Dallas Cowboys: Tom Ciskowski

Coaching background helps Will McClay

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
IRVING, Texas -- One element I was not able to work into Tuesday’s feature on Dallas Cowboys assistant director of player personnel Will McClay was his coaching background.

He was a defensive coordinator for five Arena Football League teams, including the Dallas Desperados, and served as the Desperados head coach from 2004-08.

At the NFL scouting combine in February, coach Jason Garrett said McClay’s background as a coach is helpful, but noted a number of the scouts have a coaching background.

The Cowboys have a number of personnel on their scouting staff. Director of Scouting Tom Ciskowski was a college assistant coach from 1979-91 before joining the Cowboys’ scouting department in 1992. National Scout Drew Fabianich was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee from 1993-96 and had a number of coaching stops before moving into scouting.

“The communication in our building is critical and Will’s been a big part of that,” Garrett said. “Coaches, scouting, the executive branch of our organization, we want to make sure everybody’s talking, everybody’s on the same page, and Will’s done a great job with that. I think philosophy’s are all the same, that’s a good thing. It’s given Tom Ciskowski an opportunity to really focus on the college stuff, so he’s obviously a big part of this whole dynamic that we have and has been for a number of years. Bringing players into your organization is a really important piece to having success, and if everyone’s on the same page about what kind of players and what kind of people you want to bring it, it gives you a great chance of doing what you want to do.”

As a pro scout, McClay was a quasi-assistant with the Cowboys, working in the offseason with defensive backs at different times.

“I think it’s a huge benefit not only in evaluating talent, but evaluating what’s behind the talent,” said Terry Gray, a scouting consultant and former assistant coach to McClay. “Who is the guy? What’s important to him? How does he compete? What is his daily work ethic? What is he thinking? What’s his reaction time? Can he process what he sees in a timely fashion to compete in the NFL? Will’s not just been a coach, but being a head coach gives him a deeper perspective on evaluating players and how they play on the field, but what they are built on and who they are and what their core principles are.”

Arena rivalry hits NFC East

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
IRVING, Texas -- In swapping Mike Shanahan for Jay Gruden, the Washington Redskins have swapped a coach with two Super Bowl wins for a coach with two ArenaBowl championships and four as a player.

So there is that.

Gruden’s addition also means the NFC East will have two ex-Arena Football League players and coaches at or near the top of their teams’ flow chart.

Will McClay is the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, which is the most powerful personnel job owned by somebody not with the last name Jones. He won three ArenaBowl titles with the Detroit Drive and was with the Dallas Desperados from 2002-08, serving for five years as the head coach. In 2006, he was named the AFL’s coach of the year.

Gruden won four titles as quarterback of the Tampa Bay Storm, and two more as coach of the Orlando Predators.

Scoff at the indoor league all you want, but it provided solid training ground for a variety of players, coaches and personnel people now in the NFL.

McClay has been with the Cowboys for 11 years, but is in his first year as the assistant director of player personnel, flipping responsibilities with Tom Ciskowski, who is now the director of scouting.

For those scoring at home, McClay had a 4-1 record against Gruden’s Predators from 2004-08.

Changes in personnel roles are paying off

September, 5, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- In what could have been described as a subtle change in how the Dallas Cowboys do business, Tom Ciskowski was able to get pro personnel assignments taken off his plate so he could concentrate on college players and prepare the NFL draft board and Will McClay was asked to take over the pro scouting duties as the new assistant director of player personnel.

Ciskowski was in charge of both areas until this spring, when the Jones family decided to split the duties. Ciskowski is the director of scouting and McClay is the assistant director of player personnel.

McClay has made an impact, especially in the past 48 hours.

Earlier in the summer McClay was able to get the Cowboys to sign George Selvie and Nick Hayden, two free-agent defensive linemen who might start Week 1 because of injuries to starters Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff.

Then, on the eve of the regular season, the Cowboys made a flurry of deals in which they picked up draft picks through trades involving defensive tackle Sean Lissemore and tight end Dante Rosario. The team also claimed special-teams player Kyle Bosworth and acquired defensive ends Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford in trades.

This isn’t to say Ciskowski wouldn't have made these deals, but the desperate nature of the team on the defensive line and the special-teams problems in the preseason fueled some of these decisions.

"I give Will a lot of credit and I don’t want to be negative toward Tom because some years [trades] present themselves," Cowboys executive director Stephen Jones said. "Tom had a lot on his plate trying to do college and pro and I think we decided, just like we’re doing a lot of things different, let's try to get better, let's divide up the role and let's get more out of both of them."

The switch also allows Ciskowski to scout more college teams and not worry about NFL teams.

McClay's background is diverse. From his time as an Arena Football League coach for the now-folded Dallas Desperados, he gained knowledge about Rayford, who used to play in the league. McClay also was an assistant director of pro scouting for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001.

Ciskowski is a solid judge of college talent. Last year, the Indianapolis Colts wanted to interview him for their then-vacant GM gig. The Cowboys denied him the opportunity to do so because they value him.

So far this offseason, the Cowboys' changes in the personnel department have looked good.

"They’re important 365 days out of the year," coach Jason Garrett said. "We have pro personnel guys. We have college scouts and those guys do a fantastic job, really scouring the landscape to help us find the best players, guys who fit in to what we want to do on offense, defense and throughout our football team. And it’s really important for them to understand and know the league as you’re cutting your team down."

Sources: Cowboys shuffle scouting staff

June, 14, 2013

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys are shuffling their scouting department and will promote Will McClay to assistant director of player personnel to work alongside Tom Ciskowski, who will be named the director of scouting, according to sources.

Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett for his weekly visit and you won't believe who he says is the Cowboys' best player.

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McClay has worked in the Cowboys’ pro personnel department for the last 11 years and added the director of football research title in 2012. He was the head coach of the Dallas Desperados of the AFL from 2004-08.

Ciskowski was named the Cowboys’ director of pro and college scouting in 2008 and had the title change to assistant director of player personnel in 2011.

Over the last two seasons, McClay played a part in the Cowboys finding veteran players off the street that helped win games, such as Tony Fiammetta, Ernie Sims, Eric Frampton and Laurent Robinson. As the director of football research, McClay used advanced statistical and analytics in helping with scouting of players and other teams.

Stephen Jones carries the chief executive officer, executive vice president and director of player personnel titles.

According to sources, the Cowboys denied Cleveland and Kansas City permission to speak with McClay about front-office jobs in those organizations this offseason. McClay was Jacksonville’s assistant director of pro scouting in 2001.

Ciskowski joined the Cowboys as a scout in 1992 and from 2001-07 was the assistant director of college scouting. When Jeff Ireland left for Miami after the 2007 season, Ciskowski was promoted.

Camera creates draft room interest, drama

April, 26, 2013
Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the first round of the NFL draft.

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IRVING, Texas – One of the best parts of Thursday’s first-round was watching the Cowboys’ draft room camera.

When it got close to the Cowboys’ pick at No. 18, you could see the action pick up and phone calls being made. The best part was attempting to read the reactions – remember, there are no microphones – of those involved from Jerry and Stephen Jones to Jason Garrett to Tom Ciskowski and attempt to actually know what was going on. It would make for a great comedy skit in a way.

Let’s just say the body language of a few of the characters was not good as things went down. Do we know how it all went down? Who wanted whom? Who didn’t want whom? Not yet.

“I think we always have a stoic demeanor around here, don’t we,” Garrett said with tongue in cheek. “I don’t think we were overly concerned (about the draft room camera and body language).

“Sometimes you’re in the draft room and you’re not in control of anything and you’re just watching the draft and watching it like a fan. It’s not like we were moving to (No. 4). The math says there’s no way, so it’s interesting to see where teams go and certain guys move up for Tayvon Austin. (It’s) ‘Really, that’s interesting,’ and then there’s implications to that and now you say, ‘He’s here. This team wants this,’ and you play it out. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you’re not.”

Cowboys add scout, shuffle spots

May, 24, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys are moving some things around in their college scouting department, with Jim Abrams joining the organization after spending six-plus seasons as Tampa Bay’s national scout.

The Abrams move, which was reported first by insidetheleague.com, brings about a reorganization of sorts after Northeast scout John Wojciechowski left for Green Bay following the draft.

Abrams will serve as the Cowboys’ West Coast scout with Sam Garza serving as a scout for Texas and Oklahoma. Bill DeKraker will move from the Midwest to Northeast and Kevin Simon was bumped up from the team’s Combine scout to the Midwest. Mitch LaPoint will remain the team’s Southeast scout. Justin Stucky will take over as the Combine scout.

Assistant director of player personnel Tom Ciskowski, who is entering his fifth season, national scouts Drew Fabianich and Walter Juliff and college scouting coordinator Chris Hall will overlap the entire country.

Mo Claiborne: I'd love to be 2-way player

April, 30, 2012
Cowboys first-round pick Morris Claiborne recaps his draft experience and talks about growing up a Cowboys fan and his expectations playing in Dallas.

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On how he feels about working alongside Miles Austin and Dez Bryant

"I'm very excited to get right in and get around those guys. Try to learn as much as I can learn from the receiver standpoint to the cornerback standpoint and both of those guys are great, big receiver and I'm looking forward to getting some work in with them so they can make me better."

On the possibility of getting some reps as a reciever

"I would love to be a two-way player. If they gave me that chance to be able to go both sides of the ball I'll love it and I won't turn it down. I get in and give it 100 percent."

Cowboys director of scouting Tom Ciskowski discusses the decision to move up for Morris Claiborne, what role Jason Garrett has in player evaluation and much more.

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Jason Garrett involved in money decisions

February, 26, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- What few people want to believe about how Jerry Jones operates the Cowboys is how much say the head coach has.

Most of the time if a head coach does or does not want a player, Jones will listen. And I realize now everybody is thinking Terrell Owens and Bill Parcells, but too many people at Valley Ranch have said that if Parcells was completely against adding Owens in 2006 that Jones would not have signed him.

Remember, Jones didn’t draft Randy Moss for a lot of reasons but one of them was Chan Gailey didn’t want him.

When the Cowboys have succeeded they have had a strong head coach in Jimmy Johnson and Parcells.

I thought Jason Garrett had a revealing answer when he was asked at the NFL scouting combine how involved he is in the money decisions.

“I’m very involved in it,” Garrett said. “As you know the economics of the NFL is an important part of the decision making process and every player as a price tag and a price tag might be where you draft him, how are you using that resource, in our case, the 14th pick of the first round or a second round pick or a third round pick. The other price tag is just dollars. What are they going to cost you this year? What are they going to cost you in the future? How much is that player going to cost you over the lifetime of the contract? If it’s a large sum, how does that impact the rest of your football team? Every team in the league makes decisions first and foremost by evaluating the player and how he fits in on your football team. But another part of that is economics. I’m involved in the decision making process, as is Tom Ciskowski, as is the Joneses. And the evaluation comes first but the money part of the decision making process, I’m involved in a lot of those discussions.”
IRVING, Texas – While some wonder if the Cowboys could lose Rob Ryan and/or Joe DeCamillis from their coaching staff to head coaching jobs elsewhere, they might also need to look at the player personnel staff, too.

According to multiple sources, Indianapolis has requested permission to speak with assistant director of player personnel Tom Ciskowski for its general manager vacancy. The Colts are looking for a personnel chief after firing Bill Polian and his son, Chris.

St. Louis could be another option after the Rams fired Billy Devaney. Ciskowski interviewed with the Rams in 2006 for the general manager’s job. Baltimore’s director of player personnel Eric DeCosta is also a reported candidate for both jobs.

Ciskowski has been with the Cowboys since 1992 and was named the director of college and pro scouting in 2008 when Jeff Ireland left for Miami. His title was changed to assistant director of player personnel in 2011. He had been the team’s assistant director of college scouting from 2001-07.

5 Wonders: Roster good, bad, roles, Austin

November, 8, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys owner and general manager has openly wondered if he did wrong by Chan Gailey by firing him as coach after two seasons, so with Gailey returning this week as Buffalo’s head coach here is another installment of 5 Wonders:

** I wonder if Chris Jones’ successful debut Sunday against Seattle could actually hurt the Cowboys. Jones averaged 43 yards on four punts in filling in for Mat McBriar and the Seahawks did not have a punt-return yard. That’s even more impressive because Leon Washington is a dangerous returner. But the nature of McBriar’s nerve injury makes it difficult for the Cowboys to cut Jones, possibly re-sign Daniel Loper or add another player at another spot and hope that Jones will not get claimed. Five teams have made in-season changes at punter this season either because of injury or performance. If the Cowboys cut Jones and he is claimed by another team, then they would be in trouble if McBriar is unable to kick this week. And that brings me to another special teams’ wonder …

** I wonder if this is the week the extra kicker on the 53-man roster gets the Cowboys in some trouble.
It’s not so much that the Cowboys have cut great players in order to save a role for David Buehler. They haven’t. The issue is they do not have a chance to develop a player on the bottom of the roster for the future because they are saving a role for Buehler. The Cowboys have four kickers/punters on the 53-man roster. That’s more than the tailbacks they have on the roster and they could be in need of adding a wide receiver by the end of the week because of Miles Austin’s hamstring injury. For the yard or so of field position they gain on average because of Buehler’s leg strength, I just don’t think it’s worth it.

** The Cowboys’ pro scouting department of Tom Ciskowski, Judd Garrett and Will McClay deserve some credit for what it has been able to pull off this season. I wonder if people realize how hard it is to find players off the street and see them contribute, but the Cowboys have been able to plug in wide receiver Laurent Robinson, fullback Tony Fiammetta, cornerback Frank Walker and guard Montrae Holland and see them succeed. Obviously the Cowboys knew about Holland, but Robinson, Fiammetta and Walker were strangers in many respects. They have all helped the Cowboys win games.

** I’ve wondered how coaches can keep players on the bottom end of the roster involved in the game plans each week, but Rob Ryan had a first against Seattle. We know he had to use Bruce Carter and Barry Church on defense because of Sean Lee’s wrist injury, but he also mixed in undrafted rookie linebacker Alex Albright, too. Ryan has said if he can find a role for a player, he’ll use them. Albright was in there not just because Anthony Spencer or DeMarcus Ware got tired. He had a role. It’s a smart move. It keeps players engaged during a long season in addition to giving some starters a few plays off.

** Many people wonder if some of the hamstring injuries we’ve seen across the league this year have to do with the lockout. Maybe. In Miles Austin’s case, however, I don’t believe so. Austin was part of every workout the team had at Southlake’s Dragon Stadium in May. He has kept himself in top shape every year he’s been with the Cowboys. As Tony Romo said, Austin is a bigger receiver and they do a ton of running. Sometimes it just happens. What I don’t wonder about, however, is the fact that when Austin is able to come back he should not be taking heavy reps in practice. This is the fourth time this year he has had some sort of hamstring flare up. When he comes back, it’s up to the coaches to make sure they can get him to the games by not giving him so much work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Cowboys meet with combine invitees

February, 26, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Don't read too much into reports about the Dallas Cowboys meeting with certain players at the NFL scouting combine.

Why? Because the at least one member of the Cowboys organization will meet with all 300-plus players at the combine.

A Cowboys scout meeting with a prospect is simply the organization doing its normal due dilligence. It's a little different when Jerry Jones or Stephen Jones actually sit down with a potential draft pick.

Those meetings typically happen after scouting director Tom Ciskowski suggests that the Cowboys' top two decision-makers get to know a player.