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Spagnola: Just Having To Roll With The Times


SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – This has occurred to me over the past week.

Yep, this strange dichotomy of how isolation has brought us closer together. Strange, huh?

Have you seen it? Felt it?

Why, the other day while taking a walk down a four-lane divided thoroughfare, three times folks in cars passing me by waved, and going 45 mph they certainly were waving at some stranger.

Or while taking off on my bike, normally reserved for solitude, people walking, jogging, riding, all just wanted to wave, I'm guessing just interacting from a safe distance with another human being, maybe just a basic need.

This is good.

So far, most everyone seems to be mobilizing for a common good, and gosh knows we need some good these days. Sort of reminds me of the title of that children's book Troy Aikman authored in 1995, Things Change.

How they do. And how they've hit closer to home, most of us having to adapt because of this coronavirus pandemic forcing us to stay home, work from home, be home-schooled, eat at home.

You have witnessed this on, too. We began this week doing our podcasts remotely from home, setting up camera phones for video, putting on screen each of our headshots in a box, our sports version of Hollywood Squares. And the same with this weekend's edition of The Blitz, hosts Bill Jones and Lindsay Draper interacting from home.

And on an aside, this is going to be our talented co-worker and friend Lindsay's final show, her family moving on for work-related opportunities, and darn it, we won't be able to give her a proper hug goodbye because of all this. A shout out will have to do.

Through all of this, unlike them other sports in-season, the NFL marches on thanks to this being the "offseason," just about our only ongoing sports entertainment with all the other leagues shutting down, meaning no Opening Day in baseball, yesterday, today or tomorrow, and who knows, maybe not until May. Thank goodness for NFL free agency and preparation taking place for the upcoming NFL Draft, the only semblance of sports normalcy going on.

Those activities, too, though, come with change, since the NFL has mandated a close to all team facilities, the coaches, personnel folks working from home, too. That means no free-agent in-person interviews. No ability to have team medical staff members issue physicals before a contract is signed.

A lot of agreements we hear of, but no more binding than a mere handshake. And as we've seen over the past couple of days, some of these agreements have fallen apart. Like that of defensive tackle Michael Brockers' agreement with Baltimore, now re-signing back with the Rams. Or Darquez Dennard rethinking his agreement with Jacksonville.

And when it comes to the draft, commissioner Roger Goodell has informed teams the annual player selection still will be conducted April 23-25, but even the teams will be sheltered in place outside their facilities, with remote video coming into the NFL office's central location. That's doable.

But teams will have to alter their preparation routine, since no more pro days, no more 30 visits or for the Cowboys their annual Dallas Day visits. Wonder if they've put a max on phone calls, sort of like college recruiting limits. These interactions in the scouting process seemingly are more valuable than the workouts against air. But as coaches like to say, game tape don't lie. Maybe a more pure evaluation.

Plus, who knows how long we're going to be sheltered in place, with the travel restrictions and facilities shut down and all. Because in 10 days, the Cowboys, with a new head coach, were scheduled to begin offseason interaction with players on April 6. That's not going to happen. And if this persists, those May OTAs, rookie minicamps, and who knows, the full-team minicamps likely are in jeopardy, too.

Think about it: What bad timing for the Cowboys and the four other teams with new head coaches and coaching staffs – Giants, Redskins, Panthers, Browns – just the inability of the new staffs to not only interact with fellow staff members in person, but also with the players on these 90-man rosters, many of these coaches might never having even met yet.

Not to mention installations – offense, defense, special teams, and just getting an on-field assessment of the talent. As of now, so much for the possible worry of franchised Dak Prescott missing offseason workouts.

Again, who knows how long this isolation will persist. But sort of reminds me of the 2011 season. Remember that lockout season? While the NFL and NFLPA struggled to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining agreement? No offseason programs. No OTAs, minicamps, conditioning programs. No interaction with players. No nothing.

Not until the CBA was ratified on July 25. Facilities opened on July 26. The Cowboys reported to training camp in San Antonio on July 27. First preseason game was Aug. 11. The season opened Sept. 11. Was a shotgun start to the season.

And wouldn't you know it, and for all different reasons, the Cowboys very well could be in the same boat this year as they were back in 2011:

Transitioning to a new coaching staff at the last minute.

Yep, back then a new head coach, Jason Garrett, promoted from offensive coordinator and interim head coach for those final eight games in 2010 after Wade Phillips was fired to head coach. Garrett, with no offseason tying his hands behind his back, tried to retain as many of the holdover assistants as he could, but ended up bringing in five new assistants, including new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

So while the majority of the offensive side of the ball remained the same, with Garrett continuing as the offensive coordinator, along with running game help from offensive line coach Hudson Houck and passing game help from brother tight ends coach John Garrett, the switch to Ryan was a major change in defensive philosophy.

This time around, Mike McCarthy has brought in almost an entirely new staff, only retaining from Garrett's 2019 staff offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, moving tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier to quarterbacks coach and defensive line assistant Leon Lett. That's it. By my count, there are 15 new assistants.

So huge transition, especially on defense with new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan bringing in what appears to be a significantly different philosophy. Same with new special teams coach John Fassel, and with a slight change on the weight and conditioning staff, assistant Markus Paul being promoted to strength and conditioning coordinator, replacing the retiring Mike Woicik.

Unfortunate and unforeseen bad timing with all – new head coach, practically entirely new coaching staff, so many new players and the country's virtual shutdown colliding.

But, we soldier on during these unknown times. All of us. The Cowboys, too, and the NFL business of football included. What else can you do?

Things change.

By the way, do me a favor. If you see me out there on the streets, give me a wave. Makes us smile a little bit, and heaven knows we all need that.