A week ago, the feeling was nearly universal: Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had to go. While the defense had been playing much better, the offense was an absolute mess, despite the move to get a real WR1 and the replacement of offensive line coach Paul Alexander with Marc Colombo, featuring Hudson Houck. And now they were facing the Philadelphia Eagles and their formidable defensive front seven with a backup at LG, Xavier Su’a-Filo, filling in for the injured Connor Williams. We had resigned ourselves to the impending death of the 2018 season and, given that the team had traded its first-round pick in 2019 for Amari Cooper, the firings on Black Monday were about all we really were looking forward to.
Then the Cowboys threw a wrench into the gears by going out and beating the Eagles, and the offense, especially in the second half, looked worlds better. It is always great to beat the guys from Philly, even more so when we are serenaded by their own fans raining boos down upon them. But it certainly muddies the water about Garrett and Linehan. Did one or both of them save their jobs with that performance?
Well, obviously it is a bit too early to make that declaration. The season has a long way to go, and the only consistent thing about the Dallas offense so far this year has been inconsistency. If they have another of the swings back to the negative that we have seen so far this year, then the cries for change at the top of the coaching staff will resume. It would take a remarkable run and then some level of success in the playoffs to absolutely save both the HC and OC. And maybe not even then.
Let’s insert a little truth into the opinionating here. These are, after all, just one writer’s thoughts. There is only one person who really matters in determining the fate of Garrett and Linehan, and that is owner and general manager Jerry Jones. Although he is not immune to the attitude of the fan base, he is hardly going to rely on sticking his finger in the wind to see which way things are blowing there to make his decision. No, he will retain or fire based on how he feels the coaches in question are meeting his expectations. And if there is one thing that is certain here, it is that no one can accurately predict what Jerry is going to do.
Still, there are certain things that seem more likely, depending on how the season plays out. If things do go well, making Jones happy about the record and, perhaps more importantly, making him think 2019 is going to be better, then he might well keep his head coach and offensive coordinator around. This presumes that playoff appearance with at least one win after they get there. That would show that the coaches had figured out how to get more out of Dak Prescott, that the addition of Cooper really fixed the issues with the wide receivers, and that Colombo really knows how to get the line back to its nasty identity. Those are things that should carry forward into at least another year, along with the young and ascending defense and the weapon that is Ezekiel Elliott. This is a scenario where Jones, who often shows a lot of loyalty to his people, may want to give his coaches another chance to try and get this thing to the promised land.
If things absolutely fall apart the rest of the way, then the odds of a double-firing go up considerably. That would be a pretty convincing argument that Garrett and Linehan really don’t have the answers about maximizing Prescott’s strengths while working around the weaknesses in his game. It would be a waste of what looks to be a very talented roster that has been built over the past several years - and given just how quickly things can go south, a change at the top would not only be a logical way to try and get that talent to pay off, it would be overdue.
The Cowboys have mounted a very successful youth movement, but the window for teams is seldom very large. A year ago, NFL pundits were slobbering all over themselves at how the Eagles had figured out and mastered roster building and were just starting a dynasty. Well, dynasties last a bit longer than a single year, and unless Philadelphia turns it around fast, they aren’t going to qualify as one. Dallas has relied a lot less on free agency than the Eagles, doing most (although not all) of its work through the draft, which is considered a more long-term approach. But that is by no means any assurance that they can keep the talent level up for more than a season or two more with the countervailing effects of injuries and players leaving in free agency.
And there is the middle path, keeping Garrett but showing Linehan the door. This could happen no matter how the season plays out. It really comes down to who Jerry feels is responsible for the struggles early, which also incorporates the less successful elements of reconstituting the offensive staff under Linehan, as well as the questionable approach to the receiving corps. If, as has been speculated, Jerry (and possibly Garrett) gave Linehan all he wanted in the offseason, then the OC could be on his way out even if things go about as well as they could.
One thing that seems impossible would be for Garrett to be sent packing while keeping Linehan. It just makes no sense. That doesn’t mean it is beyond the pale of Jerry-thought, but I can’t wrap my head around it, so we will just pretend it won’t happen.
There is one possible wild card element, and that is if Linehan was to get a job offer somewhere else. I know it seems unthinkable to many of us who hold him the most responsible for the struggles in the first half of the season, but if the Cowboys go on that huge run we all would like to see, he might just get an offer to go somewhere else, perhaps as a head coach, or he might ask to get out of his contract to seek a new place where he doesn’t feel the trust level has eroded. That erosion may be an unwarranted assumption about how Linehan is perceived by those who matter (Jones and Garrett), but there have been several hints that he has been on shaky ground since last season.
As I have indicated, I have no faith in my own ability to forecast what Jerry is going to do. But in my opinion, these seem the most likely ways things could play out, in the order I consider to be most likely to least.
- The Cowboys make a good showing but fall just short of the playoffs, and Linehan is fired while Garrett keeps his job and works with Jones to find a new OC.
- Dallas makes it into the divisional round after hosting and winning a wild-card game, and Jerry decides to keep his staff intact.
- The team slumps down the stretch, and we see who the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys will be in January (or shortly thereafter, depending on whether Jerry wants to hire someone from the staffs still playing).
It all is probably very dependent on just how many wins Dallas can manage, and still, the situation was best encapsulated by this:
the best thing I've ever written about the Cowboys pic.twitter.com/cQ2ZOORf2W— Kevin Brady (@KevinBrady88) November 14, 2018
But why should I be alone in getting it wrong? Let us know what you think in the comments.
What do you think Jerry should do about Garrett and Linehan?
This poll is closed
Fire them both, enough is enough.
Dump Linehan, but Garrett deserves another shot.
Keep them both, the problems are elsewhere.