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Offseason | 2023

Mick Shots: Where There's A Will, There's A Way


FRISCO, Texas – Sometimes you just have to get lucky.

That Will McClay is the Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel, the guy being profusely praised for this string of draft day successes, is like this moonbeam landing at The Ranch back in 2002 out of a series _what if_ circumstances.

Like, what if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hadn't decided to enter a team in the Arena Football League?

What if Will hadn't requested a dual role in the scouting department too?

What if then Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin hadn't given the Cowboys permission to hire Will away?

And finally, what if Larry Lacewell, then the director of college and pro scouting, hadn't found a spot in the Cowboys scouting department for him?

Because if not, Jones would not have gone on for a five and a half minute dissertation on the merits of having McClay onboard, and even beginning his soliloquy by saying, "Let me say this, I'm fortunate I've known Will a long time back …"

Truer words were never spoken. Let's go back in time. It's 2002. Jones and the Cowboys had just brought the Dallas Desperados into the AFL. That's indoor football. They named Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano the head coach, more so for the popularity he had built up since arriving as the Cowboys special teams coach in 1990. Coach Joe had no experience in indoor football.

The dominos began to fall. The team had hired an experienced indoor hand, Tom Luginbill, as the offensive coordinator. They needed a defensive coordinator. Luginbill recommended this Jacksonville assistant director of pro scouting named Will McClay. He had been a four-year veteran wide receiver/defensive back for the Detroit Drive (1989-92), then became the Drive's secondary and special teams coach in 1993, the beginning of a seven-year coaching career with stops in Grand Rapids, Anaheim, Milwaukee and Florida, not to mention player personnel director of the XFL's Orlando Rage.

The Desperados hired McClay as their DC, but with Will's stipulation that he could continue scouting with the Cowboys. One catch, the Cowboys had to get permission from Jacksonville to hire him away from the Jaguars. Coughlin granted the permission and Lacewell found him a spot during the AFL's offseason in pro scouting for the Cowboys.

Two seasons later, Avezzano was let go by Bill Parcells, and he ended up with the Raiders. McClay ended up as the Desperados head coach for the remaining five years of their existence, and a quite successful one at that, compiling a 54-24-1 record, including seasons of 15-1 and 13-3 and two Eastern Conference championships in 2007-08.

That gets us to today, where the Cowboys have made a priority of promoting McClay over the years and paying him enough to remain with the Cowboys instead of pursuing general manager jobs with other NFL teams along the way.

More importantly, a trusted voice for Jerry and Stephen Jones and a close friend too. And here is part of what Jerry had to say about Will following the draft, after pointing out that "the main reason Will got my attention was because he played at Rice. When I went to school, we weren't smart enough to go to Rice."

Then Jones added, "I've always had a lot of respect for Will. I've always appreciated his relationship with my children, which he had in a more in-depth way, and consequently, they're his biggest supporters in terms of him as a person. Then the idea that he's coming here and evolved … and I say evolved because really if you want a definition of what's happened to everything I've been involved in with the Cowboys, it has evolved, and it's not the same person sitting there 10 years ago.

"In my mind, Will has evolved into something that possibly is unique to the NFL. … Needless to say, Stephen will lay in front of the train for Will, relative to what he means to the organization."

Quite unique indeed, and thanking their lucky stars for how Will just fell into their laps.

· Can't Wait: Tomorrow some of us can plan out our lives for the remainder of the year, the NFL announcing the 2023 schedule. That will include the league probably salivating to scream the date of when the Jets and quarterback Aaron Rodgers arrive at AT&T Stadium, just when the Cowboys go to Carolina and potentially play Bryce Young, the first pick in the 2023 draft, and just when the Cowboys will head out to play at the 49ers, meeting them for the third time in four seasons, two of those in the playoffs. Also, a homecoming date for Rams QB Matthew Stafford, having played his high school ball at Highland Park.

· On Guard: Most everyone seems concerned over just who will play left guard for the Cowboys this season. Will it be Terence Steele? Might it be veteran free agent signing Chuma Edoga or might Tyler Smith move back over to guard where he began training camp last season? But no one is mentioning Matt Farniok, the 2021 two-time team captain at Nebraska, a guard/tackle for the Cornhuskers who the Cowboys moved to center but actually started him twice at guard last year before landing on IR for the final 10- regular season games. Keep an eye on him.

· Veteran Presence: Sure been impressed with how veteran newcomers Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks have integrated themselves onto the Cowboys team. Why, both guys participated in last week's fund-raising Home Run Derby. Plus, both guys talked about how they will have no problem helping out their younger teammates at their respective positions of cornerback and wide receiver. Said CeeDee Lamb of having Cooks around, "Honestly, if I have any questions, he's always telling me from the first moment he stepped in here, 'Ask me.' Be open with him, you know what I'm saying?"

· Shorties: Already jumping to conclusions, just because Micah Parsons says he wanted to bulk up on some muscle for taking on those offensive tackles when rushing as a defensive end, like maybe putting on a few pounds of muscle. Let's remember the Cowboys listed him at 248 last year and he was talking about maybe starting off at 255, so that doesn't mean he's a fulltime defensive end … Parsons also gave a scouting report on first-round draft choice Mazi Smith, saying he knew about him, and claiming, "That was like my guy I knew we should pick. … Just watching his film, watching him run through guys and how explosive he is." … Boy, almost mid-May. The Cowboys' rookie minicamp this weekend and Organized Team Activities beginning in two weeks followed by the team-wide minicamp the second week in June, and before you know it, the trucks will begin loading up for training camp that last week of July.

And for this week's last word, let's turn to quarterback Dak Prescott during the Home Run Derby fundraiser for The Salvation Army, scheduled along with Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith to be a presenter at Thursday night's ACM Award ceremony at Ford Center. Dak had high praise for Cooks, the wide receiver the Cowboys traded for this offseason, giving up a fifth-round pick and next year's sixth to the Texans, somewhat of a steal for a guy having put up 1,000-yard receiving seasons in six of the past eight seasons, last year's sub-1,000 coming with the Texans, having used three quarterbacks, predominately second year QB Davis Mills.

"The moment that guy showed up, watching him in the workouts, the way he carries himself from drill to drill, what he does pre-workouts, post-workouts to take care of his body and to make sure he has that speed to keep that productivity he's had over his career is impressive," Dak said. "When you just throw it to him, (the speed) stands out. His speed is different than many others. … He's going to be huge for me and huge for the room."

And huge for taking shots down the field.

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