Root of Cowboys’ coaching drama stems from Johnson

Blame Jimmy Johnson.

This latest Cowboys cluster bleep — and forcibly prying play-calling duties from coach Jason Garrett’s now hog-tied hands qualifies as yet another in a long line of them — has origins in The Jimster.

When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones drunkenly dished “any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls” and Jimmy basically said “have fun with that, a-hole,” this set up a game of chicken that remains even now, long after their public peace.

If Jerry admits the head coach is important, by giving them real power, by taking a step back, by not effectively neutering every single one of them, Jimmy wins.

If he hires a GM, thereby admitting Jimmy really had handled GM duties back in the glory days, Jimmy wins.

Both cannot be right, so rather than admit defeat Jerry Jones keeps doubling down on idiocy. This is so typically male, by the way, this doubling down on an inane argument that has been proven wrong simply because you do not want the other guy to win. What is comical, unless you are a Cowboys fan, is Jimmy is so obviously winning and he’s not even playing.

Every non-Super Bowl season (1, see footnotes), every decision like this latest play-calling debacle, every cluster bleep further solidifies Jimmy as the winner. What his “whiskey talking” did to the Cowboys was create a culture where they respect neither the position of coach nor the man in it (2), and this does not win in an era with Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin and now both Harbaughs.

Lest anybody debate this lack of respect for the position, I present to you the Dave Campo years. Anybody who has Dave Campo as his head coach for three seasons does not respect the position.

It is not simply who is the coach that is the problem. It is how the position and thereby the men in it are treated at Valley Ranch. There is not a one of them who walked through the door naïve. They knew this was the big stage. They also knew they were sharing a stage with a “socks-to-jocks” owner. They signed up anyway because this is one of the best jobs in all of sports and certainly the NFL. What they all forgot, every single one of them, is you have to have a line in the sand.

A coach can live with Jerry Jones holding dueling press conferences on game day, with him playing GM, with him having an open door with players. What a coach cannot survive is being completely undermined to his players, which Chan Gailey was when he was forced to lie about scissor gate, which Bill Parcells was when they signed T.O. over his objections, which Garrett was when they took away his play-calling duties.

Look, I get the argument for stripping him. The Cowboys’ offense was infinitely second-guessable a year ago. And two years ago. What I do not get is pretending it is Garrett’s decision to make, giggling on a random Tuesday about how anybody watching practice knows who is calling plays and leaving a blindsided Garrett to make a fool of himself in the presser moments later by denying the obvious (3). And this basically disembowels Garrett, who was hired because of his genius in play-calling. To strip him of this power is to make you wonder why he is here and for how much longer. This is hardly a recipe for success in 2013.

This comes on the heels of an offseason where the Cowboys fired his brother, tight ends coach John Garrett, despite that being the best position on the team in 2012 and bumped up offensive line coach Bill Callahan to play-caller despite his unit being the worst. This is not simply about shaking up a team that is not working. This is about respecting the man you want and need your players to respect.

But if you believe any one of 500 coaches could coach your team or even if you do not believe it but have to keep saying you do, this is how you treat coaches. Because they are expendable.


(1) Drop Aikman, Emmitt and Irvin in the grease as well. By powering through and finding a way to win that last championship with Barry Switzer as coach, they led Jerry to believe that he, not Jimmy, was the genius behind this team.

(2) Many will mention the Bill Parcells exception. This is true, and not true. The problems with the argument are two fold. In Jerry’s mind, it was not an admission of the importance of coach but rather his need to get a stadium referendum passed. And eventually, despite the progress Parcells had made, Jerry decided he’d rather have fun than have Parcells – thus the T.O. debacle.

(3) Garrett made a fool of himself by denying what Jerry said and Callahan confirmed. If he’s annoyed by this, he needs to say so or he needs to quit.