After the 2017 season ended, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett decided to make some wholesale changes to the structure of the Dallas Cowboys to avoid another disappointment, if 9-7 can really be called a disappointment. While offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli both remained with the team, much of the staff around them has changed. This series is meant to profile each coach, including the ones who stayed, and analyze how their presence will contribute to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Today, we are looking at the red-headed skipper himself, Jason Garrett.
By now, everyone knows who Jason Garrett is. He is, after all, the second-longest tenured head coach in franchise history after Tom Landry. Garrett’s long-lasting job security has been a bit of a surprise, as the longest any head coach had previously made it with Jerry Jones was Jimmy Johnson, who coached 80 regular season games before mutually parting ways. When the Cowboys take the field for their season opener on September 9, Garrett will be coaching in his 137th regular season game.
Garrett was once the Cowboys backup quarterback during the 90s before he went into coaching. In 2007, he returned to Dallas as the offensive coordinator under Wade Phillips. Jerry Jones thought so much of Garrett’s offensive brain that he hired him as the offensive coordinator before even hiring head coach Phillips. In 2010, when Phillips was fired after a 1-7 start, Garrett was the obvious choice to become interim head coach. One of the first things Garrett changed was the implementation of full-contact practices. As a result, Garrett went 5-3 over his interim tenure and became the full-time head coach.
The rest, as they say, is history. Three consecutive 8-8 seasons, all of which ended with losses in playoff-clinching Week 17 games, cast doubt on Garrett’s ability to succeed. However, the roster was going through significant turnover, including the switch back to a 4-3 base defense. The team bounced back with a strong 12-4 season before the 2015 season was lost after Tony Romo went down to injury. 2016 was Garrett’s best year with the Cowboys after going 13-3 and winning Coach of the Year honors. Last year was a step back with a 9-7 season after dealing with turmoil from suspensions, injuries, and Jerry Jones’ feud with the NFL.
Throughout his tenure as head coach, Garrett has drastically changed the culture of this team and gradually transformed the locker room to resemble himself. He has put a premium on getting players who are good people, and doing his best to avoid troublesome players. His close relationship with Jerry Jones - which was forged back during his playing days for Dallas - has afforded him plenty of input into personnel moves.
Garrett has also changed the schematic approaches on both offense and defense. The offense has become much more of a run-first attack bolstered by a rock-solid offensive line. Garrett is a disciple of the Air Coryell offense the Cowboys used in the 90s when he played with the team. This involves a power running game with a vertical passing game. Garrett is likely to stick with the power running game but may change up some of the other aspects of his traditional offense to better suit the strengths of Dak Prescott. We’ve already seen more run-pass options, and there may be a new emphasis on the shorter passing game with a new batch of receivers who are good route-runners. Instead of the emphasis on stretching the field with vertical routes, the Cowboys may lean more into a quick passing game based on reading the receiver progression and taking what’s given to them.
Garrett switched the defense back to a 4-3 base for the first time since Parcells came to town. Garrett is an offensive coach, so his defense has been left to the coordinators for the most part. Rod Marinelli has been the guy recently but Kris Richard may be the future.
In many ways, Garrett has shaped this franchise into the way it looked in the Landry and Johnson years. The team is less flashy and more old-school in their approach, which reflects who Garrett is as a coach. He never gives the press much to work with and is very circumspect about discussing the team’s strategy or personnel publicly in any substantive way. His sideline demeanor and press conferences have given the public the impression that he is not a passionate coach, that he is somewhat robotic and that he might not be a demanding or inspiring presence in the locker room. The recent series All or Nothing showed that wasn’t the case at all. Garrett does demand accountability from his players and coaches, he can be a disciplinarian, and he’s a very passionate coach.
Garrett has his flaws as a coach. Making in-game adjustments doesn’t seem to be one of his strong suits. The team was definitely caught off guard during the Chaz Green game against the Falcons and basically nothing was done during the game to change the course. There have been other times during his tenure when a rigid adherence to his system has overridden the common sense of making adjustments to meet the situation. The inability to win in 2015 when Tony Romo was lost was a poor combination of self-scouting and adjusting to new realities.
Additionally, the Cowboys have failed in the playoffs under Garrett. There is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers has a lot to do with that, as has one awful call by the referees on a Dez Bryant catch, but the fact remains - Garrett has been unable to advance the Cowboys to an NFC Championship game.
Going into 2018, Garrett still has many doubters despite what he’s accomplished. Much of the feeling is that his soft reset on the coaching staff resembles the beginnings of a make-or-break year for the coach. As a former Cowboy himself, Garrett enjoys a close relationship with Jerry Jones, and that is the main reason he was afforded patience in the first three seasons. Yet, this 2018 Cowboys team is the most Garrett-y it gets, after his overhaul of the position coaches and parting ways with Dez Bryant. If the most Garrett-y version of America’s Team can’t make the playoffs, at least, Jones may find it hard to keep him around any longer. Nevertheless, Garrett has made necessary changes this offseason and, if it pays off, will only prove that the Garrett way works. If not, well, Jones has never been known for putting up with what doesn’t work.