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A Historical Perspective On The Garrett 'Turnaround'

A look at how the transformation of the Dallas Cowboys under Jason Garrett compares to the ones experienced by his predecessors Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

With a 6-1 start to the 2014 NFL season, it appears that Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has righted the ship in Dallas. After an impressive start to his tenure in Dallas where Garrett led the team to a 5-3 mark during his eight games as the interim head coach, Garrett's teams floundered in mediocrity with three consecutive 8-8 seasons. As is the case when coaches do not deliver immediate results, the fans and media began to call for the coach's head, but team owner Jerry Jones insisted that Garrett was still the man to lead the Cowboys back to the glory hole. As we can see, Jones faith in the red headed genius is being rewarded.

With the turnaround that the Garrett regime is experiencing comes an opportunity to see where this effort ranks as compared to the other two head coaches who have built successful Cowboys clubs, Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson. Landry, we know, took a rag-tag bunch of NFL cast offs acquired via the Expansion Draft and slowly built the teams that found the NFL post season in 20 consecutive years. Johnson, on the other hand, took a franchise that had slipped from prominence to to the depths of the league standings and was able to build a dynasty that won three Super Bowls in four seasons. Both men worked wonders to achieve their success and now Jason Garrett is attempting to duplicate their triumphs.

Let's take a look at how each of the three coaches performed during their early tenures in Dallas.

Coach Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6
Tom Landry 0-11-1 4-9-1 4-10-0 5-8-1 7-7-0 10-3-1
Jimmy Johnson 1-15-0 7-9-0 11-5-0 13-3-0 12-4-0 N/A
Jason Garrett 5-3-0 * 8-8-0 8-8-0 8-8=0 6-1-0 ** TBD

From looking at the table we can see that, through his first two seasons at the helm in Dallas, Jason Garrett fared better than either Tom Landry or Jimmy Johnson. Granted, Landry was starting a team from scratch, a challenge Garrett did not face, but the 1-7 squad that he inherited from Wade Phillips was well on its way to duplicating the 1-15 record that Johnson turned in for his first season. It was Garrett's immediate impact on a team that had quit on its head coach that allowed the team to finish the second half of the season with a 5-3 record. Garrett started his career of with a much better performance than either of his Super Bowl winning predecessors.

Each of the three coaches started their tenure with a vision of what they intended to build. From the chart we can see that from year two forward both Landry and Garrett's squads followed similar trajectories. Neither man's record indicated much progress while the coach was churning the roster trying to get the right pieces in place. Even though there was progress being made, the record was not reflecting the gains being made. Jimmy Johnson, on the other hand, was showing a different trajectory. His progress was bolstered by the gains made in the Hershel Walker trade and other front office moves. As the Cowboys started to reap their dividends, the Dynasty-era Cowboys were born.

By the time the coaches entered the fifth years of their tenure with the Cowboys there are clear differences in how their time in Dallas would play out. Landry was still waiting on his team to begin fulfilling its destiny while Johnson was securing his. During his final season as the Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson would secure his second Super Bowl ring. Making the playoffs was still a pipe dream for Landry, who would not begin his legendary run of post season appearances until his sixth year as head coach. In his fifth season as the current Cowboys coach, thanks to his meteoric start, Garrett's squad appears to be a playoff caliber, if not Super Bowl level, team.

While the jury is still out on Jason Garrett's time as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, when he is compared to his two greatest predecessors during their earliest years, Coach Garrett actually measures up quite favorably. His performance will always pale in comparison to the dramatic turn-around that Jimmy Johnson brought to town. The days of blockbuster trades to jumpstart a franchise are gone, but Garrett seems to be well on his way to making the Cowboys of this era relevant. It is a process that he seems to be completing at a faster pace that the one that Tom Landry followed to initially establish the winning tradition that is the Dallas Cowboys. Where he will eventually wind up is still anyone's guess. What is known is that, for now, most of us are pleased with where Garrett has the team this season. Dallas fans are looking forward to a time when Garrett and his charges will hoist multiple Lombardy Trophies like the coaches in whose footsteps he follows did during their eras.

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