Scott Linehan out as Cowboys' offensive coordinator

FRISCO, Texas -- Scott Linehan is no longer the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator, the team announced Friday.

The Cowboys will move ahead with a different playcaller for the first time since 2014.

"This was not an easy decision because of how highly we regard Scott Linehan as a football coach and as a person. He and I had some really positive, substantive and open discussions which took place in the latter part of this week, and we ultimately agreed that it would be in the best interest of all of the parties involved if we were to make a change at this position," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in a statement.

"This was very much a mutual decision, and there was a great deal of common ground and shared understanding between both of us during our meetings. Scott has had an incredibly positive impact on our football team. He has been instrumental in the development and success of a significant number of our veteran and younger players. He is an outstanding football coach, a great friend and we wish him and his family nothing but the absolute best moving forward."

Later Friday afternoon, Linehan issued his own statement and said he met with Garrett on Wednesday and they had "a good, direct talk. At the end, we resolved that a fresh start was probably best for both of us."

Linehan added: "The Dallas Cowboys have been nothing but great to me, first class all the way. There's a reason that they are the most valuable sports franchise on the planet. And I'll always respect Jason as a coach, and I consider him a good friend. I'll miss my fellow coaches and my players a great deal. But life is about change and growth, and I very much look forward to my next challenge."

Linehan was under fire for most of the 2018 season as the Cowboys struggled to a 3-5 start coming off a close to the 2017 season in which they scored more than 20 points just once in the final month and missed the playoffs. In the first eight games of the 2018 season, the Cowboys scored more than 20 points just twice.

The Cowboys struggled in the passing game, going with a by-committee approach to replace receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. The trade for wide receiver Amari Cooper improved the offensive production, with Dak Prescott going from averaging 202 yards passing per game to 274.

Still, the Cowboys finished the season ranked 22nd in yards (343.8) and points (21.2) per game, even though they had the NFL's leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott, who had 1,434 yards.

The Cowboys had three rushing champions during Linehan's tenure: DeMarco Murray (2014) and Elliott (2016, 2018). But the Cowboys never had a passing game rank better than 16th; that was in 2014, when Tony Romo had his best season with 34 touchdown passes and nine interceptions and Bryant led the league in touchdown catches (16).

In 2014 and 2016, the Cowboys averaged 29.2 and 26.3 points per game, but they did not average more than 22.1 points in Linehan's other three seasons as playcaller.

A criticism of Linehan was a conservative nature that led to predictable calls in certain down and distance situations. It worked well when the Cowboys had players at the top of their game (Romo, Bryant, Elliott, Prescott, Witten and an offensive line that featured Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin), but struggled when players were out with injuries or suspended.

What's unclear is where the Cowboys go next.

On Monday, Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas he expected Linehan to return in 2019 and there would not be significant changes to the staff. He also stated they had not had a meeting with the coaches to discuss the future. Linehan was signed through 2019, as is Garrett.

The Cowboys have signed offensive line coach Marc Colombo and assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett to new deals and have parted ways with assistant special teams coach Doug Colman.

It is possible Garrett could take over as the playcaller, a role he handled from 2007 to 2012, first as the offensive coordinator and then for the first two years as his role as head coach. Bill Callahan called plays in 2013 before Linehan's arrival.

On staff, the Cowboys could look to quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore, who has Prescott's full support, or tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier, who was offensive coordinator at Alabama, Michigan and Florida before joining the Cowboys in 2018.

Whoever lands the job will have a lot to work with. The Cowboys have Smith; Frederick, who did not play a snap in 2018 because of Guillain-Barre Syndrome; Martin; Elliott; Cooper; and Prescott, who has won more games than any quarterback other than Tom Brady since 2016.

Prescott's continued development will be the key job. With the way offenses are trending toward run/pass option fits, Prescott has the skills necessary to succeed. He has 18 rushing touchdowns in the regular season in his career, but there were some who believed he should have run more.