It's time to say goodbye to Jason Garrett. It's not going to happen, but I think it needs to.
It's not that I don't think that Garrett will eventually become a winner. I both think it's possible and probable. I just don't think the Dallas Cowboys can wait for that to occur. I get it, the defensive line was ravaged by injuries to their top five players; only Hatcher and Ware made it to Week 17 and both were severely banged up along the way. They lost their defensive leader for the season in Sean Lee. Tony Romo's back might have been the reason the offense was dink and dunk for much of the season. I get all that, I really, really do. But sometimes, you have to know when you're snakebit and be ready to change course.
There is a myth floating around out there about "coaching continuity" and "putting a system in place" that is one of the most overblown cliches in all of sports. Normally I wait until we get deep into an article to break out the charts, but this one needs to set the tone for the article.
Take a look at this year's NFL playoff teams, the coaches that guide them and their tenures.
The mean, median and mode for year of making the first playoff appearance? 1. This isn't the old NFL. Change happens fast now. And it's not just them, look at coaches in the playoffs last several years that didn't return: Mike Smith, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin.
I live in the DC area, and heard all the talk about how the Redskins couldn't move forward with Shanahan entering the final year of his contract next year, as a lame duck coach. The circumstances are different, but guess what? 2014 is the final year of Garrett's contract.
Please, don't confuse me with those that have always been calling for Garrett's head since the moment he took over the job. I thought that he deserved to get a fair share and I believe that has happened. He's 29-27 over 56 games, has failed to make the playoffs and has lost three consecutive win-and-your-in games. You don't pin those games on one individual player, but you certainly can pin them on the head coach.
Yesterday, we witnessed Garrett make several egregious errors in game management. This isn't a newly-minted theme here. Play-calling duty was taken from him and given to Bill Callahan so that Garrett could focus on keeping these sorts of things from happening again. He seemingly took it back, yet they are still here.
Dallas was within one score for the entire second half. They ran the ball 18 times and passed it 46. With their star quarterback at home resting after back surgery. But that's just the big picture issue about philosophy that has been covered over and over already.
With Dallas driving near the end of the first half, Jason Witten caught a third down sideline pass with less than 30 seconds to go, well short of the first down. He was ruled in bounds and the referee ordered the clock to keep running. Dallas called a timeout with 23 seconds left. There is no earthly benefit to not waiting until the clock was down to 4 seconds before calling the timeout. It forced Dallas to kickoff to Philly and the Eagles had time remaining. They ended up kneeling down after a touchback, but what if? What if the kick is bad, goes out of bounds and Philly has the ball at their 40 with 3 timeouts and 23 seconds left? Unnecessary risk, albeit no damage incurred.
Later in the game, Dallas is trailing 17-16 with about three minutes left in the third quarter. Philadelphia is driving and is inside Dallas' 10 when they get to 4th and goal from the one. Right before Philly is whistled for a false start, the Cowboys called a timeout. There was no rushing to the line for Philly, they were in their stances for a few seconds before the decision was made to call a timeout. That might not have been on Garrett, but the head coach must accept that responsibility. Fortunately for Dallas, they were able to make a goal line stand and the result was effectively better than the 5-yard penalty and 3 points allowed on a field goal. Results worked out, process was still bad.
At the start of the 4th quarter on the subsequent drive, Dallas has made it to the Philadelphia 40 yard line. Risk-averse Garrett (which I don't consider a bad thing in and of itself) finally decides to go for a fourth down on 4th and 1. The play call? A flare out pass to DeMarco Murray that is batted down by Connor Barwin. The problem here? Being too cute. Tyron Smith just made his Pro Bowl, Travis Frederick led all centers in run blocking grade via PFF. The Cowboys weren't dominating the Eagles in the run game last night, only netting 3.0 yards per carry. So what? Run the ball.
Later, down 8, Dallas has the ball with under 6 minutes remaining. They had just completed back-to-back huge plays, a crossing catch and run by Dez Bryant for 13, then a beautiful pass over the top to Jason Witten on a skinny post for 34 yards. Dallas approached the line as usual, and before you knew it, they were being whistled for delay of game.
Everyone watching knew something was incorrect. Even NBCs announcers and producers had cued up a replay that included the play clock and we all watched the play clock jump from 40 to 25 seconds after Witten was ruled down. Yet, there was Jason Garrett, staring at the field looking like (SPOILER ALERT) Brodie from the final episode of this season's Homeland getting ready to be publicly hanged in Iran. This was an unforgivable error by the referees, but in my eyes, it was worse that no one on the Cowboys coaching staff even raised a fuss over it. They just put you in first and long at a crucial point in the game, and from my vantage point, no one even said a word to the referees that the clock was wrong. Seriously, no Cowboys coach realized it when everyone watching on TV knew it happened?
Jerry's quotes acknowledging Garrett making mistakes on the job and how he wants Dallas to be the team that reaps the rewards is about as misguided as they come. Jones wants Garrett to be his Tom Landry, but can there be a Tom Landry in today's NFL? The attention span of the players is too short, in my opinion. What coach is going to be in place for more than a 10-year-run?
For a shining example, look no further than the team that Dallas lost to last night. Last year's Eagles were in disarray, after years of being competitive, the team fell to 4-12 under Andy Reid. It was time for him to go. It wasn't that Reid was a bad coach, or the Eagles a flat-out bad team. The combination had gotten stale. Move Reid to KC and bring in a new coach, both squads win 10 games and make the playoffs.
Is this team close to a being an perennial Super Bowl contender like Denver, New England, San Francisco? No. Fans of the franchise, for the last two years have been screaming, well just get into the playoffs and anything can happen. That's the refrain of a good team that's having a down year. It shouldn't be embroidered on t-shirts and shot into the crowd; no matter how much people like a free $5 t-shirt at sporting events.
Garrett is already four years into his tenure and hasn't won. Is Jones even cognizant of the fact that sooner or later, no matter how much faith you have in someone eventually you stop believing if they never reward that faith?
There are many an argument to be made in favor of keeping him. I know, because I've been making them myself for the last two years.
Look, I know they played hard and fought for Garrett, that doesn't mean much except he's not totally inept. Can this team really buy into what he's selling come training camp, or do we run the risk of them pulling a Wade Phillips 2010 and this team sputtering out the gate? That's a huge concern of mine now.
I love the RKG mantra. I hope that whomever would replace Garrett would be required by the GM (don't go there) to maintain that personal accountability. I love the direction that Garrett has given to the scouting department, and the hauls from the recent drafts that coincide with that. However, at the end of the day, the most important skill set of a head coach is leading your team to victory on gameday. If your coach has proven that he is only able to achieve average results, then it's time to consider trying for an upgrade.
I get that Garrett had to rebuild on the fly without the benefit of high draft choices, but in reality- they had two of them. They picked 9th in his first year as head coach. They moved up to 6th in his third year. There have been high priority draft picks on his watch.
I know, the injuries. They've been maddening over the past several years and something can be said for that. Won't argue there. But look around. The guys we are complaining about missing the most, aren't going to be here next year. Along the D-Line: Spencer, Hatcher, Ratliff, possibly Ware.
The Cowboys solved their biggest problem, the offensive line, and still ended up 8-8. In a down year for the division as they've watched every other team in the division be down then vault right past them for a division crown. All during JG's tenure.
I know it won't happen. All the tea leaves are blowing in the opposite direction. However, the time has come for Dallas to move on from Jason Garrett. It just might not happen until his contract is up after 2014. For Cowboys fans though, it may be another mediocre season between now and then.