Jason Garrett has a Super Bowl ring...two, in fact. This often escapes the casual observer, but Jason Garrett knows what it takes to win the Super Bowl, experiencing the coaching, the work ethic and practice habits, the locker room mentality and the culture. As a player, he joined the Dallas Cowboys at the zenith of the 90's dynasty.
In 1989, a football loving, self-made millionaire - with a ten gallon hat full of ego and an energy empire reflected in his vibrant and grandiose personality - became the proud owner of the Dallas Cowboys franchise. In a decision now considered both his worst and best ever, Jerry Jones replaced a living legend of a head coach in Tom Landry for a friend and former college teammate - not to mention dynamo coach - Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy took charge of the team and made it his own, and though his first season resulted in a 1-15 record, by the fourth he transformed the team into the NFL Champions in a Super Bowl tale of dominance. A story far too great to be briefly described, but you can watch and learn about SB XXVII here.
This was the backdrop when Jason Garrett first became employed by the Cowboys organization. And nearly two decades later, now in his first year as head coach, fifth year as a coach in Dallas, and twelfth year of involvement with the franchise, Jason Garrett has the opportunity to experience a complete life-cycle of an NFL franchise, or if you will, to complete the Super Bowl "ring." It would be poetic justice.
Consider the following...
In 1992, Jason Garrett was playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the CFL trying to earn another shot in the NFL. Jason was likely watching SB XXVII and saw his favorite team, for which his father was also a scout, win the Lombardi Trophy again for the first time in 15 years. A franchise revitalized and at the pinnacle of a new regime. As a fan, Jason must have been really excited (I know I was). Now, imagine his excitement when months later, in 1993, Jason Garrett had the incredible privilege, not only to make it back into the NFL, not only to sign with his favorite team, but to suddenly find himself in the locker room of a Super Bowl championship squad.
Jason Garrett grew up in a football family and has learned a tremendous amount about the game during his lifetime. But I imagine the 1993 season left a profound impression on Coach Garrett's football philosophy, especially after winning a Super Bowl ring. As a player, Jason Garrett was a member of the Cowboys for seven seasons on teams with a combined win-loss record of 70-42 and only one losing season. During that time, Garrett lived through two championship seasons, making it three in just four years for the franchise. He witnessed one SB win with the Hall of Fame (in my book) coach that built the team, and another with a replacement coach utilizing the talent that was collected, but never rebuilding the team to sustain the same level of talent. Eventually, the change (decay) in culture finally led to a losing season, and then another coaching change. By Garrett's final year with the Cowboys, 1999, the franchise was in steady decline and his departure was followed by three subsequent 5-11 seasons.
In 2007, Jason Garrett was an up-and-coming offensive coordinator and returned to the Dallas Cowboys, an assistant coach for a team built by Bill Parcells that in four years under a new head coach (Wade Phillips) won the division and made the playoffs twice, but also utterly imploded in the fourth...at least until Garrett was asked to bring the ship to port as interim coach.
And now, as the official head coach of the Cowboys with an NFL draft under his belt and an eventful offseason and free agency period to remember, Coach Garrett has the chance to complete the cycle. He now has the opportunity to build a team to take to - and win - the Super Bowl, the only part of the cycle he has not experienced with the Cowboys. In fact, it has been long time since the Cowboys last Super Bowl, but this twist of fate comes at a cost.
National media, even some local news and diehard fans, believe the Cowboys are in a "rebuilding mode." News of another big-contract veteran being released was apparently the boiling point, because suddenly the breaking news is that the Cowboys are starting three untested offensive linemen and haven't signed any big-name free agents to replace those released, so clearly the franchise is in the dreaded "rebuilding mode" and won't be competing to win the division. Hogwash!
That's right; it's the only appropriately Texas-sized rebuttal that comes to mind that doesn't require censorship. If you'd prefer, you can replace it with a card game named after the excrement of a different farm animal.
Yes, Jason Garrett is a first time head coach and is clearly building the team and culture to his liking, but do these moves put the Cowboys in the same class as the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, or other franchises in a "rebuilding mode"?
Jean-Jacques Taylor seems to think that fans should "Deal with it - Cowboys are rebuilding" and that the team is constructed to win six to eight games this season with no real chance at the playoffs, but I tend to think he's wrong.
Well, semantically he is right and he does highlight some good things happening on the Cowboys roster under the Garrett regime. The team is rebuilding...from a terrible 2010 season. New, talented acquisitions, both players and coaches, have been brought in to improve the team while some overly expensive (dead-weight) contracts have been jettisoned. The team that came into the season as one of the biggest spenders above the new salary cap now has plenty of breathing room and young talent competing for starting positions. The team has a new pace to practices, new methods of organizing meetings and workouts, new approaches to accountability and work ethic, the team is rebuilding its self-image and culture.
Yes, Coach Garrett is rebuilding the team, but this is certainly not the dreaded "rebuilding process."
Show me a rebuilding team that has players with the talent of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Jason Witten, Doug Free, Tyron Smith, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, and some recent Pro Bowl corners...and I'll show you a team that doesn't consider itself in "rebuilding mode" and is certainly expecting to compete for the playoffs.
When did correcting mistakes and having a young offensive line mean the team "as currently constructed, will win six to eight games"?
Any good coach will have a plan. A great coach will have a vision with plans to implement the necessary changes and instill the founding principles. After years of serving the Dallas Cowboys in whatever capacity the franchise - Jerry Jones - would offer, Jason Garrett now has the keys and the duty, likely life's dream, to serve in every function of the team and implement his vision. I think Jason Garrett will become a great head coach, and is well on his way, because he has drawn from years of experience with the Cowboys. From his time as backup quarterback on a Championship Dynasty Team to interim head coach of a talented but crumbling team. He has learned alongside some of the NFL's best players, coaches, and learned from front office managers and nationwide scouts, and taken a family occupation and his lessons learned along every stop of his life/career, and combined it all into a grand vision with accompanying blueprint to implement and instill the principles of his team design - the Jason Garrett Era Cowboys Way.
Perhaps the fates have provided Garrett the chance to complete the cycle and build the Cowboys team that wins a Super Bowl, the only phase of the franchise missing from his tenure, but I don't think that process begins with a six to eight win season. In fact, I think Coach Garrett gets the Cowboys a Super Bowl victory in a quicker time frame than Jimmy Johnson managed to do it.
You may not believe the Cowboys have the defense to win in the playoffs. You may not believe the young offensive line can provide adequate protection. But I believe in Coach Garrett. I understand he believes in the process and getting better every day, and I believe he has a better understanding of the young talent and how effective they will prove this season. What I don't believe is that he would leave the team in a condition to win only six or eight games and not compete for the playoffs...but that's just me.