After being rushed to the hospital on Tuesday because of an unspecified medical emergency, Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul passed away on Wednesday evening at the age of 54. The organization confirmed the news, with owner Jerry Jones saying in a statement that its “hearts are broken for his family and all of the individuals whose lives he touched and made better.”
Paul first arrived in Dallas as an assistant to Mike Woicik in 2018 and was promoted to his position atop the team’s strength and conditioning staff earlier this year. His career in the NFL began more than three decades ago, however, and also featured a prominent stop with the New England Patriots along the way.
Following a college career at Syracuse, Paul entered the league as a fourth-round draft choice by the Chicago Bears in 1989. He went on to appear in 70 regular season games and three playoff contests for the team before playing his final game as a pro with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 1993 season. While his playing career found its end after five seasons, Paul eventually set his sights on becoming a coach.
He received his first opportunity in 1998, when he joined the New Orleans Saints as assistant strength and conditioning coach under the aforementioned Mike Woicik. The two would also move to New England together in 2000, to join Bill Belichick’s first coaching staff with the Patriots.
Over the next five seasons, Paul would help get a team in shape that ended up winning three Super Bowls: he was part of the organization’s championship squads in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Belichick also mentioned his impact on the club during a conference call with the media on Wednesday morning, when his former assistant coach was still in critical condition.
“As an organization, our thoughts and prayers are with Markus Paul and his family. I know that there’s a lot of close connections here,” Belichick said as part of his opening statement. “We’re all thinking about him and just have a ton of respect for him and all he did for us and just the relationships that we’ve maintained.”
After winning three Super Bowls in four years, Paul decided to join the New York Jets before leaving for their cross-town rivals in 2007. Serving as the New York Giants’ assistant special teams coach for the next 11 years, he added two more championship rings to his collection. After the 2017 season, he moved on to reunite with Woicik in Dallas.
“Markus Paul was a leader in this building,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said in a statement on Wednesday. “He earned the players’ respect and attention because he cared so much and was a naturally gifted communicator — both on the personal and professional levels. He handled every situation, sometimes with a smile and a pat on the back and sometimes with tough love.
“He had innate toughness in a job that requires that quality, and he was admired throughout the NFL by his peers and the players he coached. It was a privilege to work with him as a coach and laugh with him as a friend. Markus did everything the right way.”
Paul will be remembered by the Cowboys before their Thanksgiving Day game against the Washington Football Team on Thursday. No plans have yet been announced by the Patriots to do something similar on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, although it would not be a surprise to see some form of recognition as well.