IRVING, Texas – New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t remember the exact moment he decided to give up his playcalling duties in Jacksonville, but he knows the reason. He wanted to have more influence in all aspects of his team.
It’s still up for debate whether Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett arrived at the same decision on his own accord. He took a lot of pride in calling plays for the Cowboys from the time he took over as offensive coordinator in 2007. In recent years, Garrett’s former coach and longtime mentor Jimmy Johnson tried to convince him to make the change. On Wednesday, I asked Coughlin why he eventually decided to give up play-calling.
“It’s your personality and your beliefs and how you choose to spend your time, but there was a point in time for me, I just said, ‘You know what, I’ve got to be the head coach of the entire team,” Coughlin said during a conference call. “I thought I was spending so much time trying to be prepared for the play-calling duties that I felt like it was maybe closing some doors of opportunity for me to be involved in motivation of our players, the management of our players to a better extreme. So that was the reason for me. I do think that it does allow you to become very, very familiar with the opponent. It does allow you to be in position perhaps to be a situation or a play or a series ahead from where you might be if you were the play caller. It also allows you, I think, to get more involved in special teams, which is so critical.”
Coughlin called plays when he first took over the Jaguars in 1995, but it’s not something he wanted to do when he was named Giants head coach in 2004. Coughlin and Patriots coach Bill Belichick both served as assistants under Bill Parcells, who’s also tried it both ways. Parcells called the offensive plays for the Cowboys in 2003, but he eventually turned the duties over to Sean Payton and later, Tony Sparano. For Garrett, what Coughlin said about being able to think ahead in terms of game management should be extremely beneficial. Garrett has struggled with time management late in games, and it has cost the Cowboys dearly.
He also gave former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan too much leeway the past two seasons. Ryan saw the Cowboys job as a steppingstone to a head-coaching job. He viewed himself as a defensive genius, and he gave his players too much to think about from week to week. Garrett was so focused on putting an offensive game plan together that he didn’t try to curb Ryan’s exotic tendencies.
Now, Bill Callahan will call plays and quarterback Tony Romo will have more say in the game-planning process. It also stands to reason that Romo will have more freedom to check out of certain plays during games. During a session with reporters Wednesday, Romo refused to tip his hand on the new approach. But Callahan was a little more forthcoming in describing the quarterback’s involvement.
“Tony has a lot of input into what’s transpiring, and making the quarterback feel good about the plays that are being called and the plays that are being put in is really important,” Callahan told reporters at Valley Ranch on Thursday. “And it’s important from the aspect of confidence and also from the ability for him to feel good about what’s being called so he has options, and if he has a problem he can fix it and knows what the solutions are. His value is underestimated because he has the experience of playing 10 years in this league and knows coverage and knows defenses and understands concepts. He has a great impact. I know we’ve changed our structure a little bit in terms of how we’ve worked relative to game planning. We try to work ahead a little bit, so that we can give Tony as much information as we can, so we can get the feedback from him so that we’re all on the same page.”
In case the $108 million contract didn’t clue you in, Romo has more say than ever in this organization. I don’t think Callahan would be the playcaller for this team if Romo hadn’t signed off on the change. He has a solid relationship with Garrett, but he was ready for a different voice.
Garrett may not have given up the play-calling duties for the same reasons Coughlin did, but perhaps it will be the best thing for his career. Coughlin has two Super Bowl titles in the past six seasons, so it appears he may be onto something.
“You’ve got to understand your other responsibility,” Coughlin said. “You just invest your time in different ways, and you’re hoping to enrich the entire program because of it.”