FRISCO, Texas -- Kellen Moore isn’t sure where the playbooks are now. Maybe a few are still at his parents’ house, tucked away somewhere in a room or attic.
Some people collected baseball cards or video games. Growing up, Moore would search the internet looking for different playbooks.
He had NFL offenses, like the West Coast and the number system the Dallas Cowboys used in their Super Bowl run of the 1990s and continue to use today. He had the college offenses, like the run 'n' shoot and the Air Raid, favored by Mike Leach.
“I don’t know if I ever really bought one,” Moore said. “My dad was a high school coach, so that’s a part of it. I was just trying to learn different things in different offenses. All that stuff. The age that I am, the technology was more available, so you could get online and find playbooks for different teams and whatnot. It was a fun thing.”
Moore was named the Cowboys' offensive coordinator last week. It comes after one season as their quarterbacks coach and two seasons after he retired as a player.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones is counting on Moore to bring fresh ideas to an offense that grew stale at times the past two seasons, and to get the most out of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper.
For those who know Moore, none of this is a surprise.
“It was all kind of meant to be,” said Nate Potter, Moore’s left tackle at Boise State for three years. “It was written on the wall.”
Moore grew up in Prosser, Washington, the son of a high school coach. Tom Moore won 21 league championships and four state titles in 23 seasons at Prosser High School. He stepped down in 2009 to watch his sons, Kellen and Kirby, play at Boise State.
Growing up, Kellen chased after the tee after kickoffs at Prosser games, moved up to water boy, and before he got to junior high, he was running the same drills with the varsity quarterbacks.
Many nights, he digested game film with his father, yellow notepad at the ready, diagramming plays.
Grant Hedrick was a redshirt quarterback at Boise State in 2010, when Moore was a junior.
“I’m sitting next to him, watching film, watching concepts at practice and it’s like the dead middle of training camp in August,” Hedrick remembered. “He’s drawing up these things of what we can do differently and he’s got a full notebook. He’s drawing up stuff, making adjustments. I’m sure he didn’t even notice that I saw it. It was like 10 different variations of what we could do differently. It was kind of crazy.”
The intellectual side of the game has always mattered to Moore. Mostly because he is a coach’s son, but also because he was not gifted with the greatest of athletic skills. He is barely 6 feet tall, about 200 pounds. He did not have the strongest of left arms.
Despite a record 50 wins, 142 touchdown passes and 14,667 passing yards at Boise State, the NFL was hung up on what he couldn’t do and he went undrafted. That he lasted six years -- three with the Detroit Lions, three with the Cowboys -- speaks to his acumen more than skill, as well as a connection he made with Scott Linehan, the coach he is replacing with the Cowboys.
“We’d always just call him the surgeon because he would just dissect defenses and know exactly schematically what they were going to do,” said Matt Miller, one of his favorite receivers at Boise State and now the offensive coordinator at Montana State. “He just always had a good feel for it. He was just one of the smartest football guys I’ve ever been around. I don’t know exactly what it was. I know his football background with his dad and being around it at such a young age. He was just a junkie. He couldn’t get enough of the X's and O's.”
Miller remembers the countless times Moore would tell him to anticipate a look and adjust his route from a sit to a slant. Sure enough, the corner was waiting for the sit, and Miller ran the slant for a first-down gain.
“Obviously he had a lot of prep in the film room Monday to Friday where he had a good feel for where the defenses were trying to get us and he had our counterpunch ready to go,” Miller said.
It wasn’t just on the field where he could see things. It was in video games too.
“Me and my friends would joke about it,” Potter said. “We’d play Kellen in Madden or NCAA Football and he used to get so frustrated because the defenses, they wouldn’t react how they should. He’d say, ‘They should be doing this if it’s Cover 2 or Cover 3.’ He would get frustrated.”
In 2014, quarterback Dan Orlovsky joined the Lions as a free agent to be Matthew Stafford’s backup. Moore had spent two years as the No. 3 quarterback with the Lions after signing with Detroit.
One day, Orlovsky remembers sitting in the quarterbacks room with Stafford.
“We’re grinding on this one thing for like 20 minutes, maybe longer. Kellen comes in after lunch, sat down casually and just within a minute or two gets up and points his finger on the screen, ‘Look, you can do this, which will make this guy do this and then that guy will do this and we can do this,’” said Orlovsky, who is now an ESPN analyst. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Uh-oh, this is a smart dude.’ I’m going in thinking I’m a shoo-in for the backup job and it’s, ‘Oh, this kid is really smart. He’s going to make me earn this job.’ But my main thing was, ‘Dude, how did your brain work like that?’ That was an example, to me, that he was probably going to be a good coach one day.”
Moore and Potter worked on an independent-study project about “what highly successful people do to become successful.” Potter was a seventh-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 and played two seasons. He is now the offensive line coach at College of Idaho.
“The first offseason we had, he came back and he wanted to know about all of my protections [on the offensive line],” Potter said. “He’s a quarterback and he’s still thinking about wanting to know everything he can about offensive line play, run game, protections. He just has this passion for football. He wanted to know what we did and compared it to what he knew and he always asks the why. Why are you doing that? At the time, I don’t think I had the best answers for him, but you don’t see a lot of guys like that, that want to know every part of the game to the depth that he wants to know it.”
In Boise, Moore was a celebrity and remains one to this day. Everybody seems to know when he is back in town. When he took his offensive linemen out to dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, families would ask for autographs and pictures. He signed every last one and took every last photo. Fellow students murmured as he walked through campus.
“He’d always walk 100 mph,” Hedrick said. “I just remember trying to keep up with him, like he was always on a mission. You’d hear people say, ‘Oh, it’s Kellen Moore,’ and Kellen, he’s just got blinders on, not paying attention. You’d never know he was as successful as he was playing the game. He’s just normal.”
When he came to the Cowboys as a backup in 2015, he could slip in or out of the locker room barely noticed, and that included when he started the final two games of that season. As a coach, he blended in as well.
That changes now that he is directing an offense with Prescott, Elliott, Cooper and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Each week, he will have to address the media. Postgame, good and bad, he will be asked what happened and why.
“How he portrays things, it’s very, very simple,” Miller said. “It’s funny, us as football coaches, you’re trying to be perfect but it’s an imperfect game we play. There’s so many variables. That’s what Kellen does a great job of, explaining it to the players or his teammates when he was a player, there’s only a certain amount of things you’re going to get. It’s a complex game we play, but we don’t have to make it complex. It’s very simple. He knows it’s not what the coaches know. It’s how much your players know.”
Moore turns 31 in July. Officially, he has been a coach for only a year. In reality, he’s been a coach his entire life. He has the old playbooks somewhere to prove it.
“He’s competitive,” Potter sad. “He’s a quiet competitor, but don’t get it twisted. He wants to win everything he does.”