Quiet. Calm. Deliberate. All are adjectives that can be applied to the way the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of business since the start of training camp. Although there was a major controversy when the team signed Greg Hardy, all the other moves since the end of the 2014 season for them also fit the description. This is amazing if you look back to the middle of the 2010 season, when the Cowboys were a team that was literally falling apart on the field. They had given up on their head coach and, in a year with very high expectations, gotten off to a disastrous 1-7 start. A handful of very talented players were surrounded by others who were aging and in decline, carrying large contacts their contributions no longer justified.
Faced with the dismal situation at mid-season, Jerry Jones took the drastic step of firing Wade Phillips and promoting Jason Garrett to interim head coach. It was long suspected that the top job was in Jones' eventual plans for Garrett, but there were plenty of doubts about whether he was ready for the move up at the time. Garrett had no doubts. He came in, took charge, and without Tony Romo, manged to win five of the remaining eight games. It was enough to persuade Jones to give him a four-year contract as head coach following the season.
Among the so-called experts who covered the team, the expectation was that he would not last the full four years. At best, he would be let go when his contract ran out so Jones could bring in a high-profile name. As the team notched three consecutive 8-8 seasons, missing out on the playoffs in the last game of each, the predictions that Garrett would be one and done on his contract just intensified.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Garrett didn't care about what was being said. He continued to set the tone and philosophy of the team. He never gave any sign of being flustered or anxious. Above all, he never let himself be deterred from shaping the team into what he felt it needed to be. Just as fortunate, Jones gave him the full four years. At first, Garrett had to work with a set of coordinators that were mostly chosen for him, but as time went on he inspired enough confidence to finally get a staff of coaches to his liking. And in 2014, it all came together with a 12-4 season and a playoff win. His reward was a new five-year deal.
All along, his influence over drafting and who to sign in free agency continued to grow. He was helped by the support he got from Stephen Jones and the promotion of Will McClay to run the scouting. Stephen was also gaining power in the organization during this time, and he served as a needed counterweight to his father's sometimes impulsive behavior.
It is a remarkable evolution for Dallas. You don't often see a team remake its approach and process on the fly without having to suffer through a string of losing seasons. You don't see teams upgrade their talent level significantly without the high draft picks that come from being one of the bottom feeders in the league. Yet that is just what has happened with the Cowboys. They have had a string of successful drafts, garnering three Pro Bowl players in just four years, along with some other key players like Terrance Williams and Anthony Hitchens, and 2015 may, in time, prove to be one of the best drafts ever for the team. All of this was accomplished with a notable lack of drama, despite the eagerness of many in the media to try and stir some up. Nothing is more an indication of how firmly Garrett runs things than the steadfast and composed way the team moves ahead, no matter what.
The success of 2014 led to a remarkable stability in the coaching staff, with every key member except Bill Callahan being retained, many of them on new contracts to ensure that they are around for a while. For the first time since Garrett became head coach, the same scheme from last year is in place for the offense, defense, and special teams.
For years, Jerry Jones was a sort of clown prince among owners, making highly questionable moves and garnering a reputation for overruling his head coach. Even after Garrett took the reins, there were persistent characterizations of him as a puppet who would lose his job as a scapegoat for the larger dysfunction of the organization. It took last year to finally drive a stake into the heart of that meme, and there are certainly those who are willing to pull it out and revive it should Dallas stumble. But in large part due to the influence of Garrett and Stephen Jones, Jerry Jones was named the NFL's 2014 Executive of the Year. He has come a long way.
A stumble looks rather unlikely this year. There are still forecasts that the team cannot recover from the loss of DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo is still not given the due credit that his performance last season would seem to deserve. The improvements that look to be evident on defense are not universally perceived. However, the people who cover the Cowboys closely all seem to believe that, on balance, this is a better team than the one that got to the divisional round of the playoffs last January. Most of the doubt comes from those outside the Dallas market who are still influenced by all the outdated images of Jones and the team.
Any success or failure that happens this season will be determined by the players that the Cowboys field, but there is increasing evidence that this team is built to succeed in the long run. The only great question remaining is how the team will eventually move on from Romo when his career winds down, but he is as healthy as he has been in years, and his skills may be peaking. Much of the past four years have been devoted to assembling a cast around him that can allow him to excel, and this year that cast may be the best he has ever had.
Credit for that has to go to the people at the very top, where Garrett has become the clear leader in how the team is going to play while the Jones family and McClay have done a commendable job in giving him the roster to carry it out. It is very much a team effort for them, just as it is for the players on the field. We as fans now take for granted that the people running the show know what they were doing. We should not forget how different that is from what was happening just five years ago. A few of us saw the possibility of what could be done once Garrett was promoted. Now Dallas is poised to reap the benefits - and it may be doing that for years to come.