Amidst all the other news on social media, including the big contract Jimmy Garoppolo is getting, an old standby stirred up fans of the Dallas Cowboys. To paraphrase, the opinion was expressed that it would be a good thing for the team to have another bad year in 2018 because it would almost certainly lead to the end of the Jason Garrett era.
That seemed odd to me, because my stance is that once the team moves in a certain direction, as a fan I want to see it work. And if it doesn’t, then you make changes. Playing GM is fun, but dealing with hypothetical situations is not very productive. The focus for me is trying to figure out what the team did and why, and then analyze how it works out. Others prefer a different approach. So what is the debate all about?
Garrett has always been a polarizing figure. It is at least partly because he is clearly favored by the number one polarizing person in the whole organization, Jerry Jones. However, he certainly has a lot of things that generate some strong, even passionate takes.
Briefly, here are the two arguments:
Those who want to see Garrett gone feel he is a mediocre coach who does not have the ability to win in the playoffs. He has not been able to string together successful regular seasons, and has had quick exits from the postseason the two times the Cowboys got there. His lack of playoff appearances and success in a seven year tenure is just not good enough in a league where Doug Pederson only needed two years to get the Philadelphia Eagles their first Lombardi Trophy. (Pardon while I go soak my fingers in bleach after typing that last sentence.) He has a conservative, predictable, and even stodgy approach to things. There is still a residual anger over how the transition from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott played out. And of course he claps all the time. Dallas needs to cut him and the coordinators loose and find a new coach to make things better.
The counterargument goes that he has shown in those two successful seasons that he has the ability to win, and the job in 2016 was remarkable as the team found incredible success with a fourth-round draft pick until they ran into nemesis Aaron Rodgers. He is one of the few coaches who seems to be able to function effectively under Jones, who certainly is not going anywhere as long as he is able to go to work. The team has shown increasing aggressiveness, such as going for it on fourth down more. Playcalling was a big downfall of the team in 2017, but that is more on Scott Linehan, and the word is that the team is seriously rethinking much of that in the campaign to make things more “Dak-friendly”. Switching coaches often winds up being a step back, and is a big gamble for any team.
Those are very simplified, of course, but they give the gist of things.
However we as fans may feel about things, Jerry Jones is riding into the 2018 with Garrett and Linehan. So as fans, it really seems logical to hope things work out. If they don’t, then those who want change at the top will likely see it. And if they do, the cries for Garrett will die down - at least until things go wrong eventually.
There are reasons to have hope for a better year. To name just a couple, the hiring of Kris Richard looks like it was a brilliant coaching move. The team has some very good pieces to build around, and we still have free agency (which admittedly is not usually that exciting for Dallas) and the draft (which is the preferred method for them to acquire new talent) coming up. Of course there are concerns as well. As much as most people like Richard, they are skeptical of Kellen Moore as the new QB coach. And there is a real chance the team will bungle the David Irving situation and let a truly dynamic pass rusher get away from them. You can probably list several more as well.
But, to coin a phrase, that is why they play the games. We have the offseason, training camp, and the actual season to come before we will have any idea how well Dallas has addressed the failings of last year.
To a large extent, there is recency bias at work here. Pederson is the new darling of the head coaching ranks, but few were anointing him the next coaching genius after his 7-9 inaugural campaign. He still has to prove he can win consistently, although admittedly he has a team that looks loaded with a bright future ahead of it (gag). It is worth remembering that the Eagles wanted Ben McAdoo before they settled on Pederson after the New York Giants gave McAdoo their head job. And we all saw how fast McAdoo flamed out. Heck, Jeff Fisher was once highly-regarded! Things can turn around in a hurry.
The NFL is all about “what have you done for me lately”. Right now, Garrett is carrying the weight of 2017, and he has to prove once again that he can lead the team to the playoffs, and then he has to break through for some wins there. It is a one-year cycle, where almost all coaches are on a hot seat until they cool it off. Only 12 teams will make the playoffs, and many of the ones who don’t will be looking for a new head coach. And sometimes teams that do get to play beyond the regular season make a change as well.
Basically, the point is that the team knows what it wants to do with Garrett now, and will reevaluate at the end of the season, which is what should be the norm every year. We can critique things as the data rolls in, but we have no idea what we will see. In the meantime, the operative attitude should be simple.