Bill Callahan "Officially" Calling Plays In Dallas

Joe Robbins

The owner and GM of the Cowboys has all but officially designated Bill Callahan as the man who will call the plays.

Despite a long campaign to reduce the issue of who is calling the offensive plays for the Dallas Cowboys to a mere technicality, the story flared up at the third media-access OTA for the Dallas Cowboys. Reporters again started bombarding Jerry Jones with the question, and after initially trying to put it off, he gave a response that pretty much gave things away, admitting that offensive coordinator Bill Callahan was going to have the duty.

"If you've been looking at practice you can get a pretty good idea of how it's going there," Jones said. "You can see Bill very involved in what we're doing."

The move to assign Callahan those duties, Jones said, "was decided weeks ago."

Shortly thereafter, the reporters converged on Callahan, who sort-of admitted to this being true.

"I'm flattered and as I said this a long time ago when we were visiting in January and February, everybody has a stake in this," Callahan said.

"It's a compliment to our staff and it tells you the way our guys work on the offensive side of the ball. It's been productive all the way around. I'm really encouraged, I'm honored and just do the best job for our fans and our team."

Head coach Jason Garrett later did not confirm things, but he didn't deny it, either, basically saying things much like he has always said.

"I'm completely on board with all decisions we make," Garrett said. "We make collective decisions in this organization. We always have and we always will."

Garrett said he doesn't see the need to answer the question at this point in the off season for competitive reasons.

"There is no real advantage for us to reveal who's calling the plays explicitly and how we're going to do it in early June," Garrett said. "It's just the way I feel about it. We have a plan in place. We've had a plan in place for a long, long time. I don't want to get into that plan much further than I already have."

And, of course, the media at large started putting the old emasculation spin on things.

Jones has stripped Garrett of the power to call his own plays, having handed the responsibility to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Jones is said to have made the decision weeks ago.

The story that would not go away . . . still has not gone away, as there will be a plethora of articles debating how Garrett has no power, who made this decision, and how much conflict there is at a dysfunctional Valley Ranch (the word "circus" seemed a popular term today).

However, this is to a great extent just a part of the reality of the Dallas Cowboys, one of the most scrutinized and debated sports franchise in America (and probably the top one if you don't count teams with "New York" in their name). It is largely manufactured angst, and really only indicates one significant thing about the Cowboys.

First off, this has been developing for a long time, and the recent OTAs have, as Jones indicated, pretty much tipped things off. Several of the writers present, notably Bryan Broaddus and Mike Fisher, mentioned that Callahan was clearly calling the plays on the field, with Garrett watching in a supervisory role. If you were just looking at the situation and not trying to find some big, dramatic soap opera in the organization, you would have found confirmation of the move almost completely unsurprising. It is a reasonable step to address a perceived problem with the playcalling the past couple of years. It uses a known resource who both the GM and head coach are familiar with. It does indicate that the GM stepped in here and said he wanted a different approach, which is his prerogative as GM and owner. It does not mean that Jason Garrett was stripped of power, because he always was answerable to Jones, and there are many other indications that he has more influence over the team than any head coach since Jimmy Johnson, and I do include Bill Parcells in that statement.

Garrett is building the Cowboys in the image he has of what a football team should be. He will still have a great deal to say about how the offense is run. Remember, calling the plays is essentially selecting them from a prepared menu of options that are installed in the week prior to the game, and Garrett is going to be right in the middle of putting that list together. This year, Callahan, and apparently Tony Romo, are going to have more input in that, but I am sure that Garrett is not going to see an offense he disagrees with. He may have to be convinced about some things, but if you look at how he has run things to this point, you can be sure that he is going to be firmly on the same page with his OC and QB at kickoff. And he is probably going to get a page like he wants. This is just one piece in making the offense more effective. The draft choices and other signings, how the offensive line comes together, the new emphasis on the tight ends, and the health of the team will all be major parts of that puzzle, and the new defensive scheme will be just as important, if not more so, in the eventual success or failure on the field.

But a perceived conflict between the owner and the head coach is both much simpler to focus on and a lot more dramatic. And when one half of that equation is Jerry Jones, you are going to have more material to work with than Chris Christie's tailor.

There is one huge difference between Jones and Garrett, and that is their approach to information and the media. Jason Garrett pretty much sees the media as a hostile force, and every scrap of information about the team and how it conducts its business as a potential secret that someone can utilize to gain an advantage over his team. Jones sees information as something he can use to seize the spotlight, and the media as his conduit for getting the word according to Jerruh out to the world. And I do suspect that he has a carefully crafted persona, that I label Jerruh as a bit of shorthand, that is not exactly the real Jerry Jones, but a larger than life, swashbuckling owner that he thoroughly enjoys playing before the microphones. That persona is still a side of a very shrewd and successful businessman, and he is working at being a winning GM, but it is a public image he presents to the world. And I think he does enjoy it.

This is not something that is ever likely to be resolved between Jones and Garrett. It is just a fundamental part of their personalities and approaches to their jobs that is very different. And in a certain sense, it is a function of what they do, as well. Jones has a product to sell, while Garrett is the one who produces the product. They are not always totally compatible tasks. The same thing can be seen in the differing reactions to a certain recent post on the internet about the 2013 Cowboys draft board. In responding to the issue, Jones basically said he sees no problem with it getting out, while Garrett just ducks the question.

While much of the coverage seems to be looking for signs that Garrett is going to be fired, this issue is not one that is going to cause that. Garrett is able to handle these things and keep focused on his job, and I seriously doubt he is looking to go somewhere else. The team is just now getting to be the way he wants it. And Jones seems to have a deep appreciation for what Garrett brings to the organization, perhaps even for how he provides a little balance to his own extroverted style.

And in the long run, the only thing that matters is how the team does in the win-loss department. If Romo can stay upright, if the targets are there and catching the ball, and if the running game is effective, it does not matter too much which play gets called when, for the most part. There is never one correct answer in the constant battle between offense and defense on the football field. If the Cowboys are successful this year, getting back to the playoffs and seeing some success there, then this will all be largely moot, although I am sure some writers will still harp on the issue. Many people see this as some power struggle between JJ and JG, such as the article that declares that Garrett is now a Muppet. This is despite the fact that this whole mess started today when Jones basically said "Look at what is going on right in front of you."

The only real problem that can come up, as the Muppet piece said, is this.

How his power is perceived among the media, or fans, or observers does not matter. What matters is how Garrett's power is perceived among his players and his assistant coaches.

Well, I might be making a bad call here, but I think the assistants and players are smart enough to realize that this is just what it is, the owner having a different timetable for releasing information than the head coach (where the owner's = whenever you got time to listen, and the head coach's = when the sale of ice skates is booming in hell). I think they believe in Garrett and what the team is doing. I think they will remain loyal. And in the long run, I think this will all work out.

And I am not alone. By far the most well reasoned, thoughtful, and informed article about this (translation: The one I most agree with) is the one Dan Graziano wrote at his NFC East blog, about how the GM may have actually done his head coach a favor. Let me quote his quite well-stated conclusion.

It's clear, if you've been around the Cowboys in the past couple of years, that Garrett has more input into roster decisions than his recent and immediate predecessors had. Jones listens to him, and Garrett has a significant say in the vision for and direction of the franchise. This is the reason he's likely not in as much immediate danger of losing his job as many seem to think he is. Jones has always thought more highly of Garrett than the conventional wisdom has, and he's likely to stick with him longer than conventional wisdom might suggest he would or should.

And while giving up play-calling duties may not be something Garrett sought or wanted, it's got a chance to help him be a better coach. If it's a decision Jones imposed on him, then Jones is taking away an aspect of Garrett's job that makes him look bad and offering more time to focus on those that make him look good. Garrett may not like it, and it may look from the outside like Jones undermining his coach. Heck, it may be Jones undermining his coach. But if the Cowboys hold together as a team again the way they did last year, and if they win one or two more games and make the playoffs, it may turn out to be a good thing for everyone involved -- Garrett most of all.

I think the Cowboys do hold together as a team. I think they are going to make the playoffs, and win at least one game. And I know that is the only way to partially mute this furor about who is in charge with the Cowboys. I have given up hope for silence about this, because Jerry will always be Jerry, and I do wish him a long and successful life as owner/GM. But if you are going to follow him, you have to learn how to filter things for him, since he is not to good at that himself. This is just another bit of noise, echoing down the glory hole.

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