This all started as a Twitter conversation. Without going into all the twists and turns of what turned out to be an interesting but very civil discussion (they do happen on Twitter) about just how much more time Jason Garrett should get to turn things around as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, I did get to thinking about what he has done, and what I can really point to as an accomplishment of his that would justify him getting another contract. KD Drummond (in his guise as the official Twitter voice of Blogging The Boys) presented the argument that time has really already run out.
I disagree. I am actually one of the people that does not think that Jerry Jones should base his decision whether or not to offer Garrett a new contract solely on the won-lost record this year. This year could be like last year, where you at least have to consider the possibility that a freak confluence of injuries to the defensive line largely doomed the defense and therefore the team before the year even started. Even if you take the position that the problem was partly on the management for not getting more defensive line talent before training camp, that would be as much on Jerry and Stephen Jones as on Garrett. Some other strange combination of injuries might derail this season (although you would think that the team would finally begin to regress toward the mean at some point and break this cycle).
Yet no matter how much I may wish it was otherwise, Garrett is still going to be judged on the number of games the Cowboys win this season. If it is 8 or less, there is going to be a large and possibly emotional chorus of voices demanding his termination. I remain hopeful that he will see at least 10 wins and silence (for the moment) the cries for his firing. But if the team doesn't make the playoffs, I still do not think that getting rid of Garrett will help the situation. Because I believe he has just now gotten something done that badly needed to be done for the future of the Cowboys, and that in my eyes makes him the best head coach Dallas has seen since at least the days of Jimmy Johnson:
He has trained Jerry Jones.
It was interesting to see the difference in the way Dallas' 2014 draft was covered when compared to past years. As the first round progressed, many people who have limited understanding of Jones and the Cowboys in general were absolutely convinced that Dallas was going to run a card with Johnny Manziel written on it up to the podium at the draft. Then, when the team made a smart football move and selected Zack Martin, you could almost hear the paradigms shifting for people. "Gosh, the Cowboys are being run like a real professional football club."
As the rest of the story emerged, it became clear that the biggest story in pro football (outside the growing media maelstrom now focusing on Michael Sam) was never a consideration for Dallas. The team was going to take Ryan Shazier to help bolster the linebacking corps until the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed him. Manziel was somewhere in third place or lower in the eyes of the Cowboys. The decision so impressed people that the subsequent move to trade up for Demarcus Lawrence and to take a largely unknown Anthony Hitchens in the fourth were not treated as harshly as they likely would have been in years past.
The days of "Trader Jerry", while not exactly over, are now at least based on more careful consideration of current and future costs. The recent explanations by Stephen Jones about the thinking in the war room during the draft bolsters the perception that he continues to play an increasing role in the decision making. The elevation of Will McClay was apparently quite pleasing to all concerned. And it all just seems very, very different from how things were done under previous head coaches.
Does that mean I think Jason Garrett is largely responsible for all this?
Well, yes. I think this is an almost perfect example of "leadership by example". I think three and a half years of Garrett going in and doing things within his control the right way has rubbed off on Jerry Jones. I am sure there are discussions between Jones and Garrett about nearly everything that happens with the Cowboys, and the most recent developments seem to be inspired by a Garrett mindset, not that of a shoot from the hip, maverick owner/general manager.
This extends beyond the draft. I think that Garrett is just now getting a coaching staff that is composed mostly, if not completely, of people he wants in the positions he chose for them. I think it took him until now to sell his plan for the staff to Jones - and that included some failures that convinced the owner and GM that he needed to try it Garrett's way.
Whatever else you think about Garrett, you have to admit the man is organized, within and without. After watching how he operates and how he gets things to function around him, I am pretty firmly convinced that Jerry Jones has decided to adopt a great deal of Garrett's approach to things. The head coach may not have personally made the decision to bring in Will McClay and use him to rationalize the information flow and decision making in the war room, but it is the kind of move he would make. It is a little ironic that the coaching staff appears to be a little messier with the presence of Bill Callahan and Monte Kiffin, last year's offensive and defensive coordinator, but no one really questions that Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli are going to be calling the plays this year - and that they report directly to Garrett.
I don't know if adding Linehan and promoting Marinelli will wind up correcting the game management issues that were the only real negative about Garrett's performance. I certainly hope they will. Jason Garrett has done a lot more for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys than just be a head coach. He has spread a way of doing things throughout the organization, and it has made a real difference in the way Jerry Jones runs the team. I think the change has been entirely for the better, and sincerely hope that we do not see a return to the days of Roy Williams type trades and big contracts being handed out to aging stars. And I worry that firing Garrett would lead to a certain amount of backsliding. I just don't see that as leading to anything good. No matter who would be hired to replace Garrett, it is probably going to take two to three years to work out a good working relationship between the new guy and the old GM. That friction would leave far too much room for the old Jerry to emerge and take things over. Only people who have a negative impression of the Cowboys and want to see it validated would want that.
Mostly, I really want the team to make a playoff run so we don't have to worry about this for a least a while.