One of the first lessons of self-preservation in NFL head-coaching circles is to surround yourself with viable scapegoats. This is especially true when working for Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
It’s one of the reasons Jason Garrett is too smart to start making major changes during the Cowboys’ bye week. On paper, having the worst-ranked defense in the NFL after 10 games could serve as the basis for change. Baltimore fired its offensive coordinator about this time last season…and ended up winning a Super Bowl.
Garrett could also be completely justified in reclaiming the playcalling duties from Bill Callahan. Despite having proven weapons such as Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the offense has sputtered in recent weeks. The Saints basically erased Bryant from Sunday’s game by assigning two players to defenders to him. The Cowboys never responded to that strategy and ended up with 193 yards. Garrett presents himself as a humorless man, but surely he gets a chuckle out of folks clamoring for him to take control of the offense.
Say what you want, but the offense put up solid numbers when Garrett was calling the plays from ’07 through 2012. He struggled with game management at times, but I never thought that making him a walk-around head coach was the answer. Garrett’s identity in this league is all about offense. Did we really think giving up playcalling would allow him to have a huge impact on defense and special teams? Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson had encouraged Garrett to give up playcalling, in part because that was his approach in the NFL. But Johnson had a completely different demeanor and overall personality than Garrett. What worked for Johnson wouldn’t necessarily work for the more reserved, intellectual Garrett.
I think Garrett desperately wants to call the plays again, but he’ll wait until next season to supplant Callahan. If he made the move right now and it didn’t work, Garrett’s making himself a bigger target for Jerry. Callahan and Kiffin would both be more likely to be fired than Garrett if the Cowboys don’t win this dreadful division. Jerry has fired plenty of coaches over the past two decades, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys doing it. And what he hates more than anything is firing a head coach who has another year left in his contract. There’s also the fact that he truly wants things to work out for Garrett because of his longtime ties to the organization. If Garrett fails, it will make Jones look even worse for not going after Sean Payton when he had the chance.
Garrett is well aware the presence of a failing defensive coordinator and playcaller offers him a form of protection. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs, Jones will be compelled to throw some folks overboard. That’s why Garrett’s in no hurry to make massive changes. He can tweak some things behind the scenes and perhaps have a larger role in the playcalling, but you don’t want to eliminate your scapegoats.
What Garrett knows (and maybe Jerry has now discovered) is that Callahan wasn’t the right man to call plays. For starters, there’s a reason offensive line coaches rarely perform that task. They may have a great understanding of protection schemes, but they need to be available to help their players make in-game adjustments. There’s also the problem of Callahan having a West Coast offense background. He’s known as a highly intellectual coach, but it’s hard to ask anyone to call plays in a completely different offense than he’s run in the past.
If it were up to Garrett, he’d still be calling plays. Stripping him of those duties was simply change for the sake of change. It was never going to lead to some breakthrough. But now Garrett needs to keep things status quo on both sides of the ball in regards to his coaching staff.