The Dallas Cowboys are now left with resetting things and moving forward for 2017. Things ended on a down note, as it does for all but one team every season, but there are many reasons to have hope that the team will make another playoff run next fall. As many teams are either assembling new coaching and front office staffs or seeing some of their personnel leave to take new jobs, all indications are that the Cowboys will once again retain most if not all of their staff. That in itself may be one of the real advantages they have going forward. Despite the relative scorn that has been heaped on Jerry Jones in past years, this may be the most important thing he has accomplished recently. Greg A. Bedard wrote about the recent wave of coaching hires in the NFL, and was not impressed. And he was not alone.
I certainly have made my thoughts known on the state of NFL coaching, and I’m not overly enthused about this group outside of (Kyle) Shanahan and (Sean) McDermott, who both have the type of track record (multiple years as a coordinator, coaching in different systems with different coaches) that seems to be indicative of success.
But I wanted to get more of a sense of what people inside the game think about the big picture in regards to this latest round of coaching hires, a job pool that didn’t entice Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels enough to take a job. So I asked three executives, all from successful franchises, what they thought. It wasn’t pretty, and their scorn was universally aimed at one place: the owners.
“They’ve made a lot of money in business, but it’s incredible to me how far out of their depth they really are on this,” said one executive. “They have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Look at Jacksonville. They keep Marrone—I mean, he was an assistant head coach on that team the past two years [8–24], was he not?—and say he’s by far the best candidate. After speaking to McDaniels, Shanahan and Mike Smith? Are you kidding? He was obviously the best candidate to give that whole group another shot at proving they put together a good team and quarterback. Bulletin: They’re not that good, it wasn’t Gus’s fault. And then, after hiring Marrone, the owner hires Tom Coughlin to oversee everything. Basically he’s telling [GM] Dave [Caldwell] what to do? How else is that going? I don’t know. I think that most of these places are screwed up.”
Meanwhile, Jason Garrett has just received the NFL Coach of the Year award from the Pro Football Writers Association, generally seen as the second most prestigious such honor after the Associated Press’ award, which is still to be announced. In his article, Bedard cited him right after Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots as one example of a team that has done things right while so many flounder.
It admittedly took a couple of decades for Jerry Jones to sort out how to run things correctly, but with Stephen Jones and Will McClay as the other key parts of his brain trust in Dallas, he now seems to have things right. It will take continued success for the the Cowboys without another down year like 2015 to cement this, but with a very young core of players that came so very close to advancing in the playoffs, the team looks poised for a multiyear run of playoff appearances, and a genuine chance to make it all the way to the top before too long.
This is quite the turnaround. It should also be mentioned that Jerry Jones was named NFL Executive of the Year in 2014. Some, at least, seem to believe that he has left his shoot-from-the-hip ways in the past. It is hardly universal, of course. The more sensational talking heads in sports media still talk about how he is going to overrule his lieutenants and make some stupid move, of course.
That just proves that those people have paid zero attention to have things really work in Dallas. Jerry has assembled his team with people he knows and trusts, and has learned that overriding them is something he is far better off avoiding. But something that should also be mentioned is that, as the only owner who also wears that general manager hat, he actually is involved in the operation. This gives him a level of insight and understanding as to how things work that none of the other owners have. As strange as it may sound, Jerry simply has the experience to make much better football decisions than the other owners. It was earned the hard way, through the myriad mistakes he made, particularly in the years between Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells, but now his GM skills are finally about on par with his business acumen - and no one knows how to run the business of an NFL team like he does.
But of his leadership team, no one plays a bigger role than Garrett. It has been frequently discussed here at BTB how Garrett has defined the character of the entire team, and this season, he finally had a roster without any players that tended to disrupt the locker room. Although the team came up just short in their playoff game, they unquestionably outperformed all expectations given the circumstances. And now they have successfully made the most difficult transition in football, moving from one franchise quarterback to the next. Overcoming the loss of Tony Romo and winning 13 games with Dak Prescott was certainly the main reason Garrett was selected for the Coach of the Year award.
And there is no doubt that Jerry Jones wants this to be a long-term relationship with his head coach. Already Garrett is one of the longest-tenured head coaches in the league. Only seven others have been in their jobs longer than him. After the brief and somewhat tumultuous (albeit highly successful) relationship with Jimmy Johnson, Jones is not-so-secretly hoping that he has found the second Tom Landry in terms of both stability and long-term success for the team. That is certainly a very high bar to set, but Garrett wouldn’t want it any other way.
It will take a lot more winning seasons and finally breaking through in the playoffs to legitimately make those kinds of comparisons, but maybe it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Here is the list of coaches who have won 12 or more games in two of the last 3 seasons. Bill Belichick. Jason Garrett. That is it.— Babe Laufenberg (@BabeLaufenberg) January 20, 2017
Three years is a small sample size, of course, and Garrett still has to put some distance between himself and the string of 8-8 years. But he has the absolute trust of his owner and a perfectly clear vision of the team he wants to have.
It is a very different world for the Cowboys than it was for so long. They certainly are in a much better position than most of the other teams in the league. The stability that exists at the Star in Frisco is a strong advantage for them, and it may be the norm for years to come.