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Spagnola: Sometimes A Whole Lot Of Change Is Not A Bad Thing At All

Dallas Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard talks in a drill during organized team activity at the NFL football team's training facility in Frisco, Texas, Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (James D. Smith via AP)
Dallas Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard talks in a drill during organized team activity at the NFL football team's training facility in Frisco, Texas, Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (James D. Smith via AP)

FRISCO, Texas – This could be a really good thing.

Or this could be a really bad thing.

New Voice vs. Continuity.

We're talking the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff.

Sure, we've been hearing over and over again about the turnover on this roster, the loss of this veteran and that veteran, especially over the past two seasons, this team now so young you have to be careful about referring back to, oh, say the 2014 season. That's four years ago.

Of the 90 guys currently on the roster, only 12 of those were with the Cowboys in 2014, giving an entirely new meaning to The Dirty Dozen. A bunch of the other 78 were no more than a freshman or sophomore in college. They probably have no idea about "catch-no catch" whatsoever in the playoffs that year.

But what about the turnover on Jason Garrett's coaching staff?

Why, when there is this much change on a coaching staff there usually has been a change at the top. But there hasn't been here. Garrett returns for his eighth full season as Cowboys head coach. Only Tom Landry has coached the Cowboys longer, 29 years. None of the other six head coaches have lasted more than five years, and only Jimmy Johnson did that.

So for a historical perspective, when Johnson took control in 1989, he brought with him seven new assistants on a staff of 10, including a new offensive coordinator (Dave Shula) and a new defensive coordinator (Dave Wannstedt).

This year the Cowboys will have seven new position coaches on a staff that over the past 30 seasons has expanded to 17, not counting the strength and conditioning coaching staff of four, with a new guy over there, too. Now, from an overall continuity standpoint, at least the coordinators remain the same, Scott Linehan on offense and Rod Marinelli on defense.

The assistants still in charge of a unit count five: Linehan, Marinelli (plus defensive line), Gary Brown (running backs), Greg Jackson (safeties), Leon Lett (defensive tackles) and … uh, that's it. As for assistants to the assistants, add three more: Marc Colombo (offensive line), Stephen Brown (offense) and Kyle Valero (wide receivers).

Not a lot, right?

Either assistants let go or choosing not to re-sign number seven: Derek Dooley (wide receivers), Frank Pollack (offensive line), Steve Loney (tight ends), Wade Wilson (quarterbacks), Rich Bisaccia (special teams, assistant head coach), Joe Baker (secondary) and Matt Eberflus (linebackers/passing game coordinator.).

Totaling the combined years those guys had spent with the Cowboys comes to 45 seasons, although that number if quite inflated with Wilson having coached with the Cowboys for 14 years. Still, that's a lot of continuity at their respective positions walking out the door.

Now the new guys onboard, including two assistants to assistants promoted to a head position coach, number 10, and names you've been hearing for the better part of a month as the Cowboys already have completed their rookie minicamp and their first six of nine OTA practices are: Paul Alexander (offensive line), Sanjay Lal (wide receivers), Doug Nussmeier (tight ends), Kellen Moore (quarterbacks), Ben Bloom (promoted to linebackers coach), Kris Richard (defensive backs/passing game coordinator), Keith O'Quinn (promoted to special teams coach) and Doug Coleman (assistant special teams coach). Plus, Markus Paul has been added to the strength and conditioning staff.

So as you can see, there are a whole lot of new voices in the rooms. Guys who fit into the respective systems, but who likely have some new ideas or different techniques they would like to implement.

Of course, there certainly is something to be said for continuity. But there also is the looming liability of staleness when it's same ol' same ol'. Sometimes – and not saying this took place, but the possibility always exists – that breeds complacency. You know, heard that, tune that out.

Like, how many of us, myself guilty for sure, have heard the announcement before takeoff about how to put on the oxygen masks in case of an in-flight emergency, but likely would fumble around doing so if we ever had to? Once again, we hear, but we don't listen.

Garrett made a good point the other day when speaking about dealing with this amount of staff turnover, about how during these OTAs having to make sure he's coaching the coaches on just how he wants things done.

Even Cowboys COO Stephen Jones admits catching himself watching the new coaches coach during the current OTAs.

But on the other hand, Garrett specifically equates "new coaches" with "new energy, new ideas," doubling down by also adding, "That's good."

Players are people, too. Just like the rest of us whenever we've had a new boss or a new coach growing up, you work just a little bit harder trying to impress the new guy – prove your worth all over again.

Change, though, also has the possibility of breeding contempt. There's loyalty to your guy. But on the other hand, some guys might think, thank goodness that guy is gone and now I have a fresh chance with the new guy. It's not like everyone followed Michael Irvin's lead throwing a garbage can through the locker room's curtained entrance in disgust of Jimmy and Jerry parting ways. Some though, definitely thought, OK, Jimmy never gave me a chance, but now, with the new guy, I've got new life.

If you look at what the Cowboys have done, Alexander comes into the O-Line room with 24 years of coaching experience, all in Cincinnati. Richard comes in with having coached the DBs in Seattle, and eventually coordinating Pete Carroll's Legion of Boom defense. Lal has a reputation of being a coaching technician at wide receiver, earned over 11 years of coaching in the NFL. Nussmeier, maybe only coaching tight ends, comes in having played quarterback five seasons in the NFL and having served as a collegiate offensive coordinator the past nine years at Fresno State, Washington, Alabama, Michigan and Florida. While Moore is in his first year as an assistant, certainly he's surrounded by the QB experience of Linehan and Garrett.

As for O'Quinn, he certainly has paid his dues with the Cowboys, first as a pro scout/talent evaluator, then four seasons as a quality control coach breaking down opponent film and for the past four years as the assistant special teams coach under Bisaccia. He will be aided by newcomer Ken Amato, who spent his nine NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans as a deep snapper, linebacker and special teams specialist. And Bloom has followed in similar footsteps to O'Quinn. He arrived here in 2011 with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan as the quality control coach. Slept many a night in the office breaking down film. In fact, spent so much time in his office thought he would miss his own wedding a few years back. This will be his first season in charge of the linebacker room, but like Moore, inherits experience around him with Marinelli and Richard.

Yep, the Cowboys do have a couple of position-coaching newbies but also have brought in a load of coaching experience, too, with Alexander, Richard, Lal and Nussmeier.

Marinelli has called Richard the Cowboys' "best offseason acquisition." As for Jones, he says of watching practice, "Obviously Kris Richard is bringing some energy out there. He reminds me a little bit of Jerome Henderson (Cowboys secondary coach from 2012-15). He's out there in cleats – I think he still thinks he can play DB in the league."

Sean Lee loves Richard's energy and ability to relate to all of those young defensive backs littering the Cowboys secondary. Travis Frederick says he's learned Alexander "is a really smart guy."

And maybe the best recommendation a coach could have comes from wide receiver Sammy Watkins on Lal, as he was leaving Buffalo last season to become the Colts receivers coach: "That's the one guy I don't want to leave. If he leaves, I don't how my mindset would be, honestly. That's a guy that kind of groomed me into running routes and doing everything the right way."

Jones is onboard, there, too, saying Lal "is a great, great receivers coach. We think he's one of the best in the NFL."

So we end here where we began this debate:

New Voice vs. Continuity?

But seems with the majority of these new guys, their track record speaks for themselves.