A New Sheriff in Town

The ferris wheel that is the position of Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys has come almost full circle since Jimmy Johnson bid adieu to Dallas for greener pastures. Now, a Jimmy Johnson product, Jason Garrett, assumes the helm of a team that has a much larger void to address than any issue with who starts at Free Safety the next time they strap on their helmets. Jason Garrett has to teach this organization what it feels like to play with confidence and to win with swagger again. Now, you would think this isn't such a daunting task since he watched Jimmy do it, he played and coached under other successful men and is generally regarded as a very bright, driven, pedigreed young man. No problem, right?

Not so fast. Jason Garrett's task is bigger than even he thinks it is. His challenges are very different than the ones he (and we) watched Jimmy overcome to create a dynasty. Some of his challenges may even be unique to him because of some personal experiences that left indelible marks on him (more on that later).

Let's look deeply into what our new Head Coach has to contend with to remake this team in his own image after the jump;

The ‘Jimmy Thing'

Props to Dave Matthews for turning a phrase here (albeit a different spelling), but Jason won't have the bevy of draft picks that Jimmy acquired through his shrewd dealing of Herschel Walker to had-to-be-drunk-as-a-skunk-when-he-did-the-deal Mike Lynn and the Minnesota Vikings. Putting a roster like the one Dallas put together in the early 90's would require Garrett and the Dallas War Room to display a ton of draft-day prowess (note: up to this point we have not seen that skill displayed), a far greater wherewithal in regards to free agency that would belie his limited experience and an innate ability to uncover undrafted gems like Romo and Austin on a much grander scale. Jimmy didn't have Free Agency, outside of Plan B, to contend with and trading players for picks now happens few and far between. In fact, we can probably thank Jimmy for that! Truth be told, Garrett will also need a lot of luck. He will have to exercise wisdom and skill beyond his years to fill many talent gaps that have existed for years now.

The Jones Boyzzz

Let's be honest with each other for a moment. Anyone who really thinks, not HOPES, and I mean really, really, thinks Jerry will cede any significant control over who the Cowboys draft, sign, cut, pick as a cheerleader or ask to sing at a halftime show is out of their cock-a-doodle-doo mind. Jerry has always been quick to make sure everyone knows the state of the state when it comes to HIS team and has no problem saying it when he needs to. Jerry is not above quoting Al Haig and saying, "I'm in control here". Okay, maybe he's never said it quite like that, but at least his actions are always in alignment with those words. So we know that Garrett has to contend with Jerry and his ego. However, the other question that needs asking and answering is, what role does Stephen Jones play now? Jimmy never had to contend with a third party when driving the Cowboys bus. There's a triumvirate that sits at the top of the Cowboys' decision-making tree and one has to wonder if Garrett is the co-pilot or if he will simply be the flight attendant serving tiny bottles of Chivas Regal to those other two guys seated in First Class.

The T.O. Aftereffect

I don't know how it got this bad. When did it become acceptable for players, regardless of their star power, to have sideline tirades, berate coaches, fail to conform to the dress code and conduct themselves off the field in a manner that erodes their team's, as well as the game's, legitimacy? Did I miss a memo? I wonder who started this awful trend? Regardless, Garrett's inexperience in dealing with the huge ego's that will invariably appear on any team isn't a huge deal, because all new first-timers have to endure this baptism by fire. But, and here is the unique thing about Jason Garrett, given the amount of psychological trauma that he had to endure while Terrell Owens ruled the roost (aka locker room) and the airwaves, one has to wonder what wounds are not yet mended with our Mr. Garrett. Moreover, how did that experience impact his value system? Did it change the way he looked at players in this last draft class? Was he so spooked by even the hint of cocksureness in his player interviews that he might bypass a potential star for a lesser talent who he believed would never rock the proverbial boat? And if he was, who could blame him? Fans forget easily the travails that he endured but Garrett lived it every day, and night, for the better part of a football season. When Garrett talks about the "right kind of guy", it's likely that anyone possessing ANY of the personality traits that remind him of Owens (or, for that matter, Barber, Bennett and others) would be marginalized by him. The obvious risk, again, is that you end up with a roster full of "high-character" guys who just don't have the elite talent to carry a team to the upper echelons.

The 4-Year Itch

Finally...and sadly, Dallas has not been known for coaching longevity in the Jerry Jones era. Regardless of how successful (i.e. Jimmy) or how big an utter failure (i.e. Campo) the coaches have been, there's a pattern in Valley Ranch that suggests the Cowboys' brain trust, and I use that term loosely, likes to see a new man at the helm every four years. They get an itchy trigger finger and are sometimes quick to use it if the media smells blood in the water. So while fans want to believe that if Garrett can show success early and often, that trend could change, the math says he has until 2015 and then he goes and does something else for someone else. In that time, he has to get a defense on the field that doesn't leave opposing receivers unmolested over the deep middle while also consistently pressuring the QB opposite Ware. He has to retool an offensive line that is old and creaky and he has to get the locker room to buy all of what he is selling. The fact is that his future is inexorably tied to the performances of Tony Romo and Rob Ryan. It's doubtful that either of those two is still in the same job in 2015 anyway.

But let's not be one-sided in our view of our man Garrett's future. He has some things working in his favor as he tries to restore this once proud franchise to its rightful position on the NFL throne.

Nobody is THAT Good

Now I like Green Bay's roster (especially with many big names returning from injuries) and coaches as much as the next guy, but really, are they as mighty as people are making them out to be? I don't think so. Woodson is turning 47 years old this season and should begin to decline. They will also get hit with some high-impact losses in Free Agency. The Saints are a year removed from the dream season, but their time may have come and gone. Philly with Vick doesn't scare me half as much as Philly with Jim Johnson (May he rest in peace) did. In the AFC, the big three (Pittsburgh, New England and Indy) are in decline as age erodes the Steeler defense's talent base and Manning and Brady see the twilight of their careers fast approaching. Let's be real. It's not like Garrett has to dethrone Joe Montana's 49ers at the height of their dynasty. Most experts agree that Dallas is the most talented team to have earned a draft position in the top 10 in several years. So, the good news is that while they have to climb the mountain, it's neither overly high nor all that steep.

Nowhere to Go but Up

I hate to say it, but I can't just take a shower and wash last year's debacle off of me. It may as well be branded on my forehead. "The Dallas Cowboys were 6-10 in 2010." They say the truth will set you free. I say the truth hurts. Maybe it's actually the hurt that sets you free. Regardless, I think all of us would be hard pressed to find football pundits in the media who think Dallas WON'T improve in 2011. I, for one, truly believe they will. How much? Dunno. But my confidence level is pretty high that they will be better than 6-10. That alone makes Garrett likely to be viewed as the savior, even if we're only 8-8 or 9-7 this year. I know people have grander designs on this year's team, but he just needs to focus on getting better. Improvement in any way will be seen as a huge step in the right direction, especially if we are very competitive in our losses. Overall, the good news is that he's almost starting from ‘zero', so it won't be overly difficult to come out looking like a ‘hero'.

The Halo Effect

For those of you not wanting to spend the time to look it up, the Halo Effect is a bias that creates a belief about a person or persons based on one's perception of another trait for that same individual or group. The biggest advantage Jason Garrett has, in the locker room with his players, is simply that he is widely perceived as being the smartest guy in the room. It's reasonable, since this is the first time since Jimmy left (maybe even going back to Landry), that this could be said, with a straight face, about the Head Coach of the Cowboys, that people will see him as a great coach as an illogical extension (aka Halo Effect). That will almost certainly work in his favor and should make give him FDR-like power over the players in the first 100 days, er, first 16 games. He may turn out to be just an average coach, but even average coaches have shown they can win Super Bowls (Brian Billick anyone?) if the conditions are right.

All in all, we're just starting to turn the first few pages of the proverbial book that will ultimately be written about Jason Garrett's time as Head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. While I tend to be a bit more measured in my enthusiasm over such changes (that's the 4-Year Itch thing at play), I feel like Garrett gives us an interesting opportunity. He talks about being in the moment, taking pride in what you do and in focusing on getting better every single day. While it's far too early to gauge his coaching talent, he is cerebral and focused and hard working...and if a football team ever needed traits from a role model as Head Coach, those are the traits I would have asked the coach to have for this team. Garrett's story, to this point, is one of overcoming obstacles to reach his goals. Let's hope he continues to do that and, even more, can get his team to do the same.



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