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