Jason Garrett is a maverick. In a country where the only thing that seems to matter is instant results and sports is pervaded by a win-now attitude, he maintains a clearly old-fashioned view of how to accomplish his job.
"We try to be process oriented and not overly results oriented, and that's a really important thing to understand," Garrett said. "We've tried to be consistent with our message to our team."
That was his explanation of why he did not change anything about his approach to coaching and preparing the Dallas Cowboys, even after the team got off to a frustrating 3-5 start that had many believing that the season was pretty much done. But Jason Garrett never wavered. He is too committed to his way of doing things, rooted in confidence in his own ability and knowledge. While many outside the Dallas organization waited with bated breath for his firing, he kept on doing what he believed in with a full expectation that it would pay off.
Now it has. Dallas has gone 5-1 since that dismal start (as we delight in bringing up) despite a continuing parade of season-ending injuries and a singular tragedy that deeply affected the entire organization. The team has a very real chance of not only making the playoffs but winning the NFC East if it can win the last two games against the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins, no matter what else happens. It does still have a chance even if it loses to the Saints, depending on what the New York Giants do in the final two games of the season (and they are certainly struggling at the moment), but you can be sure that Garrett is focusing his team on taking charge of things and not depending on anyone else.
This certainly makes the last two weeks of the season a lot of fun for Dallas fans. But it is much more important for the future. Garrett has always maintained that he is building the team for the long run, not to win now at all costs. And all indications are that he has gotten the Cowboys to buy into his philosophy. More crucially, it also seems apparent that Jerry and Stephen Jones, the real powers that control who holds the head coaching position, are also on board. The media shows us a Jason Garrett that is bland, even boring, but when you listen to the people who work with and for him every day you get a different picture. They describe a passionate, committed, and energetic coach who constantly preaches the same message. Good times or bad times, he stays on the same course and assures everyone that it will work.
There is no mystery to all this. If, that is, you actually have been paying attention the past few years. The message from Garrett has not just been consistent this year, it has been unchanged since he stepped in to coach the team after Wade Phillips was dismissed midway through the 2010 season. And he has always gotten public support from the Jones family. While no head coaching job in the NFL is ever completely secure, since Garrett took the helm the Cowboys have not come close to the kind of meltdown that would make his termination logical. They have struggled, but they were a deeply flawed team when he took over, and he has taken great strides to eliminate or minimize the issues. He has not gotten all the way there, but the progress is evident, particularly in the way the team has fought back over the past few games and gotten back into contention. A year ago, the team was folding up down the stretch. While they may still stumble, the 2012 edition of the Cowboys has demonstrated a level of determination and resilience that did not exist even a year ago. They have been tempered in the fire of this season's challenges and are becoming the team that Garrett envisioned.
This is fairly clear if you watch the team closely. Surprisingly, it remains a concept beyond the grasp of many outside Dallas, and some who cover the team for a living also haven't figured this out. There is still a pervasive belief that Garrett's job is hanging by a thread and Jerry Jones is sharpening a pair of scissors. Consider this "analysis" of the coming Saints game:
This is the Sean Payton Bowl. Do the Saints really want to win? It could mean the Cowboys job comes open, and Payton goes there.
This is not the only place I saw the same opinion expressed. The image of Jerry Jones as a mercurial and impulsive owner is so ingrained in the minds of many people that they cannot imagine that the owner and GM is capable of recognizing just what a phenomenal job the Cowboys coaching staff has done in overcoming the obstacles the team has faced, both from the discombobulation of 2010 and the repeated shocks of 2012. As I have often stated, I always believed that Jason Garrett had three full seasons before he was liable to be fired, barring something like the 1-7 start that got his predecessor sent back to his best position as a defensive coordinator. With eight wins and a team that looks to be getting better at just the right time, I fully expect that Garrett will be back next year no matter how the season plays out. If you like what is happening to this team, and I think Jerry Jones really does, then you need to keep things consistent.
And consistency is Jason Garrett's core competency.