FRISCO — The name keeps coming up in conversations around the Cowboys, often unprovoked, the word seemingly uttered more in this North Texas area than since George W. Bush’s first presidential election win.
On Sunday, Dak Prescott exited his news conference following the team’s fourth consecutive win, a 44-20 rout of the New York Giants. Walking to an elevator that leads toward the AT&T Stadium parking lot, the quarterback agreed with the notion that this Cowboys season has a different, special feel to it.
“I think that’s obvious,” Prescott said. “I think that’s obvious when you watch us play. That’s something that we’re cognizant of and we’ve worked on. I credit Chad Bohling for his mental work and our mental training. We’re only going to continue to grow for the better.”
Since Mike McCarthy’s first season as Cowboys coach in 2020, the Friday before a Sunday game is known as STAA Day inside Ford Center at The Star. Two hours are devoted to the STAA program, which begins with mental conditioning consultant Chad Bohling addressing the team.
Anyone searching for where to credit McCarthy for his hand in the Cowboys’ 4-1 start can start here.
One of McCarthy’s primary responsibilities is to script out the practice week and ensure that players are in peak physical and mental form for game day. Well-being management is at the heart of the STAA program, which stands for soft tissue activation and application.
On Fridays, rather than practice like most NFL teams do, the Cowboys hold meetings and a walkthrough before transitioning into STAA. That is when Bohling speaks to the team. Following his mental messaging, players engage in body recovery work.
Methods include hot and cold tubs, yoga and NormaTec compression therapy boots.
McCarthy first adopted the STAA program in 2014 after a couple of years of hesitation. The late coaching great Marty Schottenheimer ushered McCarthy into NFL coaching, and Fridays before Sunday games always involved a practice.
But after extensive research, then-Packers strength and conditioning Mark Lovat convinced McCarthy that Fridays were better spent on recovery. The bulk of what constitutes a normal Friday practice is deferred to Saturdays that serve as a physiological launch to the game.
“I just think like anything, the longer you do this, the longer you have to stay open to potential changes,” McCarthy said Thursday. “That’s the best thing for your team. Clearly, I’m a huge believer in the schedule and a huge believer in the STAA program because I’ve seen the results. I’ve seen results with the fatigue injuries being reduced.
“We have a vision of being a champion, and your planning for the latter part of the season, it doesn’t start when you get there. You have to implement that now.”
Players have bought in.
Before this year, safety Damontae Kazee hadn’t dipped into a cold tub since studying on Montezuma Mesa at San Diego State. He is on board with the therapy now. Wide receiver Amari Cooper wasn’t a yoga fan before STAA. Today, well, he still isn’t much of a yoga fan, he admitted with a laugh, but he sees the benefits.
“McCarthy is big on [STAA] and our recovery for our bodies,” linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “He preaches that a lot. What he does for us in designating those two hours for us to get our body right and then go right into the afternoon where we know we have our personal stuff that we already have lined up — massages or whatever — it just compounds into Saturday and game day.”
In 2014, STAA began with a focus on the body.
Today, it has widened to acknowledge the mind.
Bohling is the secret ingredient to the STAA program, and he isn’t new. The Cowboys have relied on Bohling as a consultant since 2014 under Jason Garrett. In business, the worst new managers make wholesale changes without first learning and integrating what worked before they arrived.
McCarthy made many changes when the Cowboys hired him in January 2020.
Wisely, like with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, he kept Bohling, who’s also worked closely with the New York Yankees for more than a decade. Bohling speaks directly with players, including via text messages that can include videos, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons said. Bohling and Prescott spoke regularly during Prescott’s recovery from last October’s ankle fracture.
Bohling encouraged Prescott to track his weekly wins and losses. With each week, Prescott reset and began again.
In 2016, Moore was a Cowboys quarterback when Bohling helped him working through an injury. Now as coordinator, he sees Bohling continue to help players today. That includes a shared message for players that Bohling delivers on STAA days.
He has preached staying neutral, not getting too high or too low with the ebbs and flows of an NFL season. Handling success has emerged as relevant of late.
“The first thing with Chad that I think is great is he’s got the credentials to back it up,” right guard Zack Martin said. “Sometimes you have these guys — you know, he’s worked at a high level, two of the biggest sports organizations in the world. He’s dealt with a lot of big-time players and a lot of big-time situations.
“He’s got that instant credibility there. Just the message he gives, it’s like he’s spot-on with the message each week.”
The Cowboys won’t practice on Friday.
They believe, in part because of Chad, they found a better use of their time.