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Dallas Cowboys Management: Welcome To The Garrett Decade

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"Jason, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful working relationship"
"Jason, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful working relationship"

The other day, the talking heads at ESPN rolled out a tired old debate: should Cowboys owner Jerry Jones step down as the team's General Manager? Notorious Cowboys hater and former Redskin (go to the 11:40 mark here to see his fine work) Mark Schlereth and former Channel 5 broadcaster Mike Hill debated the various merits of Jerry as the Cowboys GM. In all the back and forth, they missed the real point: is it possible he already has?

Sure, anybody going to the Cowboys website or poring over their official literature will see that he's still listed as GM on the masthead. But that belies a sea change that's gradually taken place in the organization, one in which Stephen Jones has increasingly assumed the day-to-day running of the team, while Jerry focuses more on establishing the "Cowboys brand." In part one of his terrific series on the future of the Cowboys, Tom recently offered up some notable notes gleaned from 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.

The first thing that jumps out at me here is the connection between Jason Garrett and Jones the Younger. The media has been touting Garrett as Jerry's hire, and he is. But in terms of vision, temperament, managerial style and set of priorities, he's Stephen's guy. And I believe he'll be here for a long, long time, BTBers: Welcome to the Garrett decade.

Here's my bold statement: as S. Jones has risen to the position of de facto GM, he has secured his present and future coach. And, together, they are making important long-term changes. Last week marked Garrett's 500th day as coach of the Cowboys (not counting the period when he held the interim tag); in that time, both the team's culture personnel have undergone radical revisions.

What might that portend? Make the jump to hear rabble's ruminations...

Coaching Continuity: While the Cowboys' GM's job has always been secure, the Cowboys haven't had a head coach who could say the same since Jimmy Johnson left the team in a huff back in 1993. The most successful organizations establish an environment wherein the head coach's job is secure. Think about it: The two longest-tenured head coaches are Bill Belichick and Andy Reid; the Steelers have had two head coaches since 1992; when he was in Indianapolis, there was no question about Tony Dungy's job security. When the head coach isn't looking over his shoulder, an organization is able to articulate and to adopt a consistent, long-term set of strategies, from talent acquisition to the way the team will practice. The takeaway here is that coaching stability is the visible aspect of organizational stability - and the most stable organizations tend to win, in no small part due to...

Long View Thinking: For quite a while now, I have been preaching the value of long-term thinking, largely because it allows teams both to make better big-picture decisions and to exploit other teams mired in the short term. The most obvious example of this is the draft; the best drafting teams not only have a clear, articulate set of player profiles, but are willing to sacrifice immediate return for greater future value, either by trading current picks for future picks, which are almost always a round higher, or by drafting players who are, for some reason, undervalued at the time of the draft (the most frequent reason for this is because of injury). An organization that feels it has to "win now" cannot make these kinds of decisions, because the GM and head coach aren't sure they'll be around to reap down-the-road benefits. Since Garrett's arrival, I have seen repeated evidence of the long view in action, a perspective he can adopt because he has such...

Clarity of Vision: It's been many years (since Parcells was here) since the Cowboys organization was able to maintain a clear identity and sense of purpose for an extended period of time (i.e., several years). Their way of going about business has changed from year to year. Again, the most obvious example is the draft; in the past decade, Dallas has employed a cornucopia of draft-day strategies. They have been patient and let the draft come to them (2005); they have exercised patience and missed out on guys they had targeted (2006 and 2009); they have saturation-bombed specific positions (CB in 2000; DL in 2001; RB and CB in 2008; LB in 2009). Moreover, the type of player they have targeted has changed from year to year - and the hodgepodge roster during the Wade Phillips years reflected this inconsistent vision.

In the past two drafts, however, we have seen the Cowboys draft the same kind of players and we have consistently and repeatedly heard terms like "RKG" and "makeup." In short, Garrett has provided a...

Consistent Message: In fact, he began to do this before assuming the head coaching mantle. I first noticed the team begin to talk about "process" during training camp in 2009, when Tony Romo started to preach the "one day at a time" mantra. Now, the entire organization has adopted Garrett's message. You've heard it so many time, you know it by heart: be great every day; build one great day on the previous one; focus on the here and now. Another of these, one which I wrote about a few short days ago, is...

Competition throughout the roster: On numerous occasions, Garrett has made clear that Dallas is trying to develop a roster such that there is competition at every layer: guys battling for special teams positions; special teamers fighting for backup spots, backups competing for starting positions, starters working their tails off to keep their coveted spots. Such competition creates constant upward pressure, and makes every player feel that he has earned his spot not because of salary or draft position but because he beat out the rest of the hungry guys who tried (and will continue to try) to take it away from him.

By extension, this creates a roster full of players who survive this crucible - which would tend to favor hard-working lunch pail types and, by extension, ensure that there are...

No More Egomaniacs: In KD's most recent Crunchtime podcast, he engaged in an extended conversation with BTB's fearless leader, Dave Halprin, who offered up some choice observations. One in particular, about Garrett's ego, caught my ear:

[Garrett] doesn't seem like the kind of coach who's going to be rolled over on by Jerry Jones. He'll be in a meeting and he'll tell Jerry, "No, that's not what we need to be doing. If you want to win, this is what we're gonna need to do." And I think some of that comes from confidence/ego...but his ego is not an outward bound ego, it's an inner-bound ego that says "I'm very confident about what I'm doing, about what I know, and how I want to get somewhere, and I'm going to follow that path regardless..."

I'd like to offer that a clear correlation exists between a coach or general manager's ego and the kind of players he wants to bring in. If you'll allow me to extend the above argument a bit, Garrett wants guys like himself on the Cowboys roster: confident, proud guys, but not "me-first" guys.

I have often felt that, when looking at the 90s teams, Jerry can't really distinguish between Michael Irvin, the indefatigable worker and quintessential team guy, and Deion Sanders, who always pursued self-interest. To Jerry, they were both stars who made plays. Garrett, however, was in the locker room and on the practice field with them every day, and is intimately familiar with what distinguishes them. In short, he wants a team of Michaels, and has been weeding out the Deions.

And this is where Stephen Jones comes in. Recall that it was Stephen who almost punched Jerry for bringing Deion aboard in 1995. This wasn't solely because of the cost; in Sanders, Jones the Younger saw a guy whose values didn't match up with those of the rest of that great team. In other words, he was able to distinguish between Irvin and Sanders, and he clearly valued # 88's "RKG" qualities more so than the flash and dash # 21 brought to the table. It's this shared value system that I think unites Garrett and S. Jones, and what will ultimately turn this thing around and give Dallas fans the elite-level organization they so richly deserve.

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