FRISCO, Texas — Kris Richard had little sleep after Saturday’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Dallas Cowboys secondary coach/passing game coordinator had to get ready for head-coaching interviews with the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, preparing answers for why he would be the right person to lead those franchises.
On Sunday night, he was back to work with the Cowboys, preparing for Saturday’s divisional-round game against the Los Angeles Rams.
When the Cowboys added Richard to the staff last winter, they knew he could be something of a one-year wonder. Richard had head-coach interviews during his three-year run as Seahawks defensive coordinator. Maybe deep down, the Cowboys were hoping Richard would become a hot coaching candidate because that would mean he had made a significant impact on the defense in 2018.
There is little owner and general manager Jerry Jones can do to keep Richard, should he be offered a head-coaching job.
Jones, however, joked after the Seattle win, “I’ve got a house out here between the Oklahoma line and here. You handcuff him. You tie him up, and you don’t let him out ’til the game next week until right before the game. That will work. I’ve done things like that before.”
In 2004, Sean Payton was close to accepting an offer to become the Oakland Raiders head coach after one year as an assistant on Bill Parcells’ staff. Before anything became official, he had conversations with Jones and Parcells and opted to remain with the Cowboys — with a raise. In 2005, Payton took the New Orleans Saints job, and he has been there ever since.
There are only 32 of these jobs in the world, so turning one down is difficult for any coach driven to be the best in his profession. Holding out for a better job worked out for Payton, who won a Super Bowl in New Orleans, but that was a gamble.
Richard’s impact has been felt since the day he arrived.
“When he talks to you and you listen to his words, you understand this guy is going to be destined for greatness,” cornerback Byron Jones said.
Jones might be the best example of Richard’s coaching ability. The Cowboys drafted Jones in the first round in 2015, and he spent most of his rookie season at cornerback while knowing he could play safety in the future. In 2016-17, he started every game at safety and played well, if not at a Pro Bowl level.
Richard wants his cornerbacks tall and rangy. The 6-foot-1 Jones fit the criteria perfectly. He responded with the best season of his career, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors, even though he did not intercept a pass.
When the players talk about Richard, however, they do not talk only about his X’s and O’s acumen.
“First day I met him, you could tell there was something different about him,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “The tenacity he brings. The love for the game. The love for his men that he’s teaching. Getting a chance to learn a lot from him, much more beyond football. He definitely has a purpose within athletics but beyond athletics as well.”
The players keep those conversations private, unwilling to share what Richard preaches, but his impact has been felt.
“This guy knows how to connect with the players,” Jones said.
On the field, Richard has made changes to the cornerbacks’ techniques. They have been more aggressive at the line of scrimmage than in years past. He brought some pressure packages he used in Seattle that have been incorporated by coordinator Rod Marinelli.
So trusting of Richard is Marinelli that he allowed Richard to call defenses. Marinelli’s main component is the defensive front. Richard deals with the back seven defenders.
“One of the things that we try to do, very thoughtful about, is bring a coach in on the defensive side who kind of fit with the DNA of our defense, so he and Rod and our defensive staff, they really complement each other really well,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “I think they believe in the same things, have the same values of what they want our defense to be. I think that’s meshed really well for us. Then he’s brought other things — some of nuances and the details that he’s brought that maybe are different than what we’ve brought in the past have been positive additions. He’s a great teacher. He’s got great enthusiasm. Very knowledgeable. Very detailed.”
Marinelli sees a little of Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, in Richard. Marinelli and Tomlin were on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ staff from 2001 to ’05, winning a Super Bowl together.
“I hear this talk about ‘players’ coach,’ whatever that means,” Marinelli said. “[Richard has] standards, and he’ll hold you to the standards.”
The past two passing game coordinators under Marinelli have become coaching candidates. Matt Eberflus, the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator after a seven-year run in Dallas, has become a hot name, too.
“Seeing all these guys have an opportunity, coming up that way, doing things right, it’s a lifelong deal,” Marinelli said. “One, you want to see those men benefit, but my focus is on how to improve the NFL and its leadership — by far. In every phase of this league, it’s leadership. Without it, it’s faulty, so I want to see good men take over franchises and do things the right way. And these guys are.”