It is called Black Monday. The day after the final NFL games were played has traditionally been when the wave of head coach terminations would come. But in this era of instant gratification and hot takes, many NFL teams are in too much of a hurry to even wait that long. Even before the end of the day on Sunday, there were already five coaching vacancies to be filled.
And more are expected. Chuck Pagano is widely expected to be given his walking papers by the Indianapolis Colts, and Tom Coughlin may also be headed out the door for the New York Giants (if something hasn't happened already by the time you read this). Several others are candidates as teams strive to find something better, usually driven by impatient and impulsive owners.
Once, that was the description almost everyone used for Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. But those days seem to be long gone. Despite the bitter disappointment of the just concluded 4-12 season, he is sticking with Jason Garrett.
"Let me be real clear,'' Jones said. "There's no thought of replacing Jason. At all. I only say that to get ahead of anything that might be said about me addressing coaching."
Jones does leave the door open for other changes on the staff, but seems to imply that those would mostly involve coaches whose contracts are now expired (he set the number at four, but did not provide names). Despite his former reputation, it now seems that he values stability and continues to believe that Garrett is the guy he wants leading his team.
It was as bizarre a season as any in memory for the Cowboys, which may contribute to Jones' thinking. We have all heard about the injuries, and if you watched many Dallas games, you saw with your own eyes how the football seemed to have a mind of its own in bouncing so as to deny the Cowboys takeaways. The Washington game had three examples, one fumble that went out of bounds, another that went right to another Washington player, and a pass that went up in the air and just eluded the grasp of a Dallas defender. If there were breaks in games this past season, as there always are, they seemed to go against Dallas almost every time.
Also factoring into things is that the Cowboys came off a successful 12-4 campaign in 2014. It is illogical to assume that a coaching staff would get so much right one year only to get just as much wrong the next. While there were certainly some areas that deserve to be closely examined and likely deserve criticism, such as the offensive game planning with the backup quarterbacks, there is a very good argument to be made that personnel decisions played as large a role in what went wrong as anything, with those same backup QBs the most glaring example.
So the Cowboys are going to roll into 2016 with a largely intact staff. And those personnel questions would seem to be less daunting than they were last year, when there were major decisions to be made. The team does have many places it needs to upgrade. But there are no glaring holes, with the exception, again, of backup quarterback. And that fourth spot in the first round of the draft offers a great opportunity to improve the roster.
Keeping the staff intact also offers a chance for the Cowboys to take advantage of another thing. As the NFC team with the worst record and strength of schedule (all three of the teams ahead of them in the draft are AFC clubs) and an intact coaching staff, they should be in line for something very useful.
Dallas Cowboys finished with the worst record in the NFC at 4-12. So they will get first shot to coach one of the teams at the Senior Bowl.— Brandon George (@DMN_George) January 4, 2016
That means that the coaches will get some real up close and personal time with some of the best players available in the draft. Not only will they see for themselves how talented those players are, they will find out far, far more about who they are and what kind of character and work ethic they have than could ever be gleaned in a brief interview during the NFL Combine. When a team is setting its draft board, the more information the better, and what will be learned in Mobile offers both quantity and quality data. With an opportunity to possibly get a legitimate heir to Tony Romo, they need to be as certain about whether any quarterbacks available are worthy of that fourth overall pick, and if not, they need to use it on a player who will do the most to help the team.
Obviously, many fans of the team are disappointed with the retention of Garrett and probably most of his staff. When things go wrong, and they went dreadfully wrong for the Cowboys, the knee-jerk reaction is to fire coaches. But go back and look at that list of teams with head coach vacancies. All of them are firing head coaches hired since Garrett was promoted to his position, and here they are trying again. Three of them, the Dolphins, Titans, and especially the Browns, have gone through more than one head coach while Garrett has been in place. Dumping the head coach is a panacea, not an effective solution for the complex issues most struggling NFL teams face.
One thing that has to be acknowledged is that Jerry Jones is not the easiest owner to work for. He has at times made a real mess of things in various ways in the past. But Garrett seems to have the perfect personality and demeanor to work for Jones while selling him on his own approach. A new head coach would come with zero guarantee that we would not return to the days of Dave Campo, who was nothing more than a yes-man, or Wade Phillips, who squandered the talent that he was handed when Bill Parcells left. Even the truly good coaches who have worked for Jones, Parcells and Jimmy Johnson, only lasted a short time, after which the work they had done building the team was undone.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Garrett will right the ship next season, either. The past year offers plenty of reasons to question his eternally-cited process. 2016 is probably very similar to 2014 for him in that it is a put up or hit the street situation. But with the way coaching turmoil affects most franchises, riding with the Rooster is probably the wisest course of action. Besides, there are only so many good options for a new head coach at any one time. And this year, as usual, the demand probably outstrips the supply.