FRISCO, Texas – As they prepare for their Thanksgiving Day game against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Cowboys took time in Tuesday's team meeting to celebrate the life of former strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul, who passed away last year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Paul suffered a medical emergency at The Star in Frisco on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. He was immediately treated by Cowboys medical personnel and transported to a local hospital by ambulance, where he passed away the following day as close family members gathered by his side. He was 54.
It was a tragic, emotional Thanksgiving week for the Cowboys, who learned of Paul's passing less than a day before their home game against Washington. They honored Paul with "MP" decals on the back of their helmets and held a moment of silence before kickoff.
This week, they're still remembering the impact Paul had on so many in the Cowboys organization, from staff to coaches to players.
"From my perspective, we want to make sure his legacy carries on. It's important to all of us," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We have 84 players in the locker room, and 40 of the players were not here last year. Clearly I was talking more to the new players just to understand who he was and what he's meant to us."
Paul was a highly-regarded strength and conditioning coach and a top assistant to long-time coordinator Mike Woicik with the Cowboys, Patriots and Saints. He won five Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and Giants over his 23-year NFL coaching career and was in his third season on the Cowboys' strength and conditioning staff in 2020.
Beyond football, Paul is remembered as a loving family man who always showed kindness, humor and the ability to connect with anyone. Unlike position coaches, the strength staff works with every player on the team throughout the season and during the spring offseason program, where players make the most strides in the weight room.
"The first thing when you talk about Markus Paul, you talk about his faith, you talk about his family, you talk about his fatherly presence that he had to the players," McCarthy said.
"I refer to the strength and conditioning and trainers and equipment guys, and I say this with a big heart, they're the bartenders of our culture, just from my personal experiences. Those guys interact with everybody. They know the situations that guys are going through, and that's why it's important and we're very fortunate to have long-tenured employees here in those positions that have that gift of connection and making sure these guys are being supported at all times, during the tough times, in the details of things that frankly sometimes never even get to the head coach. And I think that's part of the trust and the culture and the structure of we're about and how we want to operate here. And if you look for an example, Markus Paul was that person."
Cornerback Anthony Brown, father of two young sons, said each day he still thinks about the life advice Paul gave him over the years, including helpful parenting tips.
"He dealt with the DBs a lot more, so I spent a lot of time with him," Brown said. "His time was more just teaching me how to be a father, teaching me how to do things the right way, be respectful and how to go to work every day and do right. I'll never forget him. I always keep him in my prayers. I always keep him in the back of my head coming out here.
"It was a reflection (Tuesday). We more celebrated him rather than just mourned him. Just thinking about all the good things he brought to our team and to us individually."
Quarterback Dak Prescott said the current strength and conditioning staff continues to carry on Paul's legacy.
"Anytime I go in the weight room or when we start our stretch off, Coach Harold (Nash Jr.), Coach Ced (Cedric Smith), Coach Kendall (Smith), they all do a great job of mentioning his name," Prescott said. "And I think that's something that is special that we continue to try to carry on his legacy in everything we do around here.
"It's a stretch that Marcus used to say, 'Some of these.' I don't if some of y'all probably see us on game day, over the arms (stretch). That's the beginning of the stretch."