Cowboys, Garrett better make most of last 8 games

Jason Garrett is in a hurry.

As interim coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and still the offensive

coordinator, he has no time for chitchat, no time for anything but

work. All those congratulatory calls, texts and e-mails piling up

will have to wait.

”I’m not overly concerned about getting back with everybody,”

he said during one of his brief news conferences this week. ”I

think they understand that I appreciate the support.”

Garrett can’t slow down because there is always something to do

next. His world is an NFL assembly line of meetings, walkthroughs,

practices and more meetings, all culminating in a game – and he has

only has eight of them to show Jerry Jones he’s the right man to

lead America’s Team.

Jones flipped over the team’s leadership structure this week,

tossing out coach-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and promoting

Garrett, a 44-year-old Princeton grad who’s never been a head coach

at any level but has long been viewed as a great candidate.

With the playoffs a lost cause, Jones made this change to

recalibrate the stakes for the second half of the season. How

everyone performs from now on will go a long way toward deciding

who remains with the organization and who doesn’t.

Since that includes the coach, it’s little wonder he’s moving so

quickly. And how’s this for added pressure? Jones said Friday on

KRLD-FM in Dallas that, even before he fired Phillips, Super

Bowl-winning coaches were inquiring about the job. He didn’t name

names.

Garrett has a lot of cleaning up to do if he wants to make a

good impression. Dallas is 1-7 and could be playing its worst

football since the 1960 expansion season, when Tom Landry’s cast of

has-beens and never-weres went 0-11-1. The Cowboys have lost five

straight, giving up 121 points over the last three games, at least

35 each time. The offense is sputtering behind a line that’s not

blocking, runners who aren’t running and a 38-year-old, fill-in

quarterback who hasn’t won since 2007.

The baffling part is that this team won the NFC East and a

playoff game last year with virtually the same cast. They were

widely thought to have a chance of playing in the Super Bowl, which

happens to be coming to Cowboys Stadium. Instead, they’re

contending for the first pick in the draft.

This roster was built to win now, which makes things tougher for

Garrett. He can’t try a youth movement because there aren’t many

youngsters to try.

Bad drafts have interrupted the cycle of having kids ready to

replace the veterans in front of them. For instance, the Cowboys

gave up on an eighth member of their 2009 draft class just this

week, leaving only kicker David Buehler, linebackers Victor Butler

and Brandon Williams, and quarterback Stephen McGee. All you need

to know about McGee is that Dallas is sticking with Jon Kitna as

the replacement for Tony Romo when the Cowboys play the New York

Giants on Sunday.

Garrett isn’t big on sharing information, especially about the

lineup. While he speaks politely and enthusiastically, he’s

mastered the art of talking without really saying anything.

”There might be some subtle changes,” Garrett said. ”There

might be some that are more obvious to people. We’ll obviously

continue to evaluate how we practice this week and certainly the

game evaluations will be significant going forward.”

Garrett has been on the staff for 3 1/2 years, so he probably

already has an idea who overachieved last year and who is

underachieving this year. Perhaps he’s giving them all one last

chance to snap out of it; once they reveal themselves, then he’ll

start shaking things up.

Phillips refused to make an example out of anyone. He talked a

lot about accountability, but with guys rarely getting benched,

demoted or cut, it was just talk.

Jones essentially told the players they got Phillips fired by

not responding. Garrett’s message to players was that he’s not

going to let them let him down. He laid out expectations and the

consequences for failing to fulfill those expectations.

”He got his point across,” Kitna said. ”He’s really not

asking us to do anything that ‘Wow, that’s revolutionary’ or we

weren’t trying to do before. There was just a little more emphasis

on the things he feels like are going to help us win.”

When Garrett says ”it doesn’t matter where players come from,

whether they’re Pro Bowl players, drafted players or undrafted free

agents, we’re going to play the best guys,” one look at his bio

shows he means it.

This is a guy who spent a year as a college assistant coach,

then a season in the World League and another in the CFL before

ever making an NFL roster, only to last for 12 seasons. He made

himself a keeper despite being good enough to play in just 25

games. It only makes sense that he’s looking to trust guys with the

instincts and passion he had.

Even guys with thick resumes and secure contracts consider

themselves put on notice.

”Guys like myself or (co-captain Keith Brooking) or whoever

else is supposedly supposed to be here … you have to show the

younger guys never to give up,” linebacker DeMarcus Ware said.

Jones doesn’t expect Garrett to perform miracles this

half-season. Wins would be great, but he’ll settle for improved

effort.

The decision on whether to keep Garrett for 2011 and-or beyond

probably won’t require a detailed breakdown of game films or

statistical analysis. It should be apparent to everyone if the

redheaded coach lights a fire under this club.

He’s already awakened something within cornerback Mike

Jenkins.

Jenkins has gone from making the Pro Bowl last season to making

all the highlight shows this week for a play that underscored why

Phillips had to go. Against Green Bay last Sunday, Jenkins had a

chance to tackle a running back a few yards from the end zone and

didn’t even bother trying. He was allowed to stay in the game and

wasn’t publicly chastised for it. Why wouldn’t he have a sense of

entitlement – especially since he’s also kept his job despite

repeatedly getting beaten and often drawing pass interference

penalties when he fears getting beaten?

Yet when Jenkins got word Tuesday that he had to be at team

headquarters by 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, he snapped to

attention.

He brought a notebook and an open mind to Garrett’s first

meeting.

”I thought he pointed out a lot of good things,” Jenkins said.

”I took a lot of notes and took down a lot of key words that he

used. I’m going to take it with me. … It’s a new day for me. It’s

a new day for everybody.”