With the announced promotion of Brian Schottenheimer from consultant to offensive coordinator, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t go for any excitement in replacing the departed Kellen Moore. But while a flashier move might have been good for fan satisfaction, giving the title to Schottenheimer could prove to be more impactful to the organization’s future.
A key detail here is that play-calling responsibility won’t be going to Schottenheimer but instead moving up the ladder to head coach Mike McCarthy. It will mark the first time since 2012 that the head coach has called plays in Dallas; Bill Callahan took that assignment from Jason Garrett in 2013 and then it became Scott Linehan’s job for several years after. When Moore took over as offensive coordinator for Linehan in 2020, play-calling came with the title.
Schottenheimer was with the Cowboys in 2021 in a consulting role. He has ample experience as a play-caller, coordinating offenses for the Jets, Rams, Seahawks, and Jaguars for the better part of the last 17 years. But McCarthy will now be the in-game decision-maker as he was for the majority of his head-coaching tenure with the Green Bay Packers.
Less emphasis on OC role
While the move isn’t as inspiring as hiring some big name from another team to handle the job, it is a significant one for the immediate and perhaps long-term future of the Dallas Cowboys. There’s no human shield for McCarthy now going into this pivotal 2023 season, only adding to the existing sense of a “make-or-break” scenario for McCarthy remaining the head coach in Dallas.
This change is much more about McCarthy finally bringing his offensive style and philosophy, which Schottenheimer shares in many ways, to the Cowboys. While Schottenheimer’s offenses have been more run-focused than McCarthy’s, they both like setting up receivers for runs after the catch and taking advantage of their quarterbacks’ mobility. It could be a breath of fresh air for Dak Prescott, who’s only had Linehan and his disciple Moore as his coordinators since entering the NFL.
With Kellen Moore being the last major holdover from the Jason Garrett coaching staff, some are glad to see him gone and McCarthy’s imprint now getting stronger on offense. But we saw what happened in 2020 when McCarthy brought in one of his guys on defense. Mike Nolan was a predictable disaster as defensive coordinator, having been out of the role for five years and not having consistent success in it beforehand. It was a move of relationship over merit; McCarthy had been Nolan’s offensive coordinator in 2005 with the 49ers. Nolan’s time in Dallas lasted just one year. giving up the most points in franchise history, before he was replaced with Dan Quinn in 2021.
It’s on McCarthy’s shoulders
There are some key differences with this decision on offense that are encouraging. As shown by his being the play caller, McCarthy is an offensive guy. Hopefully, he has a better read on what Schottenheimer brings to the table as a coordinator, which still comes with plenty of pre-game strategizing and other duties beyond just calling the plays. But having McCarthy as the play caller mitigates the ultimate effect Schottenheimer can have.
That this move comes now, heading into this critical fourth season for McCarthy in Dallas, is also a sign that the Jones family is giving the head coach a chance to put up or shut up. The question of whether or not McCarthy has really moved the needle for the Cowboys from Jason Garrett remains, especially after another failed attempt to get past the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs. The offense clearly held Dallas back in 2022, and now McCarthy is getting the opportunity to fix it without any holdovers from the past coaching regime.
Could it blow up in his face? Sure; the hiring of Nolan as defensive coordinator certainly did. But while that mistake came early in Mike McCarthy’s run and he still had plenty of cushion left to survive it, the net is gone now heading into 2023. Maybe McCarthy taking a firmer hold on the offense, both as the play caller and with a more kindred spirit as coordinator, will make a positive difference. But if it doesn’t, and especially if things go even further south, it could easily be the basis for larger changes in the not-so-distant future.