Cowboys: Will Matt Eberflus be the next Sean Payton?

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints encourages his team before the start of the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints encourages his team before the start of the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT /

Not too long ago the Cowboys saw another promising coach depart Dallas only to find massive success elsewhere. Will Matt Eberflus follow in those footsteps?

The Dallas Cowboys may live to regret more than just the final record from the 2017 NFL season. They may live to regret losing one of their most promising assistants to another franchise. According to reports, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is going to follow Josh McDaniels to Indianapolis.

The Cowboys didn’t give up without a fight, reportedly even offering Rod Marinelli’s defensive coordinator job. But that seemed to be a fruitless proposition. While nothing will be official until the Patriots finish their season and McDaniels is free to assume his new role on his new team, it appears to be immanent.

If you would have asked anyone over the past few years who the most promising assistant on the Cowboys was, most would have said Matt Eberflus without hesitation. It’s been a long time since an assistant and/or coordinator sparked so much optimism around here.

The last time Cowboys Nation has been this excited about a young coach was when Sean Payton was running the offense. Once upon a time, Payton was on staff working under the guidance of the legendary Bill Parcells. But much like the situation today, the Cowboys waited too long promoting and rewarding their talented coach and lost him to an outside suitor.

Am I saying Rod Marinelli should have been replaced and Matt Eberflus should have been promoted earlier?

Indeed, I am.

At the ripe age of 68, Rod Marinelli is basically coaching on a year-to-year basis. We’ve argued his schemes are outdated and predictable for a while now, and inserting a creative mind like Eberflus may be just the spark of innovation this defense needs to take the next step.

In today’s NFL the job of the defensive coordinator is to do three things:

  1. create opportunities
  2. disguise intentions
  3. confuse opponents.

You don’t always get the most talent players. Sometimes you have to make something from nothing. While I don’t personally see Marinelli’s schemes as outdated, I do see he’s failed in nearly all of the aforementioned objectives listed above.

Constantly calling for better players that can win head to head matchups isn’t a solution. Creativity and innovation are what separates teams in today’s NFL.

The truth is we don’t know how good Matt Eberflus is or how well he’ll do as a defensive coordinator. He’s coached some successful players but he’s also failed to develop others. It’s safe to say the linebacker corps underachieved this past season. Sean Lee was his usual brilliant self. Yet everything fell apart when he was off the field.

Related Story: Can the Cowboys afford to keep Sean Lee in 2018?

But regardless of what you think of him, the Cowboys showed their hand by offering the DC job to him last week. They clearly thought a lot of him, which makes this loss such an obvious failure. If they thought so much of him why didn’t they lock him down and promote him last offseason?

It would have been tough to fire or reassign Marinelli but it would have been the right thing to do. Heck, it would have been celebrated in many circles. But they let him hang on, just like they let Bill Parcells hang on too long. And what happened is just like in 2005 when they allowed a promising young coach to depart for greener pastures.

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Am I saying the Cowboys should have pushed Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells aside for Sean Payton?

Once again, I sure am.

While it wouldn’t have been a popular move, it seemed like the right move at the time (not just now in hindsight). Parcells was limping to the finish line of his career. His resistance to play Romo and his insistence to stick with Bledsoe cannot be overlooked.

Like Marinelli now, Parcels clearly was coaching on a year-to-year basis and offered no long-term guidance to the up-and-coming Cowboys.

Sean Payton coached in Dallas from 2003 to 2005 before taking over in New Orleans. Parcels stayed in Dallas through the 2006 season before hanging up the whistle.  The Cowboys were so short-sighted they saw one of their favorite coaches walk away to achieve success elsewhere.

Like Payton, Jerry Jones is fond of Matt Eberflus. Like Parcells, Jones appeared to hang onto an aged coach one season too long. Will this come back to bite us?

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Only time will tell but developing, recognizing, and retaining talent are the way to win in this league. The Cowboys have had some success with the first two, but that last one may be something we all live to regret.