The assistant coach has a law degree, is married to a doctor and grew up in Georgia in one of the aristocratic families of Southern football.
The young man that he coaches each day, meanwhile, saw his mother arrested when he was 8 years old and was bounced around to eight households while growing up in Lufkin. His college career ended when he ran afoul of the NCAA during his junior season.
Yet, as coach Derek Dooley says of Dez Bryant, “We connected from Day One.”
Of all the tasks that a young NFL head coach must perform, the job of filling out his coaching staff is the most thankless.
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It apparently used to be much easier. Jim Lee Howell’s coaching staff with the New York Giants included both Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.
But as Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys explained Thursday, “One of the challenges of the NFL is that the movement of assistant coaches is not as free and easy as you’d like it to be.
“When coaches are under contract with other teams, you might say, ‘Boy, that’s the dream staff. I want this guy, I want this guy and I want this guy.’ But they’re all coaching for somebody else.”
The dream team of assistants, Garrett said, has to wait.
“Circumstances have to play to your favor to get the staff you want,” he said. “And it takes a little bit of time to get it exactly how you need it.”
In the summer before his fifth full season as Cowboys head coach, Garrett finally seems to have an engine-purring blend of assistants — his coaching staff — fully in place and doing what they do best.
No more hand-me-down Shula boys, as Jimmy Johnson once had to face. No head coaches-in-waiting, as Garrett predecessor Wade Phillips was handed. No deposed coordinators coaching the offensive line.
“I feel like we have a good staff,” Garrett said. “They work well together. I think they’re excellent from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but maybe more importantly, their emphasis and their ability to teach is really important.
“They work really well with the players. They work well with each other. They understand the culture we’re trying to create here.”
The blend seems to be working. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive chief Rod Marinelli have both been head coaches, before polishing their résumés as top assistants. Tight ends coach Michael Pope is in his 33rd year of coaching. The linebacking corps’ Matt Eberflus, whose NFL coaching stock is rising, is only in his seventh season.
Dooley, who coaches Bryant and the rest of the receivers, is only in his third year with the Cowboys, but his influence on Dez has already made an imprint.
“To have a rapport with any person, I think there’s a level of trust that you’ve got to build within each other,” Dooley said. “That takes time. But there’s always been a lot of honest communication between Dez and myself.
“I hope he always knows that anything I say is designed to just help him play better. It’s worked out well so far.”
Dooley agreed with Garrett that the combination of personalities and styles has worked.
“I feel like this is the best staff I’ve been a part of,” he said. “There’s a lot of good camaraderie and chemistry, which is probably the No. 1 thing on a staff.”
Young assistants and career assistants. All of them teachers. Dooley says the blend has been key.
Building the current staff has taken time, but a winning group —Jason Garrett’s group — seems finally in place.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697