The change to Mike McCarthy as head coach has been mostly welcomed by Cowboys fans and analysts, as have some of his changes with coordinators and assistants. But while a few of McCarthy’s moves feel like losses now, let’s be careful not to overrate our departing coaches given how Dallas has performed in recent years.
The two changes that have stung the most, based on reaction I’ve seen, are losing Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna and Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo. This is based on the perception of improved play from both positions since these men took over their respective jobs.
One move is finalized; Colombo is being replaced by longtime McCarthy underling Joe Philbin. Given the shift in offensive style and vocabulary, it would make sense that the new head coach wants someone who can translate easily for his players.
There’s no denying that the Cowboys’ offensive line improved when Colombo took over the job midway through the 2018 season. Dallas had hired Paul Alexander that offseason and the line was struggling greatly with implementing his different techniques and ideology. Switching to Colombo allowed the players to revert back to their comfort zone and the positive impact was immediate.
But also affecting the line that year was the absence of Travis Frederick, which exacerbated how bad things looked under Alexander early in the season. The switch to Colombo also occurred one week after Dallas traded for WR Amari Cooper, which allowed the offense as a whole to look much better regardless of who was coaching the offensive line.
The best thing you can say about Colombo’s work was the development of La’el Collins at right tackle, which isn’t surprising given where Marc himself played for most of his career. But Connor Williams didn’t impress much in his second year, and that also needs to be tagged to Colombo.
So yes, Marc Colombo did some good things during his time here. But some of that positive upswing was circumstantial; it’s a bit much to think we lost Bill Callahan again in this exchange. Joe Philbin has a great track record as an offensive line coach and we can be enthusiastic for his arrival in Dallas.
The tougher sell for many, and in part because his replacement is not yet known, is losing Jon Kitna as the quarterbacks coach. Dak Prescott’s improvement in 2019 was great to see and coincided nicely with Kitna’s first year working with him.
Sure, Prescott’s passing yards and touchdowns exploded this year from previous averages. But how much of that was really thanks to Kitna over the play-calling and strategy of Kellen Moore?
Dallas booted Scott Linehan last offseason and elevated Moore to offensive coordinator, and with that came a much less conservative approach to football. Prescott’s passing attempts went up to 596, dwarfing his average of about 492 attempts over the first three years.
Naturally, the yardage and scoring went up thanks to Moore’s philosophical approach to offense. But that isn’t to say Kitna didn’t have a hand in Dak’s successful transition.
Prescott was clearly more comfortable in the pocket this year and getting the football out quicker. His improved footwork, plus maintaining solid efficiency despite the more open passing offense, have to be credited to Kitna.
Still, we all saw the ongoing accuracy issues and numerous dropped passes. We can debate all day about how receivers need to make catches on anything thrown in their general airspace, but there’s no denying that some of those drops would’ve been catches with a different quarterback.
But really, this isn’t about performance. This is much like the Colombo move; Mike McCarthy is a quarterbacks guy and wants the message and coaching to be consistent at all levels. This is about the new head coach taking full ownership of the offense.
The Cowboys didn’t hire McCarthy to be the captain of Jason Garrett’s ship. They want him to move the crew to his own vessel and sail it back to the Super Bowl.
Did Dallas lose two good coaches in Marc Colombo and Jon Kitna? Probably, but that doesn’t mean the next guys are going to be downgrades.
As with many things that occur this offseason, we’re going to have to reserve judgment on these changes until we see the results.