Is Jason Garrett In Danger Of Losing The Cowboys?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The future of Dallas' head coach may really have been reduced to an old sports cliche: It is not whether his team wins or loses, it's how they play the game.

With the 2013 season once again balanced on the knife edge of a .500 record, the speculation is rampant about what will happen to head coach Jason Garrett if the Dallas Cowboys do not win out the season and take the NFC East crown.

There are two schools of thought as to what owner Jerry Jones will do. As often happens, I find myself neither convinced Garrett is gone if the Cowboys fall short, nor certain that he gets at least another year no matter what. I think it depends on something else: Whether or not he loses the team in the last two game. If it appears that the team is quitting on him during the last couple of games, then I think Jones will make the decision he has to let him go. It was, I have always believed, the thing that tilted the scales against Wade Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season. But if it looks like the team is still playing for Garrett, even if the team does not manage to win both of the last games, then I think he will be back as the head coach. He may have a greatly rebuilt staff to work with, but I think it is his leadership and the culture he is trying to build for the Cowboys that are the real things Jones values.

The Cowboys have been losing games in very strange fashion this season. They have blown big leads repeatedly. The team has led at one point in every game. A couple of times they have been held down and kicked for good portions of the games, while in others valiant efforts have come up short. Players are injured, the coaches are making some strange and highly questionable calls, and stars are not living up to their contracts. While those are not good things, they draw the focus to this year. Jones may be taking a longer view. Garrett seems to be. Whatever you may think about the coach personally, he clearly has been able to impart his view on many things to his players, and I think this quote from Tony Romo is telling.

This was after the epic loss to the Green Bay Packers. The key here is not the hope that the Cowboys can pull it out this year. It is the idea about getting better and better.

For good or bad, I think Garrett is a long-term thinker. He is more interested in making steady, sustainable improvements to the team than putting together a team that can win now but that cannot be kept together past one or two seasons. I think he may have Jones sold on the idea as well, and as I indicated, I think he has convinced many if not all of his players.

And the Cowboys are making some progress, if you look. The biggest exhibit here is the offensive line, which has been a liability for several years. Things are finally stabilized with players like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Ronald Leary.

Even the much maligned Mackenzy Bernadeau has stepped in and done well after Brian Waters was injured. Only Doug Free has shown recent signs of regression, and he still is doing better than he was last year.

This took time and resources. Two first-round draft picks over the past three years and a lot of money spend in free agency (not all of it successfully) have gone into building a line that is now a legitimate strength for the team. The offensive skill positions look to be in pretty good shape right now.

Now the team needs to put a defense together. In hindsight, the staff made a major error in evaluating what they had in the offseason, although things like the injuries and flat-out betrayal by one player that have been discussed here ad nauseaum were not necessarily things that could be foreseen. But now the needs should be blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer, and the Cowboys should have a handful of compensatory picks to help with finding some players who can help on that side of the line.

Which is why I am not sure just how much change there will be for the staff, as long as the team keeps playing hard. Everyone always expect a new coach to come in and improve things, but the simple truth is that it is not always guaranteed. Sometimes, the new guy just has new ways to screw things up. I do expect some kind of change to happen with the offensive side, unless Bill Callahan just tears it up the next couple of games. But I am not sure that Jerry Jones won't decide to keep Monte Kiffin (if he wants to go another year). The dismissal of Rob Ryan might not have accomplished as much as we expected it to, and there is always the possibility that turning Kiffin out might just set the team back further.

It all comes back to how the team conducts itself the last two games. If the players keep going hard, and are not giving up, then I think that may salvage Garrett's job at a minimum. Even if the last game winds up being for nothing (which would entail a Cowboys loss to the Washington Redskins and a win by the Philadelphia Eagles, which, as last Sunday proved, is not at all certain), Jones might decide to keep Garrett if the team is going out there and playing hard in week 17. As a matter of fact, that might be a plus in Jones' mind. If you can keep the team's pride intact under those circumstances, you are probably doing something right.

Of course, there is a very real chance that the team will quit out there. It is a big risk, I think, because of the way things happened last week. It is hard to keep playing when a crushing loss like that can largely be attributed to the decisions of the coaching staff. The team played very hard. Defensively, they had one very good half. But they faced more injuries, this time to the linebackers, and could not keep up with the Packers after they made halftime adjustments. And we all know what happened with the disappearance of the running game and a couple of ill-advised passes.

If the team loses faith in the staff and starts to fold on the field, then the ax will very likely fall on Garrett, and probably a large chunk of his staff as well. If you are trying to figure out the future of the coaching staff for Dallas, don't watch the scoreboard. Watch the play on the field. It is the best predictor of what will eventually happen.

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