadelphia in addition to his experience in the college ranks provided him with immediate access to some of the most innovative offenses in the sports. Pace, space and motion are all buzzwords that will likely fill up any playbook Johnson is a part of creating. Johnson is exactly the kind of coach who can optimize Dallas' current personnel with a cutting-edge scheme. In addition, he's proven to be capable of coaching dual-threat quarterbacks, so his presence in Dallas could mean the team is ready to lean on Prescott's running ability in critical down-and-distances in the future.
The key for any new offensive coordinator will be optimizing Prescott, and there's no other potential candidate who has a better resume to do just that. And unlike other up-and-comers, including Robinson and Slowik, Johnson has experience as an offensive coordinator from his time at Utah (2012-13), Houston (2017) and Florida (2020).
While the other candidates would be hired in an effort to help improve and innovate the offense as a whole, hiring Johnson would be aimed at making Prescott as comfortable as possible in Dallas' offense — and honestly, that may be the best direction for this offense to go.
- 2022 job: Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator
Another candidate who would likely terrify Cowboys fans, McAdoo spent 2021 as a consultant for the Cowboys before taking the Panthers' offensive coordinator gig in 2021. Carolina finished 25th in EPA per play (-0.090) in McAdoo's lone season. Unlike Turner, McAdoo's lack of success isn't buoyed by innovative schemes that maximized the little talent the offense did have.
Not only did McAdoo's Panthers rank below average in motion rate and bunch formation rate, but they also ranked fourth in run-play rate (45.8%). And while Turner did an excellent job optimizing his best player in McLaurin, McAdoo failed to do the same with D.J. Moore for most of the season. Additionally, McAdoo called runs into eight-plus-man boxes with the ninth-highest frequency — a trend the Cowboys would be wise to dispose of due to its inherent inefficiency.
On the positive end of the spectrum, McAdoo's Panthers did rank first in RPO rate in 2022, using it on 22.1% of their plays.
Nonetheless, there's nothing in McAdoo's history as an offensive coordinator that would excite the Cowboys' fan base. Hiring him as offensive coordinator would simply appear to be McCarthy bringing in one of his buddies to help lead the offense — something the Cowboys need to desperately avoid during this hiring cycle.