Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ success could give Linehan second chance as head coach

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan guides the NFL’s third-ranked offense and fourth-highest scoring team.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan guides the NFL’s third-ranked offense and fourth-highest scoring team. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Scott Linehan concedes he wants another chance as a head coach, but the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator declines to look past Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh into the off-season.

“It really is never on my mind or my focus,” Linehan said. “I feel like I’ve got the best offensive coordinator job in the NFL. I get to coach these players and work with these coaches. What else do you want in this business? If you love what you’re doing right now, that should be your primary focus, and that’s really been our team’s focus.”

Linehan, though, could find himself in demand in the off-season if the Cowboys continue their winning ways.

The Associated Press, which manages the league’s annual postseason awards, polled some of the 50 voters at the midseason mark. Linehan earned strong support for the league’s top assistant coach at the halfway point. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also received votes.

“He’s done an outstanding job, and it started right from the start in the off-season about what we wanted to be offensively,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “You have to be able to adjust and adapt as you go. We’ve had a lot of different people in the lineup, and he and the offensive coaches have done a great job putting together a plan where those guys can be successful each week. That’s a real challenge in this league. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s been a great coordinator in this league a long time.”

The Cowboys stand 7-1, tied with the Patriots for the league’s best record, and rank third in total offense, including first in rushing. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott ranks fourth in the league with a 104.2 passer rating, and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 891 rushing yards.

Linehan has earned credit, though he seeks to share it with Jason Garrett, Rod Marinelli, Rich Bisaccia and the other coaches on the staff.

When you’re winning, people notice. ... We’ve got a good thing going, and we’ve got to keep it going.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan

“When you’re winning, people notice,” said Linehan, in his 12th season as a coordinator. “But the worst mistake you can make at a point like this is to start focusing on anything anyone’s saying. I credit our team. I say this all the time about Jason, but he’s kept our focus on the next game.

“At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, people are always going to say good things about you when you win, and it’s a lot more fun to do this as a profession when those things go well. We’ve got a good thing going, and we’ve got to keep it going.”

Linehan, 53, lasted only two full seasons and four games into a third as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. He was 11-25 when the Rams fired him in September 2008.

“Sometimes things don’t happen. The stars aren’t aligned. Whatever,” Linehan said. “I don’t think anybody does themselves good going through life thinking, ‘Wow, if I would have had this’ or having regrets or a fair shot. I was given a great opportunity at a young age to be a head coach. It didn’t work out. You move on. You learn. Make the most of your next opportunity. That’s really how I think about it.”

Since going 11-25 in less than two and a half years as head coach of the St. Louis Rams (2006-08), Linehan has produced top 10 NFL offenses in four of seven seasons. The only exceptions were years his starting quarterback was injured for a significant number of games.

Since then, as a coordinator, Linehan has produced top-10 offenses in four of seven seasons. The only seasons he didn’t have a top-10 offense, Linehan was without his starting quarterback a significant part of the season.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford missed six games in 2009 when Detroit ranked 26th in offense, and 13 games in 2010 when it was 17th. Tony Romo was out 12 games last season when the Cowboys ranked 22nd.

Linehan’s name has become hot again this season.

The NFL has no problem giving coaches a second chance. Eleven current head coaches previously were head coaches elsewhere, including New England’s Bill Belichick, Denver’s Gary Kubiak, Oakland’s Jack Del Rio and Seattle’s Pete Carroll.

“He’d be a really good head coach,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “I’ve really enjoyed these 2  1/2 years with him. He’s really smart. He’s got great instincts, and his ability to adjust within games is really good. Most importantly, he’s just a really good communicator. He understands scheme and how to attack it, and he communicates it to his players really well. I think that’s what you’re seeing this year with a young quarterback playing and other guys who are young. … He commands the room in a lot of good ways. No doubt I know he’ll be a good head coach if he gets that opportunity.”

Cowboys beat writers Clarence Hill and Charean Williams talk about the likelihood of Tony Romo returning to the starting lineup and look toward the Dallas Cowboys matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

Cowboys at Steelers

3:25 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4

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