Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Sep. 22, 2018.
SEATTLE — Kris Richard has only been with the Cowboys for a few months.
That makes his influence all the more impressive.
Richard approaches his job with an evangelical fervor that’s impossible to ignore. Whether he’s lacing up his cleats to run with the players or making an introductory speech to the team that ends in applause, he makes an impression.
Players gravitate toward the Cowboys’ defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator. His charisma is intoxicating.
There’s a presence to Richard that should accelerate his drive to become a head coach, a status linebacker Sean Lee is convinced Richard will hold one day. But there’s more to the 39-year-old coach than an overdeveloped case of zeal.
Lee considers Richard to be an unbelievable coach and resource. Safety Kavon Frazier marvels at his ability to tell the players exactly what to expect once the game is underway. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli calls his co-worker a great technician and as good as any defensive coach he’s been around.
“I think the guy’s brilliant,” Marinelli said.
This will come as no surprise to the Seahawks. Richard spent eight years on Pete Carroll’s staff, working his way up from an assistant defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator once Dan Quinn left to become Atlanta’s head coach.
When Carroll felt the need to shake up his staff at the end of last season, it didn’t take Richard long to land in Dallas. He returns to Century Link Field on Sunday afternoon to face his former team, calling the plays for a defense that ranks fourth in the NFL, 16 spots ahead of the Seahawks.
Have the Cowboys noticed even more excitement in Richard’s approach leading up to this game?
“I don’t think he has another level,” safety Xavier Woods said. “He’s already at 10.”
The New York Giants faced a third-and-4 on their first possession.
Heading into Sunday night’s game, Richard had gone through the options of what Eli Manning likes in that down and distance. He told the Dallas safeties if you see the tight end drag, look for Odell Beckham to come back for a short pass.
That’s the play that unfolded in front of Frazier.
“It was almost shocking that it happened exactly how we practiced it and exactly how he was telling me how it was going to happen,” Frazier said.
Frazier took a bad angle and Beckham was able to pick up 8 yards and the first down. But the confidence Richard instilled for what was to come would last for the remainder of the evening.
It’s a level of preparation beyond what the secondary had in recent years under Joe Baker.
“Man, it’s crazy,” Frazier said. “No shade on Coach [Joe] Baker, but it’s just a huge difference. Everything we go over in film, they’re out there running it.
“The preparation is just totally different. The fieryness, he makes everybody believe, and we’re just going out there and playing.”
Lee echoes that opinion.
“The combination of understanding X’s and O’s, how offenses attack, little details when it comes to whether it’s a split in the offense or an alignment or a concept they like to run,” Lee said. “Then giving you so much information on how to play that and then pairing it with technique.
“He’s just putting us in position to make plays and making us better football players.”
Marinelli has been around some outstanding defensive coaches. Tony Dungy. Lovie Smith. Monte Kiffin. Mike Tomlin.
That makes this comment all the more powerful.
“I’m telling you, he’s right there, as good as I’ve been around,” Marinelli said. “And that’s saying a lot.”
The ability to meld scheme with technique. An attention to detail and fundamentals. His ability to teach and communicate. Marinelli is blown away by all of these traits in Richard.
Carroll coached under Kiffin. Richard played and coached under Carroll. Kiffin is one of Marinelli’s mentors.
The Cowboys defensive coordinator likes to say this has come full circle. He and Richard share the same defensive DNA, which has not only made Richard’s addition to the staff seamless, but also enhanced a defensive unit that was coming on strong to end last season.
Marinelli and Richard collaborate on the defensive game plan, then Marinelli turns the play calling over to Richard for the game. The results through the first two weeks of the season are promising.
The impression is the Cowboys are blitzing more under Richard than in previous seasons. The numbers don’t support that supposition. But this is a more aggressive group than in recent seasons with more team speed and more physical play from the corners.
That is clearly Richard’s influence.
“I can see it in the corner play,” Carroll told reporters about Richard’s impact on the Cowboys. “The corners are playing really well. They’re on the line of scrimmage and they’re doing a nice job.
“They made a nice move with [Byron] Jones and he’s made a nice, quick transition. He’s doing a good job for them.”
Moving Jones from safety to corner was one of the first things Richard did after joining the Cowboys staff. It’s paid immediate dividends.
The organization turned down multiple interview requests for Richard entering Sunday’s game. But he spoke about Jones a few days before the season kicked off in Carolina.
“I mean, we truly believe he’s finding a home,” Richard said. “He’s doing a really good job of going out there and executing our calls and our game plan. He’s playing the technique.
“We’re thrilled with his development and where he’s going with it.”
Strong first impression
Richard stood before the team for the first time in the spring to tell the players about himself and let them know what he expected of them. He talked about life, football and relationships. He talked about how this defense would be a bunch of dogs, a bunch of savages who would catch an offensive player and put him in a trunk.
“We clapped at the end of it,” Lee said.
“That guy is an animal,” defensive end Tyrone Crawford said.
Richard won over this staff and the players from the start. Jones talks about how his energy is contagious while cornerback Chidobe Awuzie talks about how the coach amplifies and ramps up every practice. Safety Jeff Heath points to the way Richard commands the room.
John Schneider has seen that first hand. The Seattle general manager told reporters shortly after Richard was hired in Dallas how well the coach handled the strong personalities on the Seahawks defense.
“He’s got a great way of teaching guys in a real, clear concise manner, not like guys are having their heads spinning,” Schneider said. “That’s probably the best way to describe it. He’s had rooms where he’s had a lot of strong, alpha personalities, and he handled it.”
Richard presided over Seattle’s famed Legion of Boom. He has a Super Bowl ring and was part of another Super Bowl team. His association with the Seahawks gives him cred.
But he’s let the Cowboys know he wants them to create their own identity.
“We’re not trying to be them,” Richard said of Seattle during training camp. “We’re trying to be us.
“This is the Dallas Cowboys defense. This is the Dallas Cowboys secondary. If we want to play with a particular style, we’re more than capable of doing it, but we’ve got to buy in and make it real every day.”
It’s been real for the first two weeks of the regular season. Now Richard gets to see how this act plays in the stadium he called home for eight years.
“We want to play for him,” Woods said. “It’s about us, but we want to make a statement for him as well.”
Catch David Moore and Robert Wilonsky as they co-host Intentional Grounding on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) every Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. through the Super Bowl.
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