Ernie Zampese, Cowboys OC for Super Bowl XXX win, passes away, age 86

The offensive genius was credited with designing the famed “Air Coryell” offense in San Diego, and eventually won a Super Bowl in Dallas. | From @ToddBrock24f7

Ernie Zampese, the longtime assistant coach who served as offensive coordinator in Dallas from 1994 to 1997 and then returned for a second stint with the team as a consultant, has passed away.

The 86-year-old spent nearly three decades on NFL coaching staffs, but his crowning achievement was helping to lead Troy Aikman and the 1995 Cowboys to a win over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX, the third championship in four years for the dynasty.

Aikman paid tribute to Zampese earlier Monday with a post on Instagram.

“Lost a good one today,” Aikman wrote. “Ernie Zampese was one of the brightest offensive minds in the history of the game – many of his offensive concepts are still being used to this day. He was my offensive coordinator in Dallas from 1994-’97. One of my most memorable moments was winning Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, AZ in 1995 and Ernie getting the Super Bowl ring that had alluded [sic] his HOF career. A friend and mentor to so many.”

Prior to joining the Cowboys, Zampese rose to prominence with the San Diego Chargers. While there, he helped create the famed “Air Coryell” offense for quarterback Dan Fouts, a prolific scheme that led the NFL in passing yards six times in his seven seasons with the team. (The year they didn’t lead the league, they finished second.)

Chargers head coach Don Coryell got most of the credit for the offense that bore his name, but even he called Zampese “the best offensive coach I know.”

Norv Turner, who had his own very successful run as Cowboys OC, echoed that sentiment.

Yet, for all his football brilliance, Zampese never helmed a team of his own, at any level of the sport.

“He had no real ambition to be a head coach,” Turner said, per Mortensen. “He just wanted to coach. He loved teaching, creativity, game plans.”

Just two months ago, Zampese was named a recipient of one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural Awards of Excellence.

Zampese’s son Ken, currently the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Commanders, accepted that award in Canton over the summer on Ernie’s behalf. Ken was reportedly excused from the Commanders by Washington head coach Ron Rivera over the weekend to visit his ailing father.

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Legendary Cowboys LB Chuck Howley named Hall of Fame senior finalist

Howley has been in the Ring of Honor for over 40 years and holds one rare NFL accolade all to himself; he’s now one step away from Canton. | From @ToddBrock24f7

A Cowboys legend who holds the rarest of NFL distinctions is one step closer to Canton.

Linebacker Chuck Howley, who played for Dallas from 1961 to 1973 and has already been in the franchise’s Ring of Honor for over four decades, is now a Senior finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was announced Wednesday. Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko and Bengals quarterback Ken Riley advanced as well, out of a group of 12 senior candidates.

Howley started his pro career with the Chicago Bears in 1958. A first-round pick out of West Virginia, he retired after just two seasons following a training camp injury in 1960 and returned home to a blue-collar job running a filling station. But when he decided to make a gridiron comeback in 1961, the Bears traded Howley’s rights to the Cowboys, who were just a year old at that time.

“I went back because I decided there were better things to do than run a gas station,” Howley said. “Also, I thought it would be a unique opportunity to play for Dallas, a team that was just getting started.”

It proved to be a brilliant decision.

Howley played 165 games for the Cowboys over the next 13 seasons, earning six Pro Bowl nods and being named a first-team All-Pro five times. He helped the franchise win its first title in Super Bowl VI, recovering a fumble and an interception in the 24-3 win over Miami as part of the smothering “Doomsday” defense.

But it was the year prior, in Super Bowl V, that Howley put his name in the record books in a most unique way.

Despite the Cowboys’ 16-13 loss to the Colts in an error-filled contest, it was Howley who won the game’s MVP award after picking off two Baltimore passes. He was the first non-quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP honors and remains to this day the only player from a losing team to receive the accolade.

In typical Howley fashion, he said afterward that the only reason he accepted the MVP award was because it came with a brand-new station wagon. He gave it to his wife as a gift.

Howley, now 86, still ranks second in Cowboys history with 17 fumble recoveries over his career and has the franchise’s second-longest fumble return, a 97-yarder versus Atlanta in 1966.

The Cowboys inducted Howley into their Ring of Honor in 1977, just four years after he retired for the second time.

It will now be up to the Hall of Fame’s full selection committee- in January- to decide whether his achievements are enough to finally put him in Canton with the Class of 2023. Howley needs 80% approval for enshrinement.

Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls was among the nine Senior semifinalists who did not advance to the finalist round this year. Running back Dan Reeves, a longtime teammate of Howley’s in Dallas before going on to a lengthy head coaching career, is still a semifinalist in the Coach/Contributor category.

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Former Cowboys OC Ernie Zampese to receive inaugural Award of Excellence from Pro Football Hall of Fame

Zampese led Troy Aikman and the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XXX win. One of the top offensive minds of his era, he’ll now be honored in Canton. | From @ToddBrock24f7

One of the architects of the Cowboys’ most recent Super Bowl victory is making his way to Canton.

Ernie Zampese, the longtime offensive coach who served as coordinator in Dallas from 1994 to 1997 and then returned for a second stint with the team as a consultant, has been named a winner of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural “Awards of Excellence.”

The new awards are meant to recognize significant contributions made to the game by individuals from four football disciplines who are not typically considered for enshrinement along players and head coaches.

“These 20 outstanding assistant coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers, and public relations personnel not only helped to determine results on the field, but they also helped to promote the game’s growth, safety, and popularity over several decades of devotion to their teams and to the National Football League,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement.

Zampese will be one of the assistant coaches honored Thursday, along with Fritz Shurmur, Terry Robiskie, Alex Gibbs, and Jimmy Raye.

The 86-year-old Zampese worked on a handful of NFL staffs nearly nonstop from 1976 until 2004. He already had 18 years of pro experience on his résumé when he came to Dallas in 1994. The Cowboys had just won their second straight Lombardi Trophy, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had just left to take the head coaching job in Washington.

Then an established OC, Zampese was thought to be content to stay in Southern California, where he had played halfback collegiately for the Trojans and gotten his start in coaching with turns at Cal Poly, San Diego State, and the San Diego Chargers before joining the Los Angeles Rams.

“I think first of all, it’s the possibility of going to a Super Bowl,” Zampese said of the decision to move, per the Los Angeles Times. “I think that’s what we all aspire to do in this profession.”

Less than eight weeks after Zampese accepted the Cowboys job, head coach Jimmy Johnson’s departure rocked the organization. Barry Switzer was taking the reins. And Zampese would now be charged with trying to keep the Dallas offense within the ranks of the elite.

He did just that.

In his first year with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, Zampese’s unit finished second in the league in scoring, averaging 25.9 points per game. They compiled a 12-4 record, only to lose to San Francisco in a wild NFC championship game.

The following year, the Cowboys offense ranked third in points scored (27.2 per game), went 12-4 again, and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.

The Dallas dynasty effectively ended with that title. The Cowboys offense dropped to 25th and 22nd in the league in scoring the next two seasons. Zampese, though, had cemented his reputation as an offensive mastermind and moved on to helm the New England offense in 1998.

After two years with the Patriots, Zampese returned to Dallas as an offensive consultant starting with the 2000 season. It was head coach Dave Campo’s first… and would be Aikman’s last.

In his Hall of Fame speech years later, the Cowboys quarterback would call Zampese “one of the best offensive minds and greatest people that this game has ever known.”

And now Zampese will take his place alongside those legends at the Hall.

The four groups presenting these Awards of Excellence helped to create their own selection committees and set their own criteria for choosing the class members to be honored. The Hall of Fame did not take part in any nominating or voting, but will display the winners’ names in Canton.

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You have $15, build the best Cowboys’ offensive skill position group you can

Create the best five-man team of all-time Cowboys skill position players with a $15 max. What’s your best combination?

Everyone dreams of being as rich as Jerry Jones, or at least having the ability to construct an NFL roster if not pay for one. Barring a lottery win, though, that probably isn’t in the cards for the majority of us. That doesn’t mean one can’t put their salary cap skills to good use, though! With the lull in the football schedule while the players and coaches take vacations before training camp, why not have some fun and learn some Dallas Cowboys history at the same time?

Using the internet-famous $15 rule, you have the opportunity to build the best group of players money can buy. Using our 2019 rankings of the 100 Best Players in Cowboys history — constructed around a propietary formula — as a baseline, we’ve assigned prices to 25 players across five positions. With $15 to spend, how would you construct this five-man attack?

You must pick one player from each position group and their total costs cannot add up to more than $15.

Tell us your combination in the comments!

‘The Kitchen’: Cowboys great Nate Newton inducted into Black College Football Hall of Fame

Always-colorful Nate Newton won 3 Super Bowls and earned 6 Pro Bowl nods as an anchoring member of “The Great Wall of Dallas” in the 1990s. | From @ToddBrock24f7

Over 13 seasons wearing the star, Nate Newton was an anchoring member of one the most dominant offensive lines in NFL history, “The Great Wall of Dallas.” And he ended up the most decorated one of the bunch. He played on three Super Bowl-winning teams during the franchise’s greatest run. He earned a trip to six Pro Bowls. He was named a first-team All-Pro twice.

Nate Newton did it all as a Cowboy. But he was granted football immortality for what he did as a Rattler.

The 60-year-old Newton, who last played pro ball in 1999, was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame this past weekend in Atlanta. Several Cowboys teammates- including Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, Daryl Johnston, Tony Tolbert, and Mark Stepnoski- were on hand to celebrate with him.

“I’m humbled. I’m humbled. This is something special,” Newton said, per Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “What makes me feel good is my teammates were there, my sons, my brother and sister. It was Father’s Day. There was a Juneteenth parade across the street. I had everybody that was somebody to me there. What more can I ask for? How much better could this weekend have been? All I needed was Jesus to come in and resurrect this thing and take us out of here.”

Even on squads that were loaded with larger-than-life personalities, Newton was always among the biggest, in every sense of the word.

Playing at anywhere from 325 to nearly 370 pounds, Newton was nicknamed “The Kitchen” because he was even larger than William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the Chicago Bears.

The team tried to slim him down. Then-Cowboys owner Tex Schramm famously offered Newton an $80,000 bonus if he simply arrived to camp weighing under 310.

“If someone offers you $80,000 to be unhappy, you shouldn’t take it,” Newton would say. “So [expletive] $80,000; I’d rather eat.”

Coming out of Florida A&M, Newton was selected by the Tampa Bay Bandits in the 1983 USFL Territorial Draft but chose to sign instead with Washington in the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He was waived during training camp.

He returned to the Bandits and played two seasons in the USFL. After that league folded, he signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in 1986. He played 37 games under head coach Tom Landry before Jerry Jones bought the franchise in 1989.

Under new coach Jimmy Johnson, Newton saw a position change- from left guard to right tackle- after the nearly-50-year-old coach beat Newton in a foot race. By 1992, though, he was back at left guard. The offensive line that also included Stepnoski, John Gesek, Erik Williams, and Mark Tuinei helped running back Emmitt Smith win a rushing title and led the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record.

Dallas went on to throttle Buffalo 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII to cap off the season.

“It is unbelievable,” Newton said that night in Pasadena. “I am so filled with joy, I can’t even express it. If I could explode, I would. But I can’t, because my insurance ain’t paid up.”

Good thing, too. Newton would play in his first Pro Bowl a week later.

It was the first of five consecutive Pro Bowl berths for Newton, who had become a genuine celebrity in his own right. This is, after all, the player who John Madden once accused of polishing off a Snickers bar on the field in the middle of a live play.

“I was like, ‘Did a damn candy bar just fly from Nate’s body or am I imagining things?'”defensive back Larry Brown recalled.

Stepnoski remembers training camp fast-food runs made on Newton’s behalf.

“The Kitchen” would sent out a rookie multiple times a week and “return with a sixty-piece box of Popeyes fried chicken, biscuits, French fries, and a case of Budweiser,” according to Jeff Pearlman’s book Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty.

“Whoever was hungry would take some pieces,” Stepnoski added. “Then Nate would eat the last fifteen or twenty pieces himself.”

Gesek would say later, “Quite frankly, the reason I think Nate went to six Pro Bowls was because his weight was such a joke it got him attention.”

15 Sep 1996: Offensive lineman Nate Newton of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Texas Stadium in Irving,Texas. The Colts won the game, 25-24. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport

But Newton was so much more than a punch line. The only Cowboys offensive linemen with more Pro Bowls to their credit are Hall of Famer Larry Allen (10), Tyron Smith (8), and Zack Martin (7). Newton’s six ties him with John Niland and Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright.

“I don’t see myself as some great player,” Newton said last weekend. “I see myself as a good guy and someone you can depend on. Things just keep happening for the good.”

After 13 seasons with the Cowboys, Newton went on to a backup role in Carolina, but his playing career ended with a torn triceps tendon in just his seventh game with the Panthers.

Newton got into some trouble after leaving football, getting arrested twice with large quantities of marijuana in his possession and serving 30 months in federal prison for drug trafficking as a result.

Since then, though, he has become a motivational speaker for student-athletes around the country. He has continued to be a part of the Cowboys’ extended family, working for the team’s media department and website, as well as doing appearances at alumni events.

And now his football life has taken him to the Black College Football Hall of of Fame, alongside HBCU legends such as Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and Doug Williams. Fellow Cowboys Bob Hayes, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Timmy Newsome, Jethro Pugh, Everson Walls, Rayfield Wright, and Erik Williams are there, too.

“I’m living life,” Newton summed up afterward. “I am a Dallas Cowboy. That is where it began and ended for me.”

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Marion Barber’s Cowboys teammates hint at familiar football concerns

Dez Bryant and Keith Davis played with Marion Barber. Both saw signs that he was struggling, likely due to his violent job as an NFL RB. | From @ToddBrock24f7

Authorities are still trying to piece together what happened to ex-Cowboys running back Marion Barber. Just a few days shy of his 39th birthday, the former fourth-round draft pick was found unresponsive in his Frisco apartment on Wednesday.

A cause of death has not been announced as of midday Thursday, but it is apparent that Barber was going through an especially tough time in his final days. As per a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report, Barber had not had any contact with anyone since Saturday.

Local police were apparently notified of water leaking from an apartment leased to Barber and reported to the residence to perform a welfare check. They had to force entry into the apartment.

A punishing runner with the football, Barber was released by the Cowboys in 2011 after six seasons with the club. He played one more year with Chicago before retiring from football and, in most regards, public life.

When his name did surface in the media, it was generally as part of a story that caused concern.

According to Clarence Hill Jr., Barber had been hospitalized twice for mental health evaluations since leaving the game.

Barber was detained by police in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Mansfield in 2014 and taken to a hospital for one of those evaluations. An arrest in 2019 followed, resulting from an incident where he allegedly damaged two vehicles while he was running in Frisco.

He pleaded no contest in that case, to two counts of criminal mischief, just a few weeks ago. He was sentenced to a year of probation, 60 hours of community service, and a $2,000 fine.

Barber claimed he had been profiled by local police.

Former Cowboys teammate Dez Bryant was particularly worried about Barber last July.

Responding to a video highlight package featuring Barber, Bryant tweeted, “As I watch this video and me knowing exactly how Marion barber life is going right now today is why I built @personalcorner,” referring to a website the wide receiver had helped to start. “I can’t even enjoy it because he’s down and out bad… we are just a stat and moments to most people…”

In another post Wednesday night, Bryant paid tribute to Barber, mentioning his name alongside Demaryius Thomas and Vincent Jackson, other NFL players who have passed away recently at a young age.

“They can’t tell us what’s happening. We all know!” Bryant said, later stating that he had “another meeting” with the NFL Players Association set for Thursday.

Safety Keith Davis was Barber’s teammate in Dallas for three seasons and had remained close with the Minnesota native. The pair spoke weekly; their last conversation was on Friday. Davis says he sent Barber a Bible verse on Wednesday, as was his tradition.

“It’s crazy,” Davis said. “It makes me feel like, ‘Did I do enough? Could I have done something else?’ I know whatever happened to him, it wasn’t him.”

Davis, like Bryant, alluded to the terrible mental toll the sport has exacted on so many football players, sometimes long after their careers. Hall of Fame offensive lineman and Cowboys legend Rayfield Wright just passed away in April at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with dementia and was vocal about memory issues, cognitive problems, headaches, and seizures.

Barber had been out of football for only 10 years.

But Davis’s comments hint at a belief that the tragic consequences that hastened the end of Barber’s life were likely the result of countless violent hits his friend sustained on the field.

“We all play this game. I have these crazy thoughts,” Davis said. “But I have people around me. I can’t remember certain stuff. It gets scary sometimes. But that hurt. That hurt. He has a great heart. He loved his music. Whatever happened to him, it was not MB.”

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Cowboys community, football world reacts to passing of Marion Barber

Those who coached, played with and against, covered, or just got to watch the former Cowboys RB took to social media following his passing. | From @ToddBrock24f7

News of Marion Barber’s passing at the age of 38 was a blow felt by the entire football community.

Many of those who coached him, played with him, played against him, covered him in the media, or simply watched him run the ball in his one-of-a-kind style took to social media Wednesday night and early Thursday to voice their grief and pay tribute to the unique talent of “Marion the Barbarian.”

 

Former Cowboys RB Marion Barber found dead in his apartment

Marion “The Barbarian” Barber was found dead Wednesday at his apartment. Barber was 38 and played in Dallas for six seasons. | From @CDBurnett7

Former Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber was found dead Wednesday at the age of 38. Frisco police found the former star in his apartment. The cause of death is unknown and the officers are unable to provide any other information at this time.

Coming out of the University of Minnesota, Barber was selected by Dallas in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft. After a rookie season with over 500 rushing yards, the man donned “The Barbarian” led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2006 with 14.

Over the next four years, Barber remained a key running back for the Cowboys and made one of the most memorable plays in team history, escaping a sure safety 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage to actually end up gaining yardage.

Barber had a one-year stint in Chicago for the 2011 season before retiring, and he finished his career with 6,110 scrimmage yards and 59 touchdowns. Barber was 38.

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Larry Lacewell, scouting director during Cowboys dynasty, passes away

Lacewell was the Cowboys’ director of college and pro scouting, but was an icon in his own right in the college coaching ranks. He was 85. | From @ToddBrock24f7

A key figure in the Cowboys’ dynasty days of the mid-1990s has passed away. The death of Larry Lacewell, the team’s longtime director of college and pro scouting, was announced Wednesday.

It’s impossible to tell the full story of the Cowboys without including Lacewell, as he was inextricably tied to three of the biggest names in team history and present for multiple moments that defined the franchise.

When Lacewell joined the Cowboys in 1992 as the director of college scouting, he was already something of an icon in the collegiate coaching ranks. He started as a graduate assistant at Alabama under Paul “Bear” Bryant. Over the next thirty years, he rose through the ranks with stops at Wichita State, Iowa State, and Oklahoma, where he worked on the same coaching staff as Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.

The Sooners won two national titles during Lacewell’s tenure as assistant head coach. Years later, Lacewell would convince Johnson to take the job as head football coach at the University of Miami.

After serving as the head coach at Arkansas State for 11 successful seasons, Lacewell went on to spend another two at Tennessee as defensive coordinator.

An Arkansas native, Lacewell was also friends with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones when he was hired in 1992. The team won Super Bowl XXVII that same season and then repeated as champs the following year.

A few weeks later, Lacewell was standing next to Jones when the tipsy owner gave the ill-fated toast that triggered the end of Johnson’s time as Cowboys coach.

He was also the one who gave his old friend Johnson a heads-up the next morning that the axe was about to fall.

Lacewell had pro scouting duties added to his job description in 1994 as he was reunited with Switzer, now the Cowboys’ new coach. It could have been a disaster; as told in Joe Nick Patoski’s book The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America, Lacewell had resigned from his post in Norman back in 1978 when he discovered that Switzer- a friend of over 20 years- was having an affair with his wife. (Johnson, coincidentally, had been the best man at Lacewell’s wedding.)

Lacewell and Switzer insisted it was ancient history, though, and that their football bond took precedence. It was Lacewell’s personal recommendation to Jones, in fact, that helped seal Switzer’s hiring in Dallas.

The Cowboys returned to the Super Bowl in January of 1995 and brought home the Lombardi Trophy, but the team had already begun a descent from its juggernaut status. Lacewell remained with the franchise until early 2005, when he stepped down during the Bill Parcells era and moved into a talent consultant role for the team.

But his place in football history is secure- both in Dallas as one of the architects of the Cowboys dynasty and in Jonesboro as the winningest coach in Arkansas State history. He will be remembered as a legend who crossed paths with some of the all-time greats of the sport at both levels. In Tuscaloosa, for example, the road leading to the stadium named for Bear Bryant… is Larry Lacewell Lane.

Larry Lacewell was 85.

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Former Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick to relaunch football program at LA high school

Scandrick played 9 seasons in Dallas; now he’ll return home to his native L.A. to relaunch a program that’s gone through troubled times. | From @ToddBrock24f7

A former Cowboys cornerback will be back on the gridiron this fall, though he’ll have a decidedly different view: from the sidelines.

Orlando Scandrick, who played in Dallas for nine seasons, has been named the new head football coach at Playa del Ray’s St. Bernard High School in Los Angeles. Scandrick is a native of Torrance, California, about 15 miles away.

Scandrick inherits a program that hasn’t played a game since an abbreviated schedule in spring of 2021 and has seen uncertain times ever since.

Former coach Manuel Douglas resigned with one game to go in that shortened 2021 season. Douglas, who had been the focus of an investigation at his previous school, gave notice to St. Bernard the morning of the season finale, citing “personal reasons.”

The school later reported that it was “cooperating fully in an investigation by federal law enforcement concerning a former employee and volunteer” of the football program.

A large number of players quit the team following Douglas’s departure. The school’s principal and president also resigned over the summer.

Ex-NFL running back Steve Broussard was hired in May as the team’s new head coach, but the school ended up cancelling the Vikings’ fall season because it couldn’t field enough players.

Now St. Bernard turns to Scandrick. The Boise State alum was a fifth-round draft pick by the Cowboys in 2008. Over 125 game appearances with Dallas, he was in on 406 tackles and recorded 11.5 sacks. He also notched eight interceptions (with one returned for a touchdown) and forced seven fumbles.

Following the 2017 season, Scandrick was released upon the arrival in Dallas of defensive backs coach Kris Richard. He went on play one season with the Chiefs and part of another with the Eagles. He was released by Philadelphia in October 2019.

Now he’ll spearhead the effort to restart the Vikings varsity program; he met with parents and players in late April with hopes to recruit more St. Bernard’s students for the fall season.

“It’s a very unique challenge and very intriguing opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” the 35-year-old Scandrick told the Los Angeles Times. “We can start to rebuild a program from the ground up.”

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