There is no other team in the NFL where the owner is more the driving force behind things than the Dallas Cowboys. With the passing of Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders, Jerry Jones became the most involved, most hands on owner of any team in the league.
With the team facing a make or break six games to end the season, and with many reasons plainly evident that things could well turn out poorly, the speculation is already flying that a failure to make the playoffs will bring the Jason Garrett era in Dallas to a close. But there are a couple of factors that might lead Jones to give Garrett another year.
The team made two major changes in the offseason that arguably are behind the dismal results for the season so far. First, Rob Ryan was fired as the defensive coordinator, and Monte Kiffin was brought in to install a 4-3 defense. Then the much discussed decision was made to take the offensive play-calling duties away from Garrett and hand them over to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.
Both moves have been failures. The Cowboys' defense is on a record-setting pace for giving up yards. While another year of injuries have badly hampered the defense, those are exactly the things that logically contributed to Ryan's dismissal. With the exception of turnovers, Kiffin's efforts have been less effective than what Ryan did with a similarly banged up unit, in many ways much more so. And the offense under Callahan has become increasingly futile and predictable.
So whose fault is that? The actual process of making those decisions is clouded. The official party line is that Garrett was on board, if not behind those moves. But when Jerry Jones is the owner, there is always a belief that he really is the one making those kinds of big decisions. Whether you subscribe to the theory that he runs thing autocratically, or lean more towards the idea of a joint process involving Jerry, Garrett, and Stephen Jones, there is no doubt that Jerry Jones had to have major input in the two biggest moves the staff made to try and improve the team's performance. And it is highly likely that he overcame more than a little resistance from Garrett on at least the play-calling. Perhaps the head coach was outvoted on both the moves to some extent.
That puts the onus for the struggles the team has had so far clearly on Jerry's shoulders. If he does decide to give Garrett the boot, then it will always be seen to some degree, if not totally, as scapegoating.
He may well go that direction. He certainly has made some bad moves in the past. But he also has shown some remorse over such things, in particular the firing of Chan Gailey.
From the outside, it is impossible to understand all the dynamics of what goes on with the Cowboys, but there are a lot of indications that Jerry truly likes Garrett and what he has tried to do with the team. Just listening to Jerry reveals a lot of Garrettisms that have crept into his speech, which seem to indicate that he has bought into the philosophy that Garrett has for building the team. And an additional factor in the problems Dallas has is the poor drafting that the team has done over the past several years. That is another area where Jerry claims a lot of input, so he has yet one more part of the problem where he should take ownership of the failings of the team.
It is impossible to know which way he will go if things don't work out and the Cowboys stagger to another failed season with no playoff participation, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that he will absolve Garrett of much of the blame for what has happened this year. He may decide to bring in new blood at the coordinator level and give Garrett one more year. Rebuilding the team from the wreckage that Garrett inherited in the middle of the 2010 season may be something that just could not be done in three years, and an honest assessment of where the team is may be that it is still more than a year away from real success. If the current offensive and defensive coordinators were in fact forced to a large extent on Garrett, a fair man would not lay the blame on him for their failures.
None of that is certain, of course, and the only job on the Cowboys that is truly secure as long as the incumbent wants to hold it is general manager. As long as Jerry Jones continues to wear that hat, he will do whatever he thinks will give him the best chance of getting back to the playoffs and another Super Bowl. He may well decide it is time to blow up his staff and start all over. But that would be an admission of his failure in itself.
All this becomes moot if the Cowboys do go on a run and get into the playoffs, but that is going to be a hard thing to do. If the team falls short again, big changes will be in the offing. But if that should happen, it is not certain that Jason Garrett will be one of the people to get his walking papers. Jerry Jones may take the blame on himself, and give Garrett another year. Maybe this time, with people he picks.
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