"Uncomfortable" was the word Dallas Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones used to describe how things were going to be at Valley Ranch, and it certainly was that way on Monday when Jason Garrett notified running backs coach Skip Peete that he was no longer needed by the team.
According to a source, Peete was surprised by the move, given the injuries to running backs DeMarco Murray the past two seasons that limited his effectiveness, and the struggles on the offensive line to open holes for the running game.
The Cowboys set a team record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season in 2012 with just 1,265.
The lines quoted there sum up the arguments pro and con for the move. Peete certainly felt some of the pain the season long struggle with injuries inflicted not only on his two top running backs, Murray and Felix Jones, but on the preseason preparation for the notoriously underperforming offensive line as well. However, once Murray was hurt, there was absolutely nothing in the way of production on the ground, and even when he returned, the anemic production of the running game was a part of the struggles the team dealt with down the stretch. If the team is going to hold coaches accountable for lack of success, there is certainly an argument to be made here.
Another way to look at things is that it is widely believed that Felix Jones is not going to be with the team next year, and Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner did not show that they are going to be able to fend off any challengers the Cowboys pick up from the draft or the UDFA ranks. The success of the Washington Redskins' sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, who Dallas fans got to watch until they were sick of him, shows that you don't have to spend a high draft choice to get a good running back. This could mean a turnover of all but the top spot. It even could be described as likely, which just adds support to the move.
Cowboys may have an entirely new set of backs behind Murray next year. Fresh start with a new coach would make sense.— Carlos A. Mendez (@calexmendez) January 8, 2013
Additionally, Peete was one of the assistants Garrett inherited from the Wade Phillips staff. He joined the team in 2007, and had arguably his most success that first campaign, with Julius Jones and Marion Barber combining for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. But a look a the succeeding years shows a downward trend. While not all can be laid at the coaches' feet, he did not really develop anyone outside Murray as a real threat, and health issues have limited Murray's impact.
There are now only four remaining coaches from the Phillips era, not counting Jason Garrett himself: Jason's brother John (tight ends), Wade Wilson (quarterbacks), Wes Phillips (assistant OL coach) and Joe DeCamillis (special teams), who has had one interview with Chicago during their search for a replacement for Lovie Smith.
There are arguments to be made for replacing all of them. John Garrett was totally unable to do much of anything with Martellus Bennett, who then went on to have a decent (although not dazzling) year with the New York Giants. John Phillips seems to have taken a step backwards, but James Hanna did make a move late. However, the "other" Garrett largely has ridden the broad and supremely talented shoulders of Jason Witten. While it would make for some very awkward moments when the Garrett clan gets together (and I really, really wish I could pass on what rabblerousr wrote about that, but Dave would frown heavily and definitely send me to my room), it would also be the ultimate message that Jason is in charge and not accepting excuses.
Wilson could take a lot of responsibility for the failed Stephen McGee experiment. I personally have always wondered why Tony Romo has not seemed as able as some of his peers to hit those quick openers, and this may be somewhere else Wilson should be held accountable.
Wes Phillips may be more vulnerable just because the team needs to shake things up a bit with the O line, and I really do not see Bill Callahan getting canned after just one year. I have always been a bit surprised to see Wade's son still with the team, anyway. It may just be time for him to go to Houston. I'm sure his dad can find a place for him since there always seems to be job for Cowboys castoffs down there.
DeCamillis may get a job somewhere else. He apparently is well-regarded, but outside of some talented kickers the past couple of years, the performance of the special teams has been spotty. Some very good kick coverage, but also some blocked punts and a few inopportune big returns by the opponents. The return game has not shown much at all until Dwayne Harris started injecting some life into it. I don't think he has done a bad job, but I also would not be at all upset if he moved on, either by choice or by pink slip.
This may be the time for JG to finally get a staff that is truly his own in place. It bears noting that Rob Ryan has completely changed out his defensive assistants since coming in. While the defense was not very effective, it was also a shell of itself by the end of the season. Ryan and his staff do get some credit for doing as much as they could with the material they had left. Up until the carnage of the final game when Romo and just about all the receivers were hurt, the offense was much healthier throughout the season, but still was only able to produce when Romo and Dez Bryant both got hot in the second half of the year. This is both a chance to shake things up on the offensive side of the house and for JG to finish creating his own coaching team. (Something that he probably should have been allowed to do from the start, but I think he may have been a little constrained by the conditions of his getting the job full time.)
My best guess is that some of the above mentioned staff will move on. a possible exception in my mind is DeCamillis. I am not completely sure just how much weight the injury he suffered in the practice facility collapse carries, but I do see him as the one person for whom Jerry Jones might still meddle to keep him on board. I really don't know if firing coaches is an effective way to solve problems. You have to give them talent to work with, after all. But a little housecleaning can be important in other ways. The Cowboys need to be using big brooms, not small ones.