There are some long-standing fall traditions in North Texas. That first real wave of cooler air elicits a collective sigh of relief that can be heard a time zone away. The State Fair of Texas induces people to eat things they would not dream of tasting in normal situations. The Red River Rivalry will have two states riveted. And if there are a couple of ugly Dallas Cowboys losses, the hot seat talk will swirl around head coach Jason Garrett.
Well, we’ve seen two ugly Dallas loss es in a row now. And it took less than 24 hours for the obligatory denial that Garrett is on that hot seat. Which, naturally, many take as conclusive proof that said seat is indeed reaching volcanic temperatures.
Adding even more fuel to the fire is that we have had the first firing of the season, and it is in the NFC East. Jay Gruden is now out as the head coach of Washington. He has been replaced on an interim basis by Bill Callahan, a very familiar name for Cowboys fans. Dan Snyder continues his never-ending quest to have a relevant team without ever quite realizing his real problem stares back at him from his bathroom mirror.
So of course, Garrett is on a hot seat.
Equally important, that is nothing unusual. We, as fans, just get all wrapped around the axle over these things. And frankly, Garrett has always had a high degree of unpopularity with many fans, which colors their feelings. It also is perhaps the least relevant factor in what may happen to him.
There are a lot of things that go into the decision to part ways with an NFL head coach, such as the very important relationship that exists with the ownership. But nothing is as important as the blatantly obvious factor of how many losses a team accumulates. Sometimes that can be over a short term, while others can involve multiple years. In the end, though, it just comes down to how many the owner can tolerate and how those losses match up with expectations.
It is not just a simple equation, either. There are multiple factors. What shape was the team in when the coach took over? Did it require a big rebuild? Obviously a coach like Matt Patricia of the Detroit Lions is going to get a few years to try and turn a bad situation around. A coach may get a season or two of grace if they had a really successful year, such as making the Super Bowl or perhaps the conference championship. That was the case for several seasons in Dallas, as Tom Landry probably was kept on for more than one season after the game had passed him by due to his long history of playoff success. You also have cases where a coach is probably dragging the team down but his players basically carry him for a few years. That is the most likely explanation for Mike McCarthy’s lengthy tenure with the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers and his supporting cast were good enough to go to more than one Super Bowl, but instead were just good enough for McCarthy to keep getting one more year to turn it around, until the management finally made the hard decision.
Of course, there are some situations where a coach keeps his job for no discernible reason, like the sixteen years Marvin Lewis spent with the Cincinnati Bengals. NFL owners are very rich and very different individuals, so who knows in cases like that?
That is why the hot seat talk about Jason Garrett is both valid and premature. It is valid because he has now been with the Cowboys as the full time head coach since 2011, with an even longer history first as a backup quarterback and then as offensive coordinator. In that time, he has been the most successful regular-season head coach since Jimmy Johnson’s brief and rather spectacular career in Dallas. He also has more wins as head coach than anyone not named Landry. It would take a spectacular flameout for him to be fired during the season, and even then the Jones family might prefer to wait until the bitter end to make the move and start a serious search for his replacement.
More importantly, Garrett has the best relationship with Jerry Jones of any coach since Jones bought the team. He is extremely well-respected. The well-reported loyalty Jones has to coaches and players he likes is also a big factor. Garrett has already benefited from a great deal of patience that Jones has exhibited in the past decade. Given that the Cowboys came back from a 3-5 start last season to win the division and a playoff game, we should not be surprised to see that patience stretch a bit longer.
That turnaround last season is also a reason this may be a bit early to start looking for who we want to take Garrett’s place. If there is one thing he has shown during his tenure, it is an ability to rally this team and keep them competitive. If the Cowboys do make the playoffs and win a game or two, he is probably going to get an extension, although it may not be a long as his past ones.
It is all contingent on just what happens over the final eleven games of the regular season. There is not likely to be another huge trade coming the way Amari Cooper was brought in to give the team a huge boost a year ago.
That ties in with expectations, however. Until the last two games, people were buying into the idea that this was the deepest and most talented roster the Cowboys have had in a couple of decades. Perceptions are changing, but only a couple of people really matter in that department, and that is Jerry and Stephen Jones. They are the general mangers of the team, and this roster is their handiwork. If they do think the roster is all that, then they will have to question whether Garrett is the guy to get the most out of it. If they feel that some of the players are not living up to things, then it makes a coaching decision more complex.
We keep circling back to wins and losses, and that just the nature of the beast. There is only one head coach that is really seen as untouchable in the league. Bill Belichick is likely the best ever in the NFL, but it is the incredible run of success with the New England Patriots (and Tom Brady) that makes him seem so safe. He is also the true alpha dog of that organization. There is no reason for Robert Kraft to even contemplate any kind of change when there have been so many happy endings for all involved. But if the wheels were to come off, Belichick’s security would likely erode rapidly.
That is all moot, of course, because there is absolutely no sign of said wheels being at all loose. This is not the case for Dallas. Those wheels are hardly off at this point, with the team still tied for the division lead, but there has been some noticeable wobbliness the past couple of weeks. The evaluation of Garrett’s performance is, after all, an ongoing thing for his bosses. Every week presents a new data point, which affects the overall picture.
Exactly as it happens in all the other franchises. When wins are piling up, the coach is more secure. When the losses come, that security lessens. The temperature of the seats changes accordingly. As Gruden the Younger found out, it can reach the point when the ax falls. Once it does, then teams now have the whole issue of finding a new coach.
We are a long way from that with Garrett. After each game, we get closer or farther. It is just how football goes.