FRISCO, Texas -- The last time Kellen Moore found himself in Indianapolis in late February, he was trying to convince NFL teams he was worth a draft selection after setting NCAA records at Boise State.
He won 50 games. He threw 142 touchdown passes and had 14,667 passing yards. But the only numbers that mattered were what the scouts saw: 6-foot, 197 pounds, a good but not great arm, which played a big part in why he wasn’t drafted.
Six years later, Moore was back in Indianapolis, not looking very much different than he did as a prospect, except he was on the other side of the scouting process as the Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach.
Of all the assistant coach moves made by the Cowboys this offseason, Moore has the most intrigue because last season he was a teammate of Dak Prescott’s. Two years ago, Moore was Tony Romo’s backup and if he had not broken his ankle in the first week of training camp in 2016, he would have had the first shot to be the Cowboys’ starter after Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back in a preseason game.
Moore long moved past that disappointment as Prescott had one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
Now he is partly responsible for Prescott’s development into a franchise quarterback.
“We talked about it with Dak even before it happened, that it could happen somewhere down the road,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “Kellen’s one of those guys, they respect him. He wasn’t there to be anybody’s, I mean, he’s friends with those guys don’t get me wrong, but I think they’ve been looking at him like a mentor or a coach anyway because of the stuff he does behind the scenes.”
The first public inkling that Moore could join Jason Garrett’s staff happened immediately after the season when Moore did not sign a reserve/futures deal as the other practice squad players.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team had conversations with Moore about possibly becoming a coach during last season. When Wade Wilson was informed he would not return, Moore got the job. That Moore doesn’t turn 29 until July and will be charged with shepherding the most important player on the roster, along with Linehan and Garrett, does not mean much to Jones.
“Look at all the young coaches that are head coaches, head coaches that are coaching in this league, you have college coaches who are 30 years old out there coaching,” Jones said. “Kellen comes from an amazing background, dad’s a coach, grew up around ball. He’s just a football guy.”
The Cowboys asked Garrett if wanted to coach after the 1999 season, but he was not ready to stop playing.
“I’m for playing for as long as you can play,” said Garrett, whose career ended in 2004. “To play in the National Football League is a really unique opportunity, we’ve all been dreaming about it since we were this high. I, myself personally, wanted to play for as long as I could. I played until I was 38. That was something that I think was really important. We wanted to emphasize that to him, once you go over to coaching, it’s hard to come back.”
In 2005, Garrett was named quarterbacks coach of the Miami Dolphins by Nick Saban.
“Oftentimes when you’re a player, you sit in a room and you have kind of all the answers in your head, ‘Ah, I’ll do it this way. I can’t believe he said that. Da, da, da, da,’” Garrett said. “Then when you flip it around and you have to run the meeting, you’ve got to run the practice and you’ve got to put it all together and come up with the plan and have all the answers to all the questions, it’s different.”
Mike Vrabel knew he wanted to coach when he finished his NFL career in 2010. In 2011, he was linebackers coach at Ohio State under Urban Meyer. He moved to defensive line coach for two seasons before joining the Houston Texans as linebackers coach in 2014. Last season he was the Texans defensive coordinator. This offseason, he was named head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Asked what the biggest transition he had to make in going from player to coach, Vrabel said: “Learning how to be a great teacher. I think that as a player, you can be instinctive and you can have awareness and understand the playbook and things kind of come, let’s say, naturally. But when you go back and you’re coaching 18- and 19-year-old kids in college, you better have a play, you better have a progression, you better have a teaching style that’s able to stimulate them, as well as get your message across to them in different ways. Understanding that they learn differently. Some guys need walk-throughs. Some guys love to watch film. Some guys love to get on the board.”
Moore won’t be coaching 18- or 19-year-olds and he won’t be coaching strangers in Prescott and Cooper Rush.
“In some cases coaches are born and if you ever met Kellen’s dad, his family, I think you could see this legacy of this is what he’s going to do when he’s done playing,” Linehan said. “Played for his dad in high school, extremely successful, went on and had a great career at Boise and gave the NFL a shot not being the most physically imposing quarterback in the history of the game or anything like that. But he just knows how to play. You could see that when he did play. You could see how much he understands the game and he knew he wasn’t going to play forever.”