THOUSAND OAKS — They aren't saying much about it. In fact, as they entrench for another summer in California, they aren't saying anything officially at all.
But the Dallas Cowboys may have brought their next head coach with them this time.
He is Paul Hackett and he has taken over as the Cowboy passing coordinator at the request of Coach Tom Landry, who ranks as one of the game's top passing coordinators himself.
Hackett was in his third season with the San Francisco 49ers as Bill Walsh's quarterback coach last winter when Landry asked Walsh for permission to offer the man what could be a better job.
"I jumped at the chance to go to Dallas under one of the great coaches of all time," Hackett said this week as the Cowboys began their 23rd annual training camp at Cal Lutheran College.
So far, they're the only NFL club at work.
A veteran of 14 years as an assistant at Cal and USC and with the NFL's Cleveland Browns and 49ers, Hackett, 39, may be "the right man at the right time" for the Cowboys, as a club official quietly suggested.
Landry will be 62 in September, and although he has trained many other candidates for his job, most have departed, including Dan Reeves to Denver as coach of the Broncos, John Mackovic to Kansas City as coach of the Chiefs, Raymond Berry to New England as coach of the Patriots, Gene Stallings to St. Louis as coach of the Cardinals, and, unforgettably, Mike Ditka to Chicago as coach of the champion Bears.
Landry's own departure isn't imminent.
"I'll coach as long as I enjoy it, and this year I'm looking forward to the season the way I always have," Landry said. "If the Cowboys want me back next season, I plan to be back."
He isn't likely to be overruled.
"The job is Tom's--we want him," President Tex Schramm has said repeatedly.
Still, there will come a day, and some of the best-informed Cowboy watchers say that Hackett is the guy.
"I can't say that," Landry said when asked about it. "The only thing I consider (when recruiting assistants) is getting good coaches who will help us win."
Said Hackett: "My ambition has been to work with those who are the best at what they do--John Robinson (for five years at USC), Bill Walsh, Tom Landry--and then to be a head coach."
For now, Hackett's job is to give the Cowboys a blend of the NFL's two dominant passing systems.
There is Walsh's way--a disciplined, rhythmic, short-passing approach based on getting the ball quickly to a 1-2-3 progression of receivers and backs.
And there is Landry's way, which is basically everyone else's way, too. The quarterback drops back, reads the defense and tries to reach his wide receivers with longer passes than Joe Montana throws at San Francisco.
Montana isn't asked to read in the NFL's accepted meaning of that term.
And Walsh's quick-passing scheme doesn't lend itself to shotgun passes, a Landry variation that the 49ers never use.
Landry wants to incorporate a Montana-Walsh look, which is a change from the past. And, the fact that Landry has imported Hackett to bring it off says something about the respect he has for Hackett, considering that Landry was the Dallas pass offense director last season.
Hackett seems to be the kind of coach who gets the big things done. His intensity and enthusiasm remind some observers of the young Sid Gillman of many years ago.
Hackett, who has a receding hairline, strong jaw and worldly expression, looks more like an aging golf pro than a coach. But he doesn't play golf. He is one of those whose whole life is football--except for the month of June each year that he spends on an island in a New Hampshire lake with his wife and two sons.
"If you invest a month relaxing you can work nonstop the rest of the year," Hackett said.
Hackett guards his privacy. A few days ago, he looked up a Cowboy publicist and criticized the publicist, mildly, for giving Hackett's home telephone number to a newspaper reporter.
"Our writers talk to Tom Landry at home almost every night," the publicist said.
"Do I look like Tom Landry?" Hackett asked.
The answer is no.