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Ellis candid about Zimmer, journey back to Cowboys

Ellis candid about Zimmer journey back to Cowboys
A dream is being realized for Greg Ellis, his post-retirement journey being filled with necessary challenges that ultimately led him right back to Mike Zimmer and the Dallas Cowboys.

"Oh yeah, I can definitely relate to that [pressure they're feeling]," said Ellis. "But it's good to be on the other end. It's good to have played here and to now coach here, for me, it's really a dream come true."

It hasn't been an easy journey to this point for Ellis. Quite the contrary, actually, but before he took a single step toward it, he chose to put his family first; and that meant also factoring in the time he spent away in his 12 years as a player in the league — the final year being in Oakland with the Raiders.

"My first opportunity to coach, I couldn't take advantage of it," he explained. "I wanted my kids to get a bit older. They're older now so it works out well for my family and myself, to be involved with coaching. … Zim, and even Bill Parcells, they always told me I needed to coach when I first retired.

"I loved it and wanted to do it, but I'm a workaholic, to be honest with you, and I know that football welcomes that but it wouldn't have been good for my family — being so young."

He'd finally pursue the next chapter of his professional career when he took the job as head coach of Texas College in Tyler, Texas, more than two hours away from his home in Southlake, Texas, and remained there until he accepted the same role at Southwestern Assemblies of God (SAGU) in Waxahachie, Texas — one hour away from his home.

Ellis has paid his dues, even when that included washing team uniforms … as head coach.

Add that to the character of a man who once returned from a ruptured Achilles to earn his aforementioned Pro Bowl nod along with honors as NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2007, and it's not difficult to see the value he brings as a leader and mentor on defense.

"When people say, 'He's only here because he played for the Cowboys,' I'm like nah, nah, I had to go through some stuff to get here; and I'm glad I did," said Ellis. "I came in[to coaching] at ground level, driving two hours everyday to get to football practice from Southlake to Tyler — doing the [team's] laundry, all that kinda stuff I went through.

"I did all those things. A lot of work went into getting here."

And now that he's [back] here in Dallas, Ellis is looking to rekindle the success he had with Zimmer in yesteryear, but in a much different way this time around.

"The biggest change with him is me being a coach, and me not playing for him," he said of Zimmer. "I have a tremendous respect for him from when I played for him, because he's a tremendous teacher of the game. He taught me a lot about the game. To be on the other side of it with him is different for me."

It's also different in that Zimmer isn't yelling at him on a rep-to-rep basis.

"You said it, I didn't, but I agree with you," Ellis quipped, semi-jokingly. "He holds coaches to be responsible. I've been around him long enough to know that whatever you tell him you're going to do, he's going to hold you to it. He's not gonna forget it. And that's the good thing about him and what makes him a good coach.

"I really can't think of a better coach for me to be under — than him."

It's also true that those familiar with Zimmer's abrupt, direct and justifiably demanding coaching style (e.g., Ellis, Eric Kendricks) are being tasked with acclimating the current stable of players to what the new standard will be in 2024. This will be especially important for the first-year defensive players, but Ellis has already warned them to focus on the substance of the directives.

And maybe not so much on the plate it might be delivered on.

"I've told the rookies already: It's professional football," said the Cowboys' assistant defensive line coach. "It's the highest level you can go, so don't get caught up in how the message is delivered. Understand we're all working toward the same goal. … As far as those first- and second-round picks, feeling that pressure, it's a part of the NFL.

"I think we've got some good kids. Marshawn [Kneeland] is a good one. Seeing him out there, in the short time I've been with him on the field, he's looking good and moves really well."

Ellis joins Jeff Zgonina, the newly-hired defensive line coach who was wooed away from the Washington Commanders this offseason, in being thrown the keys to not only Kneeland's future, but also the entirety of a defensive line that also includes the need to reset former first-round pick Mazi Smith, and leading Sam Williams into what the former second-round pick into a season he views as the one that will "determine the rest of my career".

So while there's a lot of pressure on the players to get the job done over the next several months, it also exists for Ellis and his compatriots.

But if history has proven anything about Ellis, it's that pressure is simply another day for him to prove he's the right man for the job, whatever that job might be. If the Cowboys didn't already have others handling the laundry duties, Ellis would probably have no problem taking on that role as well in Dallas.

Thankfully, though, the only stains he'll be asked to help remove are the ones on Dallas' recent postseason record.

Those are the most stubborn ones, anyway.

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