Scott Linehan is out as offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, less than a week after coach Jason Garrett sent mixed messages about the future for the oft-criticized assistant.
Garrett, in a statement released by the team Friday, described the move as a mutual decision after he and Linehan had some open and positive discussions this week. Linehan, who just completed his fifth season in Dallas, had one more season left on his contract.
"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," Garrett said. "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."
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The Cowboys rebounded after a 3-5 start to win the NFC East. They beat the Seattle Seahawks in a home wild-card game before a 30-22 loss at the Los Angeles Rams last weekend.
Garrett said on his radio show Monday he thought Linehan would return and didn't expect any significant changes to his staff. But at a news conference later in the day, Garrett was far from definitive and said discussions about a coaching staff hadn't happened.
Linehan said in a statement issued by the team that he and Garrett agreed after "a good, direct talk" that "a fresh start was probably best for both of us."
"I'll always respect Jason as a coach, and I consider him a good friend," Linehan said. "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."
Dallas' slow start this season was largely blamed on a misfiring offense. There were questions about creativity, including from Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-analyst Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1990s.
The Cowboys were much better offensively in the second half of the season after sending their first-round pick in this year's draft to Oakland for receiver Amari Cooper. But the Cowboys were one of just four teams to convert fewer than half their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns.
During the regular season, the Cowboys averaged 344 total yards and 21.2 points a game to rank 22nd in the NFL in both categories. Their only loss the last half of the regular season was 23-0 at Indianapolis on Dec. 16, the first time in 15 years they were held scoreless.
The question of Linehan's replacement will revolve around finding the right fit for quarterback Dak Prescott. The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year regressed in the season and a half following that honor before his efficiency improved after the addition of Cooper.
The Cowboys also have one of the NFL's best running backs in Ezekiel Elliott, who was a first-year sensation alongside Prescott for a 13-3 team that had the top seed in 2016 before losing to Green Bay in the divisional round. Elliott has won two rushing titles in his three seasons.
One intriguing consideration is whether to utilize Prescott's mobility more. One of his strengths is throwing on the run, and he's already within two touchdowns rushing of Hall of Famer Roger Staubach's franchise record of 20.
"I think we can get better schematically," executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said on his radio show a day before the decision on Linehan was announced. "I think we can improve on our scheme, on our design, and I think we can throw the ball efficiently and effectively with the personnel we have."
Linehan was Nick Saban's offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins in 2005, when Garrett was in charge of the quarterbacks in his first year as an NFL assistant. St. Louis hired Linehan as head coach, and he was fired during his third season in 2008.
The 55-year-old Linehan was offensive coordinator in Detroit for Matthew Stafford's first five seasons with the Lions before joining the Cowboys when Tony Romo was the starter in 2014. Prescott replaced an injured Romo two years later.
Head coach Jason Garrett released the following statement early Friday afternoon.
"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 (offensive coordinator) position. 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 released the following statement:
“As Jason expressed, we met on Wednesday and had a good, direct talk. At the end, we resolved that a fresh start was probably best for both of us. 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.”