Every year, one of the widely-discussed topics going into the NFL season is which coaches are on the "hot seat". It is a very popular topic, despite being reasonably pointless. The relative temperature underneath a head coach's posterior is dictated almost entirely by whether the team is succeeding or not on the field. That can be affected somewhat by how new the coach is, since most owners will not fire a coach after the first season, although that was not sufficient protection for just-terminated Rob Chudzinski, dumped by the Cleveland Browns after sixteen whole games. The Browns were in such a hurry to kick out a coach they have since termed a mistake, they did not even wait until Black Monday, telling Chudzinski to clean out his office just six hours after the final loss of the season.
But for the most part, coaches are fired after they have had a few seasons to prove themselves, but the team winds up a disappointment. The other organizations who have vacancies to fill now all fit that category. They were teams that were expected to do better, but posted losing records. Some were just bad from the beginning, like the Houston Texans (the only team to fire their coach while the season was still in progress), while the Detroit Lions started out looking very good only to falter down the stretch despite being the only team in the NFC North to have the same quarterback start all sixteen games.
A coach whose name always comes up in the hot seat discussions, and has every year since he took over the job in the middle of the 2010 season, is Dallas Cowboys HC Jason Garrett. For those of you who are at this moment reading the first ever article you have ever read about the National Football League and are unaware of the fact known by everyone else, he has now coached the Cowboys to the third consecutive 8-8 season and lost the last game of the year in which a win would have sent Dallas to the playoffs.
Conventional wisdom holds that this is not good enough for the owner, general manager, and towering ego of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones. Every year, many people express the opinions that if Garrett does not get the Cowboys back to the playoffs, he is gone. Every year, he is just inches from grabbing that cigar.
And every year, Jones expresses his confidence and brings Garrett back for another go at it. There are upheavals among the assistant coaches, but the head coach comes back.
Not everyone has made the assumption that Garrett is coaching for his job each year. Some writers have mentioned that Jones really wants to give him the full four years on his initial contract before he makes a decision about whether to move on or not. I came around to this line of thinking myself, believing that Garrett would keep his job as long as he avoided a meltdown like the 2010 situation that cost Wade Phillips his job (or the one this year with the Texans that put Gary Kubiak on the street).
There are a variety of theories about why Jones has stuck with Garrett despite the team being stuck at .500 and seemingly being fated to lose games that would give them the NFC East crown. One that is going around, fueled by yet another one of Jones' remarks about not being embarrassed because he was standing in AT&T Stadium, is that he just does not care about winning as long as the seats are full. But, as with so much that Jones says, you cannot take it at face value, or even go strictly by the rules of English or the dictionary meaning of the words he uses. Jones does care very much about winning. Additionally, he desperately wants another Super Bowl to validate what he has done in his GM role.
This means that he doesn't just want to win. He wants to win his way. And in what will be a quarter century of owning the Dallas Cowboys in a couple of months (let that sink in for a moment), there has never been a coach of the team who was more a creation, or protege even, than Garrett. So everything starts, to some extent, with a desire on Jones' part to keep this head coach in place.
Another factor that seems to enter in is that it appears Jones may be having to face the facts of just how much a mess the team was in when Garrett took over. In particular, he may have finally had to realize that the talk about how much talent Dallas always had was largely a myth. The Cowboys in the past several years have not been solid gold. They were gold-plated: A few very talented stars, on top of a bunch of cheap metal.
At last, there a signs that the talent issue is being addressed, and successfully. OCC has a post up on how the 2013 rookie class has contributed more than any group in several years, but the post also shows that the influx of talent has been going on since Garrett became the head coach. It has not gone as well as it could with injuries and some misses mixed in, but things do look to be improving. The addition of Will McClay as the pro scouting coordinator will hopefully extend this trend to the free agent side of the house. But this is not a fast rebuilding job. It has taken the remaking of most of the team. It is conceivable that 2014 will see only Tony Romo and Jason Witten left of the old core of star players.
In the past, the Cowboys had a history of hanging on to player for a season or two too long. No more. This is part and parcel of the new culture that Garrett has brought to Valley Ranch. To have a successful program in the NFL, you can only keep the players who can help you. Given the situation the head coach inherited when he took over in the middle of the 2010 season, he had to be prepared to almost completely rebuild this roster. And you can't do that in one or two years.
Giving Garrett one more year to get off .500 certainly looks like a tacit acknowledgement that he had a lot to do. How likely he will be able to succeed is going to be affected by what happens with the assistant coaches. The argument has gone on and on about who is actually making the decisions about those hires. Many believe it is all Jones. Some think Garrett has a larger role. I belong to the camp that thinks Jerry and Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett talk these things over, with Jerry making the final call if they don't come to a consensus.
But we really don't know. And there is no apparent rush to decide who to retain and who to replace. Bill Callahan is obviously a candidate for replacement. Speculation continues that the front office is trying to find a way to get Rod Marinelli in the DC job, but given his loyalty to Monte Kiffin, that would take some finesse.
Whoever winds up on the staff this year, they will be working for Jason Garrett. Jerry Jones shows every sign of taking the long view. He may be looking at the Carolina Panthers, where Ron Rivera was on very thin ice in 2012, only to come roaring back and get into the playoffs as the number two seed in the NFC. He also is likely looking at the negative example of the Browns, who have burned through seven head coaches since the franchise started back up in 1999.
Now, he is giving Garrett a chance to get to the end of his contract before he makes a decision on who will be head coach after that. It shows a value given to stability and continuity. It is a gamble, of course, and he is already being criticized by many. The talk will be there for the coming season about how Garrett is on the hot seat. But with his contract coming to an end, he is not coaching to save his job. He is coaching to earn a new deal. And this time, it seems likely 8-8 will not be enough. However, he cannot complain he did not get a fair chance.
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