“You are what you are.”
“Good football teams find ways to win, bad football teams find ways to lose.”
Old football axioms, but both fitting epitaphs for our 2010 Cowboys. I bleed blue and silver and it’s the wasted potential that makes this season so hard to stomach. Yes there are brave words from the coaches and players—after all, they are not going to cancel the season just because the Cowboys fell on their noses-repeatedly- coming out of the gate. But in their hearts—the organization knows this year is done. I am fully aware that everyone at Valley Ranch is even sicker about the season than me—after all—except for the Joneses-their jobs may well be on the line. The undeniable and almost inexplicable fact is the 2010 Cowboys simply aren’t a good football team. Talented –yes—but not as talented as we thought, and more importantly, a bad team. I think Kitna will do a fair job of filling in and the defense will step up—perhaps even a 7-9 record. But, that doesn’t cut it here. So who is to blame and what should be done about it?
I believe you have to start at the top. I contend that the Cowboys have the best owner in football. He spends to win like no other. The Cowboys have the highest payroll in the league. The owners have created enormous value for themselves in the process of building the Cowboy brand.
The problem in Dallas is the owner is the GM. By the only measure that counts, the Joneses have not been effective at the combined owner/GM role. I believe there is a fundamental disconnect between the role of the owner and general manager. The owners want to build brand, to build franchise value. That’s why the Jones moved the training camp around like a pack of gypsies. That’s why they are hyping Cowboys stadium for every event imaginable. There is nothing wrong with that from the owner’s perspective.
However, a general manager should focus on building the organization with sole focus on winning football games. While these roles are not mutually exclusive, they are not necessarily coincidental either. At the end of the day, nothing will build the brand like winning and nothing destroys the brand quite as much as being a laughing stock. If you seriously analyze the results of the Cowboys GM and what he has given the owner for the money spent—he should have been fired seasons ago-and should be the first one out the door now. Will it happen?—not a chance—Jerry is way too “attached” to that fellow.
Next in line is the coaching staff. I like Wade Phillips--I really do. He is a real football man—who probably forgot more about football last night sleeping than I know. But he understands all too well this business is not about knowledge, effort or intentions—it’s about results. By that measure , this coaching staff is done. The red haired genus either cannot engineer a score or convert a third down when either count. The defense either can’t get a turn-over-or when it does -cannot stop anyone. The special teams run kick-offs back, but allows other to score on their returns when it matters.
Here again the owner finds himself in a box. The NFL owners have opted out of the collective bargaining agreement with the players. So next year we will almost certainly see the owners lock out the players—basically another round of the billionaires versus the millionaires. The billionaire have stacked the cards in their favor and have already started the public relations campaign. The owners will eventually prevail with most of what they want—key word “eventually”. God save us from replacement player games. Even if we have football next fall, it will start long after training camp time. If you change coaches—when does the new staff get their chance to mold the team? The most likely answer is—they don’t—it will be a hasty two week training camp, then on to the TV revenues. So, the system you end the season with is the one you probably want to run next year.—continuity will be very important in a shortened 2011 season.
Finally, you come to the players. This is the group that most disappointed me. After all it was the Joneses as GMs who “bought the groceries”. I believe penalties lie at the feet of the players more so than the coaches. . They must be accountable to each other. Beyond that, he Cowboys CANNOT win when they can’t run the ball- the offensive line has been a problem in the running game for two years- running backs may not be what they are billed as either. Defensively, their three cornerback backfield isn’t working.
The player purge at the end of 2008 got rid of the vocal malcontents. You heard Wade Phillips talk about the high character of the present group of players. BUT, then you heard of player only meetings where the work ethic and practice effort of some players were questioned. Not all players, but rest assured, these players of questionable character were not no-name rookies. So, which is true? I suspect both are true-depending on your definition of character. I heard Michel Irvin talk about the transition to Jimmy Johnson—how in the last year with Landry -players told him not to worry about losing. It was these players he identified to Johnson and were sent packing. The same is needed now—these are not bad guys—just not the ones whose approach you can build a winner around. “Collect the check” is not an attitude you can tolerate. This roster as a group is finding ways to allow others to win—that’s a habit as much as is winning itself.
The long and short of it is, the Cowboys put themselves in their current situation the old fashioned way—they earned it! The entire organization is to blame—top to bottom. There will be no quick fixes. The Cowboys should begin preparing for the future—starting next week. In my view these are the key steps:
First, differentiate the owner and the general manager. Yeah, I know I have a better chance of being elected President than JJ giving this up. But, the status quo just isn’t working. I’ll offer this as a second rate compromise on a GM/ Owner—let Jerry Jones take one role and Stephen Jones take the other. This probably will not work—but it acknowledges the different roles of the two positions and can’t be worse than what we have been living with. Maybe they would hire some advisers for the GM role who were better talent evaluators(—we all have the right to dream).
Second, if you can, bite the bullet and change coaching staff NOW. You have the rest of this wasted year to implement new systems and methods before the lock-out. It allows the new guy to do his own talent evaluation—and in my idyllic world, the owner/GM will actually listen to him. Get ready for the shortened 2011 season with a new staff for the remainder of the 2010 season. “Who?” you may ask should be the head coach. Well, that is a huge problem mid year. Of the available candidates, I’d say Jerry should fly out to see Cower with a plane load of money—and even that might not be enough. Can you really get a staff of new assistants mid-year?-probably not the ones you want. BUT, if you don’t change staff during the season, then you are better off committing to Wade and the bulk of the current staff again for 2011. But, bring in coordinators who don’t reflect the head coaches laid back demeanor.
Third, start the change in the locker room. Bench the guys who accept the situation and play the guys who cannot accept it—even if they are less talented. The organization know the guys who are dying a little after each of these loses—listen to them. Cut the ones you won’t be able to trade and sequester the rest until you can deal them. Give your young guys the experience and the opportunity to step up for the future.
It’s going to be long, cold fall--regardless.