The day after the Wisconsin massacre, Jones fired Wade Phillips and named Jason Garrett interim head coach.
Today, January 6, 2011, Jerry Jones lifted the interim tag and made Jason Garrett the eighth head coach in Dallas Cowboys history.
Jones could have pursued any number of coaches currently wearing Super Bowl rings. He could have made a splash by snagging a big name coach with a track record and a reputation.
Come to think of it, Jones did just that. He selected Jason Garrett.
Garrett has two Super Bowl rings—as a player for the Cowboys. He has a track record as one of the most hotly pursued young coaches in recent years. And, he has a reputation as a fiery, no-nonsense, intelligent football coach.
Some will say that Jason Garrett is just the next Jerry “yes man.”
Others will say that Garrett is part of the problem and cannot, therefore, be the answer.
Again, I disagree.
I believe Garrett is precisely the right man for the job of head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He has earned it. He deserves it. And, he will be successful doing it.
Before you call me crazy, hear my case.
Consider his track record.
As a player, Jason Garrett had limited abilities compared to players like Troy Aikman. Garrett was a career backup quarterback.
Still, Jason Garrett made the most of his opportunities when opportunity presented itself. Garrett started nine games in his eight year career. He went 6–3 in those games. He threw 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also orchestrated one of the most exciting comebacks in Cowboys’ history on Thanksgiving Day.
As a head coach, the sample is small, but compelling. He has only coached eight games. He managed a 5–3 record, which seems unremarkable.
Unremarkable. Unless, of course, you consider that the team was 1–7 when Garrett assumed the helm. The Dallas Cowboys he inherited were listless, uninspired, underachieving, embattled, and embarrassed. Once considered contenders, they had been exposed as the worst impostors in the NFL, maybe in the history of the NFL.
Garrett immediately changed the culture of the team. He established a no-nonsense, no-excuses, deliberate approach to game preparation. He started practices and meetings earlier, demanded punctuality, put the team in pads mid-week, and even installed giant digital clocks all around the locker room to eliminate excuses for tardiness.
The turnaround was immediate. The Cowboys went to New York and beat the Giants 33–20. The Giants, who finished 10–6 on the season, are sitting at home during the playoffs this season, partly because of Garrett’s Cowboys.
Under Garrett, the Cowboys swept their NFC East opponents in the second half of the 2010 season, after having lost to all three of them the first time around. They also beat the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, contributing the difficult road that team had to take to a division title.
Garrett’s Boys would lose three games–by a total of seven points. In other words, they competed. They fought every opponent tooth and nail. They even won a game at the end of the season that most fans wanted them to lose. While fans whined about dropping three or four spots in the upcoming draft, Garrett refused to approach any game with what he called “a loser’s mentality.”
Consider what his players have to say about him.
A major component of success for a head coach is how he handles the room. Does he command the respect of his players. Do they buy what he is selling? Do they believe in him? Will they follow him into battle? Will they implement his plan of attack with confidence?
Following are some quotes from some of his players, courtesy of the Dallas Morning News:
“There is zero gray area there. It is black and white. Very direct and to the point. No misunderstanding.
“I’ve been hit in the head a lot, but I could understand what he is saying when he stood up there and communicated to our football team. I believe in anybody like that.”
— Linebacker Keith Brooking.
“I don’t know if I can say it. Hard ass. Hard butt. And I like it.”
— Receiver Roy Williams describing what Garrett is like as a coach.
“The way he’s responded, I think he was born to be a head coach.
“Jason Garrett is the fire. He has that fire in his belly and he motivates us, man. He really does. I’ll be honest with you. He gives you something to think about and guys respond.”
— Linebacker Bradie James after overtime win against Indianapolis.
Pretty high praise, don’t you think?
Consider his reputation around the NFL.
Under the heading, “Fast Track,”an unnamed author at the Dallas Morning News writes:
Garrett’s star has been on the rise since he began his NFL coaching career with Miami in 2005.
Scott Linehan was so impressed with Garrett that he hired him as Miami’s quarterback coach 10 hours after meeting him. When Linehan became head coach in St. Louis he tried to bring Garrett along as his offensive coordinator.
Nick Saban wanted Garrett to follow him from the Dolphins to Alabama . Butch Davis wanted him at North Carolina and Les Miles tried to entice him to LSU. Norv Turner tried to get Garrett on his staff when he was in Oakland and Sean Payton wanted to hire him in New Orleans.
When Dave Campo was the Cowboys head coach he made a run at Garrett in 2000, but the quarterback wasn’t ready to walk away from his playing career.
Garrett was hired as the Cowboys offensive coordinator in ’07 before head coach Wade Phillips was in place. Miami didn’t want to let him go. Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga allowed the Cowboys to talk to Garrett on the condition that if he was hired he would call the plays.
He has interviewed for the head coaching jobs in Baltimore, Atlanta and St. Louis in his brief time with the Cowboys.
Jerry Jones is not alone in his belief that Jason Garrett is one of the hottest commodities on the market. Plenty of savvy football minds agree.
Troy Aikman went so far as to say that Garrett may be selling himself short by being a coach when he could be a leader on any level he chose, including president of the United States. That may be an overstatement. Time will tell.
Consider the options.
To date, no head coach has ever won a Super Bowl with more than one team. Only Don Shula and Bill Parcells have taken more than one team to the Super Bowl, but each only won with one team. There is no guarantee that Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, or Brian Billick can recreate the magic of their past heroics.
Some of the most successful coaches in the NFL right now are first-time head coaches. Look at the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, and last year’s world champions, the New Orleans Saints.
Will Jason Garrett ever hoist the Lombardi trophy as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys? I do not know. Neither do you.
But I am with Jerry Jones on this one. I like his chances.