Spagnola: There's No Time To Smell The Roses


FRISCO, Texas – First impressions.

First, Cowboys new head coach Mike McCarthy on Thursday pointed out that since he walked off the helicopter a week ago Wednesday, he has not been outside. His existence has been The Star, Ford Center and Omni Hotel, work, eat and sleep. There are indoor walkways connecting each.

Hey, the man has had a lot of work to do. Playing from behind is never easy, knowing he must catch up with established staffs.

Second, within a week's time he's basically put his entire coaching staff together, save a spot or three. We are talking offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. We're talking offensive and defensive line coaches. Tight ends and quarterbacks coaches. Running backs coach. Secondary guys and linebackers, too.


But incredibly essential.

And it appears these were not just hires for hire sake. McCarthy knew who he wanted, knew enough guys through previous coaching relationships, guys willing to either up and leave where they had been or had been looking for jobs. And if he didn't know the guy, then McCarthy was willing to lean on his coordinators to bring in a guy or two they wanted to have on their side of the ball.

When asking him what he looks for in hiring assistants, what were the qualities essential in staff makeup, he gave this thoughtful answer before an assembly of writers covering the team on a daily basis during a pretty informative meet & greet Thursday out here at The Star:

"I think it goes to the personality type that you're looking for. I think it's important to have individuals that are the same guys every day. I'm not expecting it to be smooth sailing all the way through. We just have to make sure we have the right people to handle those adversity times. Because at the end of the day, everything we do is about the locker room.

"It's how the players are being coached, motivated, supported, and at the end of the day, that's what will make our football team go. Just looking for consistent personalities, and obviously the best evaluation of that is if you do have former experience."

There it is. Former experience. And you know what former experience brings? Loyalty.

That right there is the most important element in a staff. Loyalty. Mike is right. Because things will not always go smoothly. There will be bumps in the road. And while there seems to be a level of excitement out there over the Cowboys new head coach, rightfully generated from his past successes at Green Bay, believe it or not, the Cowboys likely will lose a game or five in 2020.

That causes guys to talk, trying to cover themselves. And as Bill Parcells would point out, the last thing you need is having small groups gathered in the corners. And that is exactly why he prohibited his assistant coaches from doing interviews.

His was a one-voice philosophy.

You know, first was educated on this loyalty factor by Jimmy Johnson. He made no bones about bringing with him from his University of Miami staff to the Cowboys in 1989, six of his Hurricane assistants – Dave Wannstedt, Tony Wise, Butch Davis, Dave Campo, Joe Brodsky and Hubbard Alexander – along with his Miami head trainer Kevin O'Neill and then a year later even his own public relations director Rich Dalrymple and new strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik, who members of his Hurricanes coaching staff were familiar with.

Jimmy only kept three assistants from Tom Landry's staff that first year: secondary coach Dick Nolan, by the way, father of now defensive coordinator Mike Nolan; special teams coach Alan Lowry, one of the best in the business; and quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome, mainly to help with the transition from college to the NFL.

Why did he do it that way?

Well, Johnson was hired away from Oklahoma State to become the Hurricanes' head coach in 1984, but not until June 5. Davis was his only Oklahoma State assistant coach he was able to bring with him to Miami. And while Miami went 8-5 that season, though losing the final three games of the season, Johnson would talk about how miserable that season was, mostly because of a lack of loyalty from the holdover coaches on former head coach Howard Schnellenberger's staff.

By the next year, Jimmy began bringing in his own guys.

And if you think about it, the same thing mostly happened to Barry Switzer when he took over for Johnson the first of April in 1994. Having been out of the coaching game for the past five years, he ended up inheriting eight assistants from Johnson's staff.

Taught me majority staff inheritance normally is never a good idea in football.

So if you look at what McCarthy has done, of the 12 coaches he has hired so far, only two are holdovers from Jason Garrett's staff; Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier, who has moved to quarterbacks coach. McCarthy said Nussmeier was one of his first hires, based on Moore's recommendation. And looks as if the only other possible holdover might be defensive line coach Leon Lett, who is off at the East-West Shrine game this week as the defensive coordinator of the East squad. McCarthy said he is waiting to talk with Lett upon his return from Saturday's game.

Again, impressive work on McCarthy's part.

He knew he wanted Nolan as his defensive coordinator, a guy he actually coached for in San Francisco when Mike was the head coach. He knew, not just if he came to the Cowboys, but if he became the head coach somewhere else, he was interested in bringing Moore along as offensive coordinator, and went as far as saying the Cowboys' first-year offensive coordinator last year will actually still call plays while McCarthy will remain intimately involved in the structure of the offense.

John Fassel is considered one of the top special teams coaches in the NFL, and guarantee you McCarthy had his eye on him while contemplating a potential staff this past year after Green Bay let him go with four games remaining in the 2018 season.

"My view of building a staff, you set the coordinators and then you get the line coaches," McCarthy said. "I believe in the chain of command, so I wanted the coordinators to be a part of the hiring process."

That brought in offensive line coach Joe Philbin, McCarthy's former O-Line coach in Green Bay. Then defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, a former hire of Nolan's when head coach in San Francisco. Scott McCurley, the new linebackers coach, was McCarthy's LB coach for 13 years in Green Bay. Assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko held the same position in Green Bay with McCarthy. Defensive backs coach Al Harris played for McCarthy in Green Bay. Running backs coach Skip Peete, the former Cowboys running backs coach, was an assistant with McCarthy at the University of Pittsburgh many moons ago. And Maurice Linguist had become noted as a top collegiate assistant, lastly at Texas A&M.

A lot of connections. A lot of familiarity. A lot of loyalty.

And think about this: McCarthy actually was hired on Jan. 6, but not officially announced until Jan. 8. By Jan. 16, he basically had his staff together, save the wide receivers coach, along with maybe other assistants to the assistants.

Man, that's a lot accomplished in a short period of time.

So Mike, hey, go ahead and take a deep breath. There is some fresh air outside here in Frisco.