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What we think about the Cowboys’ coaching situation

Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan need to get the offense on track to keep their jobs. But even if they do, it might not be the best thing for the team.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans
Is this relationship too strong?
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are in a place that has become all too familiar this season. They face a game where they badly need a win to keep pace in the NFC East, but have an offense that so far has been inconsistent, and often has just been absolutely bad. The onus would seem to be on head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to get it fixed. There is a widespread assumption that they are both coaching for their jobs this season, although owner and GM Jerry Jones is still refusing to even discuss moving on from Garrett.

A win against the Jacksonville Jaguars would, at least temporarily, calm the unrest in the fan base. And if Dallas can just get that offense producing, then Garrett and Linehan will probably be back for another go next year, especially if they win the division. Given the state of the NFC East and what we have seen from the Cowboys’ rivals this season, that is really not something you can automatically rule out. The odds are that it would not be much of a run in the postseason, but it still would almost certainly mean Garrett, at the least, is safe.

But is that really a good thing? Jones thinks Garrett can get the team to a championship, and the offense is really a jointly shared area of responsibility for the head coach and the OC, with Garrett’s fingerprints all over the way things are done. There is a huge question about whether they can really lead this team to success in a league where there has been something of an offensive evolution in the past few years. I asked the rest of the BTB staff the question of whether it would really be a good thing for the Cowboys to win the NFCE and ensure Garrett and probably Linehan would stick around another year. Here is what some of my colleagues had to say.

One.Cool.Customer: One of the flaws of Jerry Jones the GM is that he doesn’t keep his foot on the pedal all of the time, seemingly easing off when things go half-way right. When things go terribly wrong, he has no problem stepping in, as he did when he canned Wade Philips midseason in 2010, but there seems to be a distinct lack of urgency when things are looking up.

Things didn’t go too well in 2017, but things went well enough for Jones to buy into the idea that a few changes here or there would somehow turn a 9-7 team into a Super Bowl contender the next year. So when the Cowboys weren’t able to land a premier wide receiver in free agency, the GM thought a bunch of undrafted free agents would be good enough to make up for that, no sweat. It’s that lack of aggressiveness that has become a hallmark of the Dallas Cowboys and their GM. That strange complacency with the status quo in Dallas is particularly irritating because it is the exact opposite of what made Jones such a success early in his tenure as the new owner of the Dallas Cowboys, but those times are long gone.

So here’s why another year of middling results that keep Jason Garrett and his staff in Dallas for another year (and another year, and another year...) is bad for the Cowboys:

Sometimes familiarity breeds complacency, and that’s where the Cowboys look to be at right now. Think about how we used to laugh at the Bengals for keeping Marvin Lewis around for seemingly forever. Joke’s on us, folks, the whole league is laughing at the Cowboys for doing the exact same thing. Change for the sake of change is never a good strategy, but sometimes a personnel change can provide new impulses to an organization that may have gone stale - and maybe light a fire under the GM’s ass.

Dave Halprin: Generally, I’m a win at all costs type of guy (within reason). Because of this, I could never actively root for the team to fail this year just to get rid of the Garrett/Linehan. So I’m stuck in the middle. If Garrett can turn around this team to the point where they make the playoffs, and not just from a weakened NFC East by going 9-7 and squeaking in, but really accomplish a turnaround where the offense looks legitimate again, then I can’t say that would be bad for the team long-term. There is a lot of talk about scheme, play-calls, and whether being a run-first team in the NFL is a bad thing, but we weren’t complaining much about that when we were winning big in 2014 and 2016. As the great OCC usually reminds us - recency bias. That’s not to say that complaints about how this team is built, or how the scheme is being adapted, aren’t legitimate. There are absolutely things the coaching staff could change. But if Garrett/Linehan can somehow find a groove and make this team into a genuine playoff team this year, it’s hard to say that’s bad for the team, long-term or short-term. To me though, we’re really asking the wrong question. The only way this team is ever going to be good, with this coaching staff or another, is if Dak Prescott rediscovers the form he showed through his first 24 games. His poor mechanics, uncertainty in the pocket, failure to progress through his reads, and inaccurate passing is just killing this offense. If he can just return to being efficient and accurate, this offense can succeed and the Cowboys can succeed. One caveat, if Jason Garrett ever punts in another situation like he did against Houston, I would fire him on the spot and turn the team over to Kris Richard as interim coach.

Michael Sisemore: It’s all going to depend on how this hypothetical “turn around” is orchestrated through the play of the quarterback. If Dak Prescott is able to return to the level of play he showed against the Lions or prior to the Atlanta game last season and actually stay there, then maybe this staff can right this ship. However, if Dak and the offense continue to struggle whenever the running game isn’t working perfectly, we’re going to see new coaches. It’s much harder to find a new quarterback without mortgaging a lot of assets and the Cowboys won’t be bad enough to be Top-5 in the Draft. Plus, the Cowboys need better offensive skill players regardless. There is an influx of younger upstart coaches, be it former NFL assistants or college coaches that are taking jobs at the highest level. Trust it, there will be someone walking in telling the Jones’ family, “I like Prescott, I can coach him.” That’s what Jerry, Stephen, and McClay will ultimately want to hear. Dak is the key to this whole thing because it’s hard to picture them dumping him after this season, not yet anyway. If there is a turnaround, it’s going to be because of improvement at quarterback, which is going to make it hard to get rid of the coaches. In that case, it’s hard to say that’s bad for the long term, it will signify that the coaches got it right.

DannyPhantom: Absolutely it would be a good thing. We want this process to work. You may not feel it in your heart of hearts, but if the Cowboys hit the reset button, they’re not going to be able to just jump back into championship contention with some “fresh young mind.” New coaches typically fail. That’s why there is such a large turnover each year. They miss, they miss again, and then they keep missing until they finally hit…unless you’re the Browns, in which case you never hit.

Many Cowboys fans live and die by simply the outcome on Sunday so they know whether they can boast or hide from their peers at work on Monday. And that’s fine. But we have set that aside and really look at what is going on with the organization. For me, I’ve seen a good team be constructed whose only shortcoming in recent years has been poor play from the quarterback position. I don’t see this team lacking energy, I don’t see in-house fighting (despite what the media tries to portray), and I don’t see players throwing fits on the side line (at least, not since Dez has left).

The Cowboys have problems and it’s on Garrett and company to fix them. I’m certainly not trying to convince people that the state of the Cowboys is fine, and everyone should just like it. That’s far from it. But you really must ask yourself – is firing Garrett the best play? Will that make our players more focused? Will they fight for the star more? Will Jerry Jones trust this new coach and continue to not meddle so much?

Winning football games in the NFL is hard. The Rams didn’t just turn into the best team in the league overnight. Remember, they stunk it up for a decade where they had 11-straight years where they were picking in the top 15 of the draft. And sometimes more than one pick. That includes five picks at either 1st or 2nd, including two different shots at a no. 1 overall quarterback. Years of collecting good players help, but finally having a quality quarterback is the big wham-o there.

And then there are the Giants whose front office went on a spending spree in free agency, but that is clearly not working out for them. They are in mad denial about the quality of their quarterback.

I really wouldn’t know what to expect with a coaching reset. It could be good. It could be a nightmare. Personally, I worry about the latter because that’s typically what happens. And I’ve seen enough terrible Jerry Jones choices to scare me about him making another, and it could set this franchise back for years.

The Cowboys have had success under Garrett and I firmly believe that more is coming, but it’s going to take better play from the quarterback position. The Cowboys are 19-0 when Prescott actually has success in the passing game and averages over 7.0 yards per attempt. That tells me there is a pretty good team around him.

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