Is Jason Garrett Finally In Command Of The Dallas Cowboys?

Brian Bahr

There has been a lot of talk since the end of the 2012 season about the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys getting emasculated by the owner or being on the hot seat. The reality may be very different, and Jason Garrett may just now find himself in position to put all the pieces together.

This week, KD Drummond was doing some research for an article and happened across the fact that this Saturday marks my second anniversary as a member of the finest collection of bloggers anywhere. No brag, just my sincere belief about my fellow writers here at Blogging The Boys. (Thanks again, Dave, for extending the invite, and OCC for first suggesting to me that it might be worth trying for).

My joining the FPW coincided with the first year for Jason Garrett as the official head coach. From the start, I believed that he brought a desperately needed approach to football and running a team to correct the confusion and loss of focus that pervaded the Wade Phillips era, especially the last couple of years.

With some, this has led to a perception of me as a Kool Aid guzzling homer. Well, there is some justification for that, but I also stand behind my take on the red-haired one. He has a vision of how to run a team and how he wants that team to perform that struck a chord in my military mind (20 years in the Air Force preceded by four years in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M kind of influences your thinking forever). The 8-8 mediocrity that the Cowboys have been mired in for the past two seasons has led others to disagree that Garrett is any kind of solution. But I have kept up the campaign to present what I see as the truth of things with my favorite team.

This year there seems to be a shift going on. Several members of the Dallas media have been talking about the good things Garret has done. Rabblerousr, just back from his tour de force coverage of the first half of training camp, gave me a heads up about a post by Bob Sturm, which brought up many points I fully agree with, and added some more insightful observations from his presence in and around Valley Ranch and the facility formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.

Sturm was inspired by listening to Bill Parcells speak during the Hall of Fame weekend. He contrasted the way Parcells ran the Cowboys, which did a lot to get the team back on track after the decline of the late nineties, and what happened after he left. In talking about the values that made Parcells a coach with a bust in Canton, Sturm brought up the lessons Parcells absorbed from his three years as a coach at West Point and his one year at the Air Force Academy: Football is not very successful when the team is treated as some kind of democracy, but is best run the way the military is, with a clear chain of command and players who clearly understand who is in charge. Sturm contrasted that with the issues that came after Phillips took over, with the complaints of Terrell Owens about how Tony Romo was playing favorites because he seemed to favor throwing the ball to Jason Witten (disregarding that Witten may be the best overall NFL tight end ever) and the general chaos that grew on the team, best exemplified in the wide receiver corps under assistant coach Ray Sherman with his "keeping it real Thursdays".

The factions created on this team when Phillips had no idea how to lead as a head coach were severe and difficult to heal.

But, I believe Jason Garrett is making big progress in this department.

Now, again, we don't know exactly what goes on behind closed doors, but one thing I have seen in the last 3 seasons is a feeling that the Jason Garrett Cowboys swing closer to the Parcells' days than the Phillips days with regards to structure, unity, and weeding out divisive forces that tend to cause issues in the name of personal agendas.

Amen, brother.

This is what all the writers here refer to when they bring up the "Right Kind of Guy". And in later bringing up the way Sturm thinks Rob Ryan went against Garrett's approach to things, it supports a sneaking suspicion I have had that Ryan's departure from the Cowboys may have been as much because there was a growing disconnect between him and Garrett as with a belief that the 4-3 was the way to go on defense.

Now, at least as far as can be told from the outside, there seems to be a cadre of coaches that do look to Garrett as the unquestioned leader. The commander of the Cowboys, if you will. None is likely to be more on board with that than Rod Marinelli, the surprise hire to come and help Monte Kiffin make the switch from the 3-4. Marinelli, you might recall, is a Marine. Not an ex-Marine, as some mislabel him. The only ex-Marines are the ones drummed out of the Corps in disgrace. He is a man who fully understands the need for a clear chain of command, and he is the epitome of a team player as an assistant coach. Remember, he could likely have had his choice of jobs as a defensive coordinator, including staying with the Chicago Bears after Lovie Smith was fired, but he was more interested in going back to work for his old supervisor and mentor. You can bet he is not at all interested in hearing any complaints about who gets the most snaps or chances at a sack. He just expects his charges to go out and do their job, or they can start trying to find another team interested in their services.

There is another aspect of things that will always be something we can only speculate on, the vastly over-analyzed change in who is calling plays. It was at first looked at with derision by many writers and fans, another decision made by Jerry Jones and forced down Garrett's throat. But that narrative has been denied by the parties involved, and here at BTB just about every writer has, at one time or another, pointed out that this move was mentioned as a likely future course as soon as Bill Callahan was hired. Lately, Jones himself has talked again about how it was his decision to have Garrett call his own plays during his first two years, and how he is now thinking that may have been a mistake.

It seems there is not any question that the move is agreeing with Garrett, at least so far. He said after the first pre-season game that he rather enjoyed his status as a "walk-around" head coach. And during the second game against the Oakland Raiders, he demonstrated that he was able to have a better view of the overall game, focusing on the clock management and being right on top of the challenge call when receiver Anthony Amos was ruled down before he crossed the goal line. He has turned over a part of the coaching job that requires a narrow but total focus, and now has a clearer view of the entire performance of his team. A team which he clearly controls.

Sturm talks about how Garrett has kept some core players who were Parcells' guys, like Romo and Witten, and gotten rid of most of the players Phillips brought in. (Sturm counts the 2010 class as Phillips', but I think an argument can be made that the mid-season firing of the head coach kept players like Dez Bryant and Sean Lee from getting fully indoctrinated in the Coach Cupcake culture, and they were quickly won over while Garrett was the interim head coach.)

I do differ with Sturm on a couple of other points, however. He states that he doesn't think Jerry Jones understands the need for the head coach to have clear authority over his coaching staff, as evidenced by the Rob Ryan hire. While I will agree that Jones has shown that in the past, I think the old owner is learning a few new tricks, and is trying to get out of Garrett's way with his staff. Jerry's statements of support for his head coach this year have been as clear and frequent as I can ever recall (although I will confess I sometimes try not to remember exactly how JJ said things in the past to avoid a migraine). And no matter how the decision was made on the coaching hires this year, there is no doubt that they look to be better fits for Garrett, particularly Kiffin and Marinelli.

The other point I differ with Sturm on is this:

But those traits that made Parcells great are traits that Garrett values. He preaches and promotes unity and coming together as a team and leaving your personal gripes in the trash. And for these reasons - among others (including his ability to assemble young promising talent), I believe he still has a real chance to be considered a strong head coach in the next 24-36 months.

The real chance is one month from now. I think at the end of the season, the whole season, Jason Garrett will have made his case. He is the man in command of the Dallas Cowboys, and they will prove to be a successful NFL team.

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