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Is The Cowboys Recent Success Anything More Than A Shiny Coat Of Paint?

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I think we are all a thrilled, and perhaps a little stunned, by the Cowboys success in the past four games. If you told me before the season that Dallas was going to go 3-1 in games nine through twelve of the schedule, I would have happily accepted it and, chest puffed out, predicted something in the range of a 12-4 final record. And, as we look forward to the final quarter of the schedule, we see games that appear more "winnable" than those most recently played. Certainly, both games against the hated Eagles will be challenging, but I certainly like Dallas' chances at home this week. Moreover, the Cowboys would have to be favorites in games at home against the imploding Redskins and at anemic Arizona. Jason Garrett has a realistic shot at going 6-2 in his eight-game interim tenure, which would almost assuredly secure him the head coaching position in 2011, should there be a season in which to coach.

That said, I have felt ambivalent about the recent turnaround, and not because I was the only BTB writer stupidly to pick the Colts in last week's pigskin pickem. No, my concern runs deeper than that. If Garrett can pull off such an epic turnaround with essentially the same coaches and players who were under Wade Phillips' employ, I fear it will allow Jerry Jones to lay the lion's share of the blame for Dallas' humiliating 1-7 start squarely in Phillips' lap. Certainly Wade has earned a goodly slice of the blame pie (Wade: "oooooh, pie!"), but the vast majority of that oversized pastry belongs to one man: Jerral Wayne Jones. Its Jerry who, as either owner or GM, could have nipped the Phillips' administration's lax culture in the bud; its Jerry who has overseen Dallas' wildly inconsistent drafts; its Jerry who has insisted that his coach start the guys to whom he has given multimilllion dollar contracts; its Jerry who has been promoting Manny Pacquiao fights rather than focusing on churning the bottom of the roster in search of the undrafted free agent types that have salvaged his sputtering drafts.

A lot of the BTB comment threads and on air sports talk discussions in recent weeks have wondered whether its better for the Cowboys to win, and thus finish somewhere in the middle of the drafting pack, or to lose out and secure one of the upcoming draft's blue-chip prospects. While I think its a fool's errand to try to lose for drafting position (given the number of top picks that fail to play up to their pre-draft billing), I do think finishing 3-13 would have been beneficial for one absolutely crucial reason: a thirteen loss season is a powerful thing. It possesses a necessary "Dave Campo effect": a kind of truth ray with the force to pierce through the brainpan of an owner/ GM singularly able to delude himself about the state of his franchise. A thirteen loss season, especially after all the silly preseason Super Bowl talk, is perhaps the only thing capable of convincing Jerry that his organization is rotten from within. And, despite the recent run of success, I still believe it is.

Just after Jason Garrett was hired, I authored a post in which, mesmerized by Garrett's demeanor during his press conferences, I teased out comparisons between the RHG and the only other Cowboys head coaches to enjoy success since Jones bought the team: Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells. In his short time in office, Garrett has certainly conducted himself as we imagine a head coach should (and in ways Barry Switzer, Chan Gaily, Campo and Phillips never did). But Johnson and Parcells achieved enduring on-the-field success largely for two reasons: they became the organization's ultimate authority and they took greater control of personnel decisions. In both cases, Jerry willingly ceded these things to his head coach. With Jimmy, it was because he wanted to focus on the business side of things and didn't know any better; with Bill, it was because he was desperate after three consecutive 5-11 seasons.

My fear is that, due to the Cowboys recent 3-1 run and the likelihood that it will continue, Jerry won't feel the desperation he felt at the end of the Campo years. In early 2003, the sting of double-digit losses was so great that he was willing to change his organizational philosophy. I think he experienced the same sting when his team was sitting at 1-7. Now? I fear Jerry's smug complacency will creep back in, convincing him that the team can win "his way" after all. Jason Garrett has proven that he is a pretty darn good head coach, but unless he is given considerable control of day-to-day operations--the same level of control enjoyed by Johnson--I'm not convinced he can ascend beyond a certain level.

Allow me to present an unrefined rubric: I. Good players win games; II. Good coaching staffs lead teams to good seasons; III. Good organizations consistently contend for championships. My concern is that Jason Garrett's recent success will relegate Dallas to category II: the Cowboys will win with him as head coach but that, because there will be no fundamental changes to the way business is conducted at Valley Ranch, he will take this team only as far as Parcells took his--as far as the corrupt organization Jerry has created will allow. After all, Parcells--with one of the best coaching staffs this league has seen in some time--wasn't able to win so long as Jerry was involved in personnel. At least not the way we expect a Cowboys head coach to win: big. As in Super Bowl big.

I don't know about you, but 11-5 division-winning seasons aren't good enough for me. I want championships. But I fear that a strong coach who can get us to the "second category" does nothing more than convince Jerry he's got a Super Bowl-caliber organization that's just a player or a break or two from a sixth Lombardi. Color me negative, but I refuse to believe he does.