The Dallas View: Jason Garrett, The Only Man for the Cowboys Job, for Better or Worse
Jason Garrett was named the Cowboys’ head coach today – to the surprise of exactly no one. Jerry Jones changed his tune to being strongly pro-Garrett after the Cowboys season ended, going from refusing to comment on Garrett to accidentally referring to him as the new hire multiple times while still trying to give lip service to the NFL’s Rooney Rule requiring interviewing minority head coaches.
The only surprise in Garret’s hire, really, is that Jerry kept up the charade as long as he did.
Cowboys fans had high hopes upon Wade “I just want to be loved” Phillips’ firing that the team might bring a high profile, kick-ass-and-take-names coach. Specifically, Christmas dreams featured former Steelers drill sergeant Bill Cowher dancing alongside the sugarplum fairies.
Those dreams were just that, though. Did anyone seriously think Jerry would bring in another outside, imposing presence, after clashing egos with Jimmy Johnson and the failure of the Bill Parcells era?
Of course, I don’t see the Parcells era as a failure at all – but Jerry does. The Cowboys significantly upgraded their core of talent and put the Cowboys in position to be handed over to Wade for 13-win seasons that Wade is proud to point at. But Jerry expected playoff success in a shorter time,– and thus categorizes those years as failures. He gave up some of his voice, only to not win playoff games? What’s the point of that?
The Parcells years cemented in Jerry’s mind that he doesn’t need a high-profile, external coach that is able to walk in and make high salary and strong responsibility demands. And if we think Garrett is going to be given that kind of power, we’re fooling ourselves. Jerry has already been quoting talking about how he will be making the assistant coaching hires, with “input” from Garrett.
Thus, there was no chance Bill Cowher was coming here. It just wouldn’t work. I wish it would, but reality says otherwise. Jerry wants to win a Superbowl for the Jerry Cowboys. Not the Dallas Cowboys. Not America’s Team. Jerry’s team.
So, given the reality we live in, Jason Garrett isn’t just the best man for the job. He’s really the only man for the job.
This team’s leaders – Bradie James, Jason Witten, Keith Brooking, Tony Romo – have all come out in support of Garrett. He seems to have the team’s respect. He enjoyed moderate success with a 5-3 interim coach record, despite injuries and aging talent on both offense and defense. Most importantly, he returned discipline to the locker room – treating the guys like a football team rather than members of a fitness club. He sounds smart and says the right things at press conferences, and he has convinced me that the team believes in him.
Those factors make him the best candidate for the job, given that Bill Cowher, John Gruden, and the like were never actually candidates. They were just pipe dreams. Jerry could have looked at other up-and-coming coaches, such as Terry Bowles (who he did interview, technically), but Jason Garrett is already under contract for next year as the highest-paid assistant coach in the league. That, combined with his strong showing as interim coach, cemented this deal.
And Garrett is a very strong candidate – he made strides in a difficult situation on a team that was taking a nosedive under Phillips.
That having been said, I have three main concerns for the Cowboys moving forward. First, I’m not satisfied with the answers for why the offensive play-calling seemed so much better while he was head coach and coordinator rather than just coordinator. He says it’s because of tougher practices, which I’d like to believe. It still smells a little fishy, though. Was the improvement on offense a factor of better playcalling, or just different play-calling that took the league by temporary surprise? Jason’s play-calling has been strongly criticized earlier this season – it was just not talked about as much because Wade’s head coaching disasters made Jason’s play-calling look brilliant by comparison.
Secondly, Garrett was once a hot head coaching commodity in the league. Football minds much sharper than mine, however, have watched him the past couple of years and have pulled back off of that declaration. You didn’t hear his name attached to every head coaching opening like you once did. This isn’t because they don’t like redheads.
The third, and biggest, concern is that of talent evaluation. I don’t think we have enough data on Garrett’s talent-evaluation skills, but we do have enough on Jerry’s. And unless Jason is a talent-evaluating savant that’s able to steer Jerry his way, this team is trouble.
Once the strong Parcells voice left, the Cowboys returned to being the team they were under Gailey and Campo – a team who every year seemed to erode talent rather than develop it. The recent Jerry-lead drafts have been failures. They’ve found good talent in the first round in Dez Bryant and Mike Jenkins (assuming the former can bounce back from injury and the latter can bounce back from a miserable 2010 season), but it’s easy to hit on first rounders. It’s the later rounds that are the real challenges.
Jerry loves to trade down and pick up extra draft picks, and then spend them on players who are usually cut in training camp. There’s a reason this team played an aging, ineffective offensive line that got Tony Romo punished weekly – it didn’t have a choice. There have been too many draft failures to keep the talent pool churning rather than stagnating.
And then there’s the trades. Would you have rather started this season with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Patrick Crayton at wide receiver, while having two other first rounders (perhaps a safety and offensive lineman?) on the field? Or would you rather have had the lineup Jerry preferred – Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Dez Bryant?
This offensive line has needed serious rebuilding for longer than just this year. The offensive line got the Cowboys beat in the playoffs back in the 2008 playoffs. The Cowboys came close to beating the New York Giants in the 2nd round that year, but Tony Romo spent the afternoon running for his life. The Giants, of course, ended up winning the Superbowl that year.
General Manager Jerry ignored the signs though, spending high draft picks on trades and selections of wide receivers.
If Jerry and Jason can’t upgrade the eroding talent at the non-skill positions – run stuffers on defense, blockers on offense – then it won’t matter who coaches this team. Maybe he’ll be a great head coach and motivator of men, convincing Mike Jenkins to want to make tackles. But the real problem isn’t Mike Jenkins’ tackling, it’s that so many running plays make it to the secondary with a full head of steam.
In other words, my third concern is less about Jason Garrett and more about whether or not Jason Garrett can wrangle in Jerry Jones. I don’t think Garrett will be a yes-man to Jones. But how much input he can actually wrestle away is another question.
Thus, Given Jerry’s criteria for hiring a head coach, Garrett fills the bill nicely. Really, he’s the best we could have realistically hoped for. Now to see if it works.
Andrew Kaufmann is a life-long Cowboys fan who has worked in the front office of one of Dallas’ major league sports franchises