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Cowboys again betting on the value of continuity

Despite a difficult season, there was no desire to jump on the coaching carousel.

Dallas Cowboys training camp
The partnership continues.
Ron JenkinsFort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images

It’s kind of a semi-annual ritual now. The Dallas Cowboys have a disappointing year. The cries become loud from both fans and the media for a housecleaning in the coaching staff. And come Black Monday and the ensuing days, basically nothing really happens.

It should be no surprise to anyone, but the anger and resentment will simmer anyway. The fact is that the message all along from the team was that there was not going to be a big shakeup this year, particularly from Jerry Jones. There is little doubt that head coach Jason Garrett is keeping his job, and all indications are that OC Scott Linehan and DC Rod Marinelli will not be shown the door. As of the time this is being written, there has only been one change to the coaching staff announced, and that is the retirement of tight ends coach Steve Loney. There seems to be a deliberate pace being set for any changes to the staff to allow the assistant coaches who wish to move on or retire to do so before anyone is actually fired. At the moment, there is thought to be a good chance wide receivers coach Derek Dooley is trying to find a college level offensive coordinator job, to actually be involved in the scheme building and game calls.

Of course it is pointless to come to any conclusions about whether the Cowboys (meaning Jerry and Stephen Jones) are handling this correctly. Even after we see how the coming season plays out, we really won’t know if another approach would have made things better or worse.

But for whatever reason, it is reasonable to conclude that the Jones family is not eager to blow things up and start again, especially with a head coach that seems to be so well suited to working with the outspoken and at times flamboyant owner/GM. And it is also likely that the strong indications that Linehan and Marinelli can retain their jobs if they choose (there are some who think Marinelli might be considering retirement himself) show that Garrett in turn is vouching for them. The collective decision on what happened last year seems to be that it was not because of things that swapping coaches would fix. More weight is given to execution on the field, which certainly slumped, and there is also finally an admission that off-field issues played a role.

The execution issue does have some merit, but it is really hard to see that as completely independent of the coaching last season. In particular, the Chaz Green debacle and a general failure to adjust and adapt when Ezekiel Elliott started his suspension and Tyron Smith simultaneously had to miss some games have to be counted against the coaches.

Regardless, the plan now is to have the coaches figure out what they did wrong and get it fixed rather than bring in new blood. This does not sit well with many.

It doesn’t matter, of course, because we all know who is making the decision here. But it does bring up an interesting question: Why the sudden desire for major changes?

The argument is going to fall on many deaf ears, but if you go back and look at the past four years, it doesn’t really look like evidence that a bunch of people need to clear out their offices. After Garrett finally got off the 8-8 treadmill while the team was being largely rebuilt, he has since gone 38-26 in the regular season, and 1-2 in two playoff trips. Sure, he hasn’t brought home the Lombardi Trophy that the fan base somehow assumes is the just birthright of House Cowboys, but it is not like he hasn’t had success - and that record includes the 4-12 mess of 2015 when Tony Romo was hurt. Yes, that is something else the staff, including the front office, did not prepare properly for. But it is also evidence that they can correct their own mistakes, as the next year saw the acquisition of one Dak Prescott. While he definitely had his issues this past season, it was inarguable he a huge part of the recovery in 2016.

Making the standard for whether to retain coaches an endless run of playoff success seems illogical outside of the New England area. We all know how much churn there is in the playoff field. And if you wish to posit that continued mediocrity is not acceptable (and that just getting to the postseason without going far indeed constitutes mediocrity), then be glad you are not a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, who just announced they are bringing back Marvin Lewis on a two year deal. Lewis, after all, is the epitome of never doing anything in the playoffs.

There have been several coaches who were thought to be on the way out that have been retained instead, including Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns. You do wonder if some teams are becoming leery of the pool of available talent. Not all have reservations. That is certainly true of the Oakland Raiders. After firing Jack Del Rio just a season removed from a playoff appearance that was cut short by the injury to Derek Carr near the end of the year, they are widely reported to be working on a massive deal to bring Jon Gruden back into the NFL as their new head coach.

That seems a highly risky move, given Gruden’s long absence from the coaching ranks and his record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe he will recapture the magic that got him a Super Bowl ring there before the wheels fell off. Or, and to me at least, more likely, he will be another Chip Kelly, generating massive buzz before making a quick exit. At least we will no longer be subjected to his fulsome praise for just about everyone on the field during Monday Night Football if the deal with the Raiders goes through.

That is always the risk with a new head coach. There is no assurance that he will actually improve things, and often it is just a brief tenure when it doesn’t pan out. The Cowboys have elected to avoid that and roll with people they know and, rightly or wrongly, believe in.

It may or may not work out as well. It is not unreasonable to ask if the staff that did such a bad job in 2017 will be able to turn it around this year, even with whatever changes in the assistant ranks eventually come about.

Dallas is putting their money on consistency winning out for them. It is just a different kind of risk, but certainly one they are more comfortable with. Now we have to see how it all turns out. And hope for the best.


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