Although the season is still not over, with a very real chance for the Dallas Cowboys to make the playoffs, almost everyone expects that Jason Garrett will not be offered a new contract to return as head coach. While there remains a remote possibility of the team going on an underdog run for the ages, the team looked like it had lost any real belief in itself or the staff in the past two losses. There is also the Jerry Jones factor. He has made some puzzling decisions before, and he certainly has put a lot of faith in Garrett in the past. But the expectations are that there will be a new head coach next year.
That leads to the obvious question of who, or at least what kind of coach, it will be. Our MIchael Strawn and Tom Ryle have been considering that.
Tom: While I think the owner needs to cast a wide net and have at least preliminary interviews with as many possibilities as is feasible, I do have some things I would rather see. Right up front, I am not a big fan of the college names being floated, like Urban Meyer and Lincoln Riley. The overall track record of NCAA coaches making the leap to the NFL has not been good. It is not so much about things like scheme and innovation on the field, because there is a ton of that out there.
I just believe that the college game is so completely different. The true determinant of success at that level is recruiting. If you look at the teams that have a lot of wins, you find that they almost always also had very strong recruiting classes over the previous few years. To a very real degree, winning at the college level is all about one team’s talent being better than the other’s. Scheme/innovation only plays a decisive role when top level teams square off against one another. Nick Saban is not known as an innovator, but it was headline news when Alabama didn’t make the CFB playoff this season. He just has been able to recruit almost anyone he wants for years now.
Another thing college coaches often have to devote a lot of their time and effort to is fundraising. Schmoozing those wealthy alums to get that new training facility or some more money for additional staff (hey, those head coach salaries eat up a lot) as well as to garner support for years that don’t go so well, is part of the job description. And like with recruiting, that has nothing to do with the pro game.
And in a lot of places, like Oklahoma and Alabama, the head coach of the big school is arguably the most influential person in the entire state. That may not be good preparation for dealing with an NFL owner. Especially one who covets his own power and influence. I’m not pointing fingers at Jerry Jones.
OK, I lied.
So, yeah, I would rather see an experienced NFL head coach or a talented coordinator come to Dallas. It was encouraging to see Jerry Jones talk about the “slow start” you have to deal with when coaches move from college to the NFL. However, he is also very much prone to using the media to maneuver for negotiations, so that may be nothing more than that. Still, I can hope.
Michael: I pretty much agree with all of that. I’ve been watching the NFL for nearly 50 years and in that time I’ve seen exactly three college coaches enjoy sustained NFL success: Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll.
But I’m more concerned with WHAT the next coach does than specifically who he is. Four things I’m looking for in whoever is the next Cowboys coach:
- Fluent in “modern” offensive philosophies. There’s somewhat of a revolution going on in the NFL and you’re either a part of it or you’re the victim of it. These aren’t revolutionary or exotic ideas; they’ve been around at the high school and college levels for years. They are new to much of the NFL, however.
- Willing, able and eager to adapt the scheme to the talents on the roster... not forcing the talent to play in a singular, rigid, predictable scheme.
- Willing, able and eager to integrate analytics into game-day decision-making. Again, teams will either be a leader in the inevitable transition to a “revolutionized” way of playing football that challenges long-held “conventional wisdom” or they’ll be a victim.
- Ability to adapt on-the-fly when things don’t go as planned... either within a game or over a longer period such as a season.
In short, four areas that Jason Garrett came up woefully short throughout his entire career with the Cowboys.
Now Garrett was strong in many other areas and you don’t want to be deficient in those areas while improving in these four areas.
So, regardless of whether it’s an established or young NFL coordinator, a former NFL head coach or a highly accomplished college head coach or whoever, that person needs to check each of the four boxes above to make me a happy camper.
Honestly, that might be an ambitious desire as there might not be a well-established candidate that meets all four criteria. So I hope the team at least pursues these avenues of thought as opposed to going through the same processes they’ve used in other areas.
The Joneses are arguably the most innovative, creative thinkers in the league when it comes to the business side of the NFL. Let’s hope they bring that same kind of approach to the football side of the NFL in naming the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Tom: I can’t see any of your criteria that I disagree with. That’s where the resume of the coach, whether as HC or coordinator, is so important to me. Did the coach show things like adaptability? Was he using some of the newer concepts? Which players did he have, and how did he utilize their strengths? Did he modify and adapt as needed to get the most out of the roster he had each season, rather than relying on going out and adding new blood as the only way to improve?
Then there’s an additional factor, and that is who is going fill his staff? Most coaches have either an offensive or defensive background, so at least one of the coordinators should serve as the leader on his side of the ball. I think a discussion of who the new HC wants to go after is crucial. It would also be a very good idea to try and include some who have worked with special teams in the HC search, because that provides experience in dealing with players from both offensive and defensive backgrounds, and a less parochial view of things. And special teams have been and continue to be an unmitigated disaster for the Cowboys this year.
Even more crucial, the candidate should insist on having control over who is hired for all the positions. If Jerry insists on some of the current staff staying, like Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna, then he is just continuing the inherent dysfunction that is leading to the presumptive departure of Garrett. It is fine to ask the new guy to interview Moore or whoever else Jerry likes, but if the new guy says no, then that is how it should be.
That may be the biggest pitfall in all this. Jerry (or Stephen) may just have some demands that any really good prospect should refuse, which means that they may revert to someone they are more comfortable with - or that they see as more pliable. We saw how that went after Jimmy Johnson departed.
I think the next head coach needs to be someone who is not afraid to butt heads with his bosses. That is another reason why one with NFL experience appeals to me, because they likely have at least some familiarity with the care and feeding of egotistic billionaires who can also fire them in a heartbeat. Jerry has his faults, but there are worse owners out there. Just look at Dan Snyder. One reason Garrett hung on for so long was that he seemed to have a real knack for working with Jerry, and there were some interesting indications that he swayed his GM on some things. You never saw Garrett dropping a Jerryism, but over time, Jerry sure started repeating a lot of Garrettspeak. That skill is not something to be disregarded for the next head coach in Dallas.
Michael: Yeah, in fact those points are probably the most important points. If Jerry and/or Stephen insist on bringing someone in who will carry their water for them, we’re doomed; it’s as simple as that. Without a strong personality ala Jimmy Johnson/Bill Parcells there’s zero chance for long-term success. It’s as simple as that.
The first indication of what direction the franchise is going in will be in regards to the assistant coaches. If the Jones insist that Kellen Moore or Kris Richard or any member of the current staff be kept we’ll know the franchise will return to the dysfunctional ways of the past.
Garrett wasn’t a Johnson or Parcells but he also wasn’t Wade Phillips; he was an integral member of the brain-trust who had significant input in everything from roster construction to scheme to everything on the field. But he also allowed Jones the opportunity to contribute to the thinking in these areas. And that’s okay. But the franchise clearly needs a jolt of new thinking, new ideas, new approaches. All of us have been unfortunate witness to the fact the current edition is broken.
Tom: This decision will set the tone for the future in Dallas. We just need to hope that they get it right.