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Cowboys DC Mike Zimmer to coach from sideline, not booth on game days

Dan Quinn preferred calling plays from a coaches’ box, a notable contrast between the coaches that also shouldn’t be overstated.

FRISCO — Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will have a different gameday vantage point than his predecessor this season.

Dan Quinn called plays the past three years from a stadium booth. Zimmer has decided to be on the sideline, he said Tuesday. While each location has its tradeoffs, Zimmer’s longstanding preference allows for more direct conversations with players during games.

“I’ve always been on the sideline, number one,” Zimmer said. “Number two, I want to catch them when they come off [the field], so I can talk to them. If there’s adjustments that need to be made, then I want to be able to sit down and do them with them.”


From a booth, Quinn could call down to the sideline and speak to players or, through an intermediary, relay messages to them. So it would be a misnomer to suggest sitting in a coaches’ box, where it can be easier to concentrate and observe the field, prohibited in-game communication with players.


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Quinn, now head coach for the Washington Commanders, has experienced substantial career success from a booth, including as a Super Bowl-winning coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.

That said, the setup does create inherent separation between coach and player.


In the Cowboys’ most recent game, their defense allowed six touchdowns on the Green Bay Packers’ first seven drives in a Jan. 14 playoff loss. Two of the defensive staff’s main leaders, Quinn and then-defensive pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr., sat side by side in an AT&T Stadium booth, unable to address multiple players at once or speak to any players face-to-face until halftime.

By that point, the deficit was 27-7.

It assuredly wouldn’t have made a difference that day — if a play-caller’s gameday location was that influential, no coordinator in the league would be caught off the sideline. There is more to football than face-to-face conversation. After Quinn addressed players in the halftime locker room, Green Bay scored a touchdown on its next three drives. It averaged 6.2 yards per carry after halftime compared with 2.1 before.


So the difference should not be overstated.

Zimmer prefers to be closer to the action.

This season will mark his 15th as an NFL defensive coordinator. He previously handled the role for the Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals from 2000 to 2013. He then spent eight seasons as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach.

Per usual, his players will know where to find him when jogging to the sideline.

“A lot of times, I tell them if they mess up, go on the other end,” Zimmer said with a smile. “Don’t come by me.”

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