As was anticipated, Tom Coughlin has officially resigned as head coach of the New York Giants. This leaves Jason Garrett as the dean of NFC East head coaches. And he is slowly climbing the seniority ladder of the league as a whole. There are only six coaches who have been in their position longer than he has, and one other who was hired at the same time Garrett was officially given the job after serving half a season as the interim replacement for Wade Phillips.
|Longest Tenured Head Coaches|
|Bill Belichick||New England Patriots||2000|
|Marvin Lewis||Cincinnati Bengals||2003|
|Mike McCarthy||Green Bay Packers||2006|
|Sean Payton||New Orleans Saints||2006|
|Mike Tomlin||Pittsburgh Steelers||2007|
|John Harbaugh||Baltimore Ravens||2008|
|Jason Garrett||Dallas Cowboys||2010|
|Pete Carroll||Seattle Seahawks||2010|
And there is a very good chance that Garrett may soon move up another rung as reports continue about the Saints trying to find a team who is wiling to trade a draft pick to take Payton off their hands.
The NFL is clearly not a place where it is easy to achieve longevity with one team as their head coach. Jerry Jones is now bucking the trend in electing to give Garrett at least one more year to prove that 2015 was an aberration and not a trend for the Cowboys. It flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that prevails in the NFL, as Bob Sturm detailed in his last "morning after" post of the season.
It appears that the 2015 Cowboys are going to chalk all of this season up to the bad luck monsters that grabbed a few of the key pieces of the puzzle. You can definitely see how they can talk themselves into that and the idea that they would be in the playoffs if they had a little "injury luck".
But, that would mean that the rest of the league is wrong. The rest of the league either gets it done or gets replaced. The exceptions of that rule are reserved exclusively for those front offices who have a trophy or two that isn't collecting dust.
This franchise no longer should enjoy that credibility. The 5-years of Garrett as full-time head coach has been one playoff year in five chances. A regular season record of 40-40 with a playoff record of 1-1. During that time, they actually have a home record of 19-21 which clearly plays into the idea that the franchise enjoys no home field advantage whatsoever.
I believe I would welcome major changes. But, I don't believe major changes will be welcomed by those who run this organization. For them, it is on to the next task under the same system that has putyt them here.
Well, as much as I personally admire Sturm for his football wisdom, I think that in this case, he is missing the real lesson here. If you step back and take a look at things, the rest of the league is most likely wrong. Dumping your head coach is usually not much of a solution at all. I'm not alone in this opinion, but it must be admitted that I am also one of the biggest defenders of what both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have been doing over the past five years.
But stepping back from what I think about these things, it is interesting to look at the way head coaches are swapped out when teams stumble. Looking at the list above, it should be clear that there is a relationship between stability in the coaching staff and long-term success in the NFL. The difference between correlation and causality is one that is often not well understood, but in this case, there is a lot of evidence that letting coaches get their system in place and giving it time to take root and grow is a very important part in being a contender. And in the first four years of Garrett's tenure, the Cowboys were in the playoff hunt until the last game of the season, even though they fell short the first three. With the many contributing factors that led to the debacle of 2015, making a change based on one year would almost certainly have set the organization back. The biggest factors pointed to for last season's failure in Dallas, injuries and the inability to take the ball away from the opponents, are both things that are heavily influenced by random chance. The failure of this season is not in and of itself conclusive evidence that Garrett and his staff are doing a bad job.
This is not an argument that Garrett should be allowed to complete the remaining four years of his current contract no matter what the record is. He is certainly going to be evaluated on the record going forward, and if Dallas cannot reverse things quickly, his time will be up in a year or two. But the decision to retain him and much of the current staff is being correctly based on more than the past season's won-lost record. It also factors in the state of the locker room and the relationship Garrett has with Jones and the rest of the management team. There is zero evidence of the kind of dysfunction that played such a major role in Chip Kelly's dismissal from the Philadelphia Eagles. And there is ample evidence that it takes a certain kind of coach to find success under Jones. Garrett is only the third one Jones has found since buying the team, along with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells, and he has now shown he can last longer than either of them, apparently with far less friction. Jones values that. He demands to be the face of the franchise in a way that no other owner does. Garrett has no problem with that, a rare quality in a profession that is full of towering egos.
Jones also has one quality that is often overlooked and very undervalued. Unlike other owners, he takes full responsibility for his role in the success and failure of the team. This springs from his unique role as general manager as well as owner. Other owners work behind the scenes, but in many cases force decisions on their teams that are just as intrusive as those Jones makes. The difference is that the other owners can put all the blame on their employees and fire them rather than being forced to make changes in their own behavior. However much you may dislike Jones for his many quirks and flaws, you should give him full credit for manning up and putting himself right in the blame for things when they go wrong.
There is another factor that plays a major role in the success of those coaches in the table above. All of them have a franchise quarterback that is vital to the success of their teams. Belichick, who seems to defy all the normal rules of the NFL, where the deck is stacked to drive mediocrity as much as possible in order to keep as many races competitive as possible to drive ratings and income, has largely ridden Tom Brady for his success. Yes, he managed to win with Matt Cassel, but until Brady's career finally ends, we won't know just how well the hoodie can handle things without arguably the best quarterback in the league this century. That just adds fuel to the argument that the injury to Tony Romo, coupled with the complete failure to have a viable backup in place (something that falls more in Jones' lap anyway), was the driving factor in the precipitous decline for Dallas.
Coaching stability is seen as a product of success in the NFL, but it is possible that the opposite is also true. Keeping a stable staff even when a season or two go off the rails may be the best way to ensure recovery. It is hard to find many examples where a bad team is suddenly turned into a perennial contender by a coaching change. Giving the coaching staff a real chance to build a roster and culture is likely a more reliable way to long term success. Jones has an advantage most other owners don't in the unparalleled financial success of the Cowboys. He does not see his bottom line suffer greatly with a bad year or two. Having the additional income generated by owning his own superb stadium further insulates him. It allows him to take a longer, more patient approach, something he has become much better at in recent years. Garrett is an integral part of that.
Whether it will pay off over the next couple of years remains to be seen, but you would probably lose if you bet against it. There are no guarantees, but there is a lot of evidence out there that the path the Cowboys have chosen, at least for now, is the smart way to go. You may disagree, but that is what makes the sport so much fun to follow.