Inside the numbers: Scott Linehan


According to reports from and , the Dallas Cowboys have hired former Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan as their new play-caller.  The Cowboys have not made an announcement regarding the future of current offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, so speculation about both Linehan’s and Callahan’s roles for the club is running rampant.  While playing fantasy football is certainly something I enjoy doing in my spare time, I would prefer to focus on why the Dallas Cowboys would hire Scott Linehan to join their coaching staff, but first a look at Linehan’s background.

The professional football player, Scott Linehan, has an interesting Dallas Cowboys history having been signed as a rookie free agent by then legendary head coach Tom Landry during the 1987 season, but a shoulder injury cut short his career and would eventually propel him into the coaching ranks.  Landry saw in the young University of Idaho quarterback a dynamic passer who threw for over 7,000 yards during college.  Linehan credits his college head coach Dennis Erickson with having the biggest influence on his offensive philosophy.

Under Erickson’s tutelage at the University of Idaho, Linehan the quarterback learned the nuances of the Spread Offense as the Vandals won back to back Division I-AA playoff berths in both 1986 and 1987.  Linehan bounced around in the college ranks as either wide receivers or quarterbacks assistants for both his alma mater and one year at UNLV before landing for a five year stint at the University of Washington serving under head coach Jim Lambright.

Linehan’s first NFL offensive coordinator opportunity came under then Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice during the 2002-2004 seasons.  Linehan constructed the Vikings offense featuring quarterback Daunte Culpepper and wide receiver Randy Moss during the record breaking 2002 season when Minnesota led the league in rushing, and in 2003 when the Vikings were the top total offense.  In the 2003 season, Linehan’s offense amassed 6,339 total yards, 4,754 passing yards, and scored 50 touchdowns presenting one of the most dynamic attacking-style offenses the NFL had ever seen.

He then was hired by Coach Nick Saban leading the Miami Dolphins offense which is where Linehan hired quarterbacks Coach Jason Garrett in 2005.  Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte had his career best numbers in Linehan’s QB friendly offense.  The St. Louis Rams brought in Linehan as the head coach during three forgettable seasons, and eventually he landed as the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 2009 where the club ranked 26th in offense his first year, 17th in 2010, fifth in ’11, third overall in 2012, and sixth in total offense last season.

The way that Linehan likes to describe his play-calling philosophy is “aggressively taking what the defense gives him.”  He employs a similar Coryell Offense attack to Jason Garrett’s, so the style is a good fit.  Linehan’s scheme is a more protection-based, quarterback friendly one employing greater play-action than the Cowboys used last season.  Linehan’s offense also gives quarterback Tony Romo freedom to call audibles when he sees the defensive alignment, or Romo can go no-huddle to mess up the defense’s timing.

While we saw mixed results last year when Romo optioned out of calls, most notoriously during the Green Bay Packers game where Romo threw the eventual game losing interception, it looks like Garrett is sticking to his guns in empowering Tony Romo to be the on-field general.  Linehan’s offense is structured around power running up the middle with big wide receivers who can win jump balls.  When Linehan was just taking over the reins of the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator position in 2009, he described his offense in an interview with

“We want an offense that people fear.  One people know that attacks.  One where they know they can never be comfortable for one play.”  He continued, “Put something on the field that says those guys on every play give you intensity and fire.  And when you do that, a group of individuals becomes a team.  And that comes with players who like to give their all.”

With the hiring of Scott Linehan, I believe Jason Garrett is getting a similar Coryell Offensive style coordinator who will implement a system which Tony Romo is very familiar with, while also continuing to give Romo on-field flexibility to lead the offense.  I also believe that with Linehan, the Cowboys are signaling that they want a more balanced, run-first style attack.  If this is the case, the move to Scott Linehan will be a welcomed change for most Cowboys fans and should provide a dynamic runner like DeMarco Murray more opportunities to succeed.

Follow Matt Thornton on Twitter: @MattsCowboys

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