As fans of the Dallas Cowboys, we are naturally focused on our hopes for the coming season. They are running pretty high right now, as they no doubt are with many other fan bases in the NFL. We see what looks to be a very good (albeit rather banged up) draft class, some key free agent acquisitions, and a group of very intriguing UDFAs coming in to complement the core of veteran stars and some other experienced players we anticipate will show improvement.
But for the ownership and coaching staff, it isn't just about the 2012 season. It is about building long term success. Certainly, they intend to win as many games as they can this year, and hopefully get back into the playoffs. The goal at the start of every season is to win it all. There is, however, a peril in focusing too much on the immediate future and failing to lay the groundwork for continuing success over the years. We have seen that (remember 2009 and the special teams draft?) and how it can fail spectacularly.
In a recent virtual conversation, I heard about an exchange someone had with Stephen Jones, the heir apparent to take over when Jerry Jones decides to relinquish the general manager reins. In it, Stephen discussed the faith he has in Jason Garrett, and how he (Stephen) is taking a long term view based on his long relationship with JG5000. He also spoke about how he is not at all dissatisfied with Rob Ryan, and feels that the lockout in 2011 was a severe impediment to getting the Ryan defensive scheme in place. An impediment that is no longer a factor.
I have long been interested in how the team is run. Not just the Xs and Os, but the guiding philosophy behind things. And hearing that kind of talk just puts a big old smile on my face.
My attempt to read Stephen's and Jason's minds after the jump.
Now, if you want to get in just the right mood for this, I must suggest you check out this video. My compliments to White Wolf for putting it up in OCC's recent post on the expectations for Morris Claiborne. If that doesn't get your Cowboy fan juices stirring, then you must be a troll.
One person that plays a prominent part in that compilation is the man who will always be the symbol of the early rise to prominence of the Cowboys, Tom Landry. He coached the team for an incredible 29 seasons, from the very beginning in 1960 until he was finally forced out in 1988. His storied career is the model for longevity, continuity, and success in the NFL. And I think that in the back of his mind - or maybe much more to the front - that is the vision Stephen Jones has for Jason Garrett, with Stephen playing the role of a modern day Tex Schramm. For those of you who aren't familiar with the history, Schramm was the GM from the beginning, hiring Landry and the third member of the trio that built America's Team, Gil Brandt, and he left the team shortly after Landry was shown the door. Stephen is, I think, very much looking to how he will run things after his father steps off the stage. And I believe there is ample evidence that Jerry Jones is a willing participant in the transition, granting Stephen a growing role in the day to day management of the team that looks to be paying dividends already.
I think Stephen is building that Landry/Schramm kind of a system. He has found a man in Jason Garrett who, in some aspects, is very much in the model of Landry. He is cerebral and very detail oriented. While it is very doubtful that anyone will ever be as innovative in the game as Landry, Garrett does show a focus and, based on early impressions, talent for not just assembling a team of winners, but keeping the talent level up. His desire for competition up and down the roster and the plan to have constant churn in the backups and rising players shows that he sees building a winner now and a winner for the future are complimentary and not competing objectives. He also understands that the way the NFL is currently organized, you cannot do it all at once, but need to have a multi-year approach to things.
When he took over for Wade Phillips midway through the 2010 season, he had a team in disarray with problems all over the roster. His first objective was to restructure the coaching staff, which turned out to be a two year project and now looks to be complete. Next, he set out to address the offensive issues, particularly the line, and the 2011 draft was dedicated to that with most of the picks going there, including three draft choices dedicated to the line. He did not get the job completely done, which I think was partly due to the loss of the offseason to the lockout (which, I might add, sucked) and also was impeded in my opinion by not getting an immediate replacement for Hudson Houck. He took major steps to finish the job up by bringing in Bill Callahan after the end of the 2011 season and by signing free agents Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. With a full offseason under strength and conditioning Mike Woicik guru to improve the young players from last year, there is an excellent outlook for this to be a much better part of the team this fall.
Having taken care of the bulk of the offensive issues in 2011, he and Stephen then turned the 2012 draft to defense, reversing the ratio by using five of the seven picks on defensive players, including the trade of the Cowboys first and second-round slots for Mo "Pick 6" Claiborne. Now, in his first two seasons, Jason Garrett has addressed all of the immediate needs and made the roster much younger. The fixes he put in place are not just targeted for 2012, but for the next five years or more.
I think it is ironic that a recent article at the Sporting News ranked JG5000 as only the twenty-third best coach in the NFL. That is the epitome of short-term thinking. It puts a lot of weight on the signal calling part of the job, and does not look at all at the long term implications of what he is doing. I will admit that I am a full blown Kool Aid addict (although I should mention that when I say "drink the Kool Aid", you should think of me imbibing a fine scotch instead as a suitable surrogate) when it comes to Jason. I am completely on board with his talk of the Cowboy Way and Right Kind of Guys and getting better every day and working the process. And I see ample evidence that he is doing all those things. The success is going to come. I hope it will be very fast, but if it is slower, I still think it will happen. And I think Jason and Stephen may be a partnership that is measured in decades. The highlight film will be awesome.
Next up: A look at the details of where the team is, and what may be coming down the line.