The Cowboys will open up their 2017 season with the reigning Coach of the Year roaming the sidelines. Despite this, there are a lot of folks that just aren’t convinced yet as Jason Garrett only has one playoff win in seven seasons as the leading man. Still, Garrett has been improving as the head coach. After three consecutive 8-8 seasons, Garrett’s Cowboys rose to 12-4 in 2014. That was in part due to an MVP-caliber performance by Tony Romo. In 2015, everything went south after Romo’s clavicle injury in week two and the Cowboys dropped to 4-12.
However, under the same circumstances of Romo going down early, the Cowboys rode two rookie sensations in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott to 13-3 in 2016. Garrett was instrumental in helping the rookie Prescott usher in a new era of the Dallas Cowboys. With the help of his lieutenants, Scott Linehan and quarterback’s coach Wade Wilson, they have built one of the deadliest offenses in the NFL.
Although Garrett has been building towards a consistent winner, Cowboys fans don’t let him off the hook that easy. With five Super Bowl wins since 1960 but zero in the last 22 years, Garrett will have to take full advantage of the team he’s constructing now to change some minds. So, where should Garrett rank as a head coach in this league today? Of course, he doesn’t have the skins on the wall like Bill Belichick but he also hasn’t been a head coach for 22 years.
When looking at putting together a rank of coaches in the league, there are a ton of variables. Belichick is the Top Dog, nobody would argue that but what if his division was more competitive over the last 17 years? The Patriots have won 14 division titles in that time with the Jets and Dolphins accounting for three division titles. Only six times has an AFC East team made the wildcard and only twice did an AFC East team dethrone the Patriots to get to the AFC Championship game.
Compare that to the NFC East where there hasn’t been a repeat champion since the 2004 Eagles. In the same time Belichick has been in New England, the NFC East has produced nine wildcard teams. Even the Giants, who managed to win two championships, were sandwiched between some forgettable seasons.
When Garrett began his tenure as the Cowboys’ head coach, he was up against two of the league’s best coaches at the time in Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin. Now, seven years in and Garrett is the longest tenured coach in his division. It’s a safe argument to make that Garrett is the very best head coach in his division as well. Between Ben McAdoo, Jay Gruden, and Doug Pederson, Jason Garrett deserves the lead in that bunch for now.
Every offseason we see the head coaches in several rankings from one to 32 and then we get a bunch of that “hot seat” mess. When looking at six different sites and their coaching ranks, Jason Garrett was either in the Top-10 or he was in the middle of the pack. The best he finished was 7th by MSN and the worst was 17th by CBS. Looking at the landscape of the NFL, there are definitely not 17 coaches better than Garrett. Coincidentally by winning percentage, he's ranked 10th with a .558.
It’s not as simple as giving the coaches with most tenure a higher ranking as a lot of these sites operate under. For instance, Jack Del Rio spent nine years as the coach of the Jaguars with only three winning seasons. Two seasons in with the Raiders, he’s surrounded by better talent and he was a runner-up for Garrett’s Coach of the Year honors in 2016. John Fox has been coaching for a while but that doesn’t catapult him above Garrett just because he had Peyton Manning for a few years. We don’t even need to start with Marvin Lewis.
For me, there are only eight coaches I’m willing to put ahead of Jason Garrett right now. Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Bruce Arians, Andy Reid, John Harbaugh, and Mike Tomlin are the only ones ahead of Garrett. Though Tomlin has a Super Bowl ring, it’s a struggle to definitively say he’s better than Garrett right now and perhaps the same could be said for Harbaugh.
A lot of folks see Garrett in that next tier with the likes of Ron Rivera, Chuck Pagano, Dan Quinn, Mike Zimmer, and Bill O’Brien. Of all of those names, Garrett still seems like the better choice even considering two of them have appeared in a Super Bowl.
Every offseason is met with a small gathering of folks that want Garrett to get the boot but you would be hard-pressed to find a better man for the job. Recycled names like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden are always the first ones out there but that’s just laziness. Why look for retreads when you can create the next great coach? Everyone starts somewhere and the Cowboys are fortunate to have Garrett potentially be their own homegrown success.
Jason Garrett is benefiting from stability and patience in the Cowboys organization. He’s benefiting from having two of the league’s best coordinators and a solid staff. It’s taken him some time but he’s built a winning identity on offense and now the team is focused on improving defensively. You’re only as good as the people around you and Garrett has put quite an array of talent around him. Looking around the league, considering statistics, the continuity, the Cowboys’ trajectory moving forward, there’s no reason not to believe that Jason Garrett is among the Top-10 coaches in the NFL.