Most recently the Cowboys’ passing game and offensive coordinator from 2014-2018, Linehan has bounced around the NFL since 2002, including a three-year run as the St. Louis Rams’ head coach from 2006-08.
Among the highlights: he helped call the Cowboys’ offense that ranked third in the NFL in DVOA in 2016, when many thought they were poised to become one of the dominant units in the league with a big-time offensive line, a young quarterback in Dak Prescott and workhorse tailback Ezekial Elliot. He also ran the Detroit Lions’ 2011 offense that averaged nearly 30 points per game and featured a 5,000-yard, 41-touchdown season out of Matthew Stafford. He also had some big success with the Minnesota Vikings from 2002-2004, during some of Randy Moss’ best seasons, and that brief moment in time where Daunte Culpepper looked like an MVP candidate (remember his 39 passing/16 rushing touchdowns season?).
Linehan’s success in Minnesota led Nick Saban to hire him away when he jumped to the Miami Dolphins, and he was a head coach shortly thereafter.
Of course, that long of an NFL tenure has featured its share of failures as well — Linehan won just 11 games in an abbreviated three-year stretch as head coach of the then-St. Louis Rams (he was fired after an 0-4 start in 2008, with a Rams team clearly tanking for future first overall pick Sam Bradford). Although many coaches for that franchise struggled during that era. Likewise, Linehan was run out of Dallas on a rail, one of many coaches sacrificed to the Jones’ Family’s dysfunction.
Linehan’s last college experience came as the receivers coach and offensive coordinator for John L. Smith’s Louisville Cardinals from 1999-2001. His Louisville attacks averaged 36, 33 and 30 points per game, which usually had them near the top 20 nationally in scoring (it was a very different time) with quarterbacks Chris Redman and Dave Ragone.
His background is mostly as in working with receivers, which fits the role Joe Brady served in. And while it’s easy to default to his background as “pro-style,” his offenses have always been somewhat spread, or at least one-back, centered. Those turn-of-the-century Louisville teams mostly operated out of 11 personnel. Likewise, many of his NFL offenses were very receiver-centered — remember the “Randy Ratio” in Minnesota — up until his Cowboy attacks, which relied more on Elliot (although head coach Jason Garrett was also heavily involved there).
Overall, I don’t imagine this hire will be terribly popular. Linehan, 56, could definitely be described as more of a reclamation project than an up-and-comer. But his track record, especially working with receivers checks a lot of boxes. And sure, it’s easy to work with guys like Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson, but both had career highs in catches and yards with Linehan in 2003 and 2012, respectively.
Although it’s hard to imagine Ja’Marr Chase topping his 2019 numbers. In that way, Linehan kind of starts behind the eight ball. Any coach would. LSU’s not going to average 50 points a game in 2020, and it’s not reasonable to expect that. But Linehan is a solid nuts-and-bolts type of coach with a good track record working with talented receivers, which he’ll have here.
So my thoughts? Let’s wait and see. Linehan’s background doesn’t look like Joe Brady, but he does have a history running some receiver-focused attacks. And if things don’t work out, Ed Orgeron has shown that he’ll move on quickly.