- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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It may be easy for you and I to sit here and say Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should give up on the idea of Jason Garrett as head coach, move on and start over with someone else. But it's important to remember that you and I probably wouldn't have hired Garrett to coach the Cowboys in the first place, and Jones did.
A half-season after he fired Wade Phillips as head coach and defensive coordinator, Jones looked at all of the available candidates and selected Garrett. Dan Snyder had beaten him to Mike Shanahan by a year, and the best remaining candidates at the time were either defensive coaches (John Fox, Jeff Fisher) like the one he'd just fired or offensive coaches (Jon Gruden, Brian Billick) whose stock had fallen since their Super Bowl title days. Garrett had just gone 5-3 over the second half of the 2010 season with Jon Kitna at quarterback. The team had responded to him, Jones had always thought highly of him, and so he made the decision that Garrett had earned his chance.
We fast-forward now to the present day. After Sunday night's loss to the undefeated Falcons in Atlanta, Garrett is 3-5 for this season, 4-9 in his last 13 games and 16-16 since taking over as head coach of the Cowboys in the middle of 2010. For the first time since he got the job, he does not have a winning record. Cowboys fans are profoundly disappointed that things have failed to get better over the past two calendar years, and since they believe their team has the talent to play with the league's best teams but isn't beating them, they assume it's a matter of coaching and that Garrett must go.
Now, I don't believe this Cowboys team is as "talented" as everybody wants to rush to believe it is. Sure, there are some excellent players on both sides of the ball. But they don't have the same kind of depth of talent on their roster as the teams to which they've barely lost to the past couple of weeks. And at the positions where they're strongest -- quarterback and wide receiver, for instance -- the Giants and Falcons are even better. The combined record of the five teams to which the Cowboys have lost this season is 32-10, which means they've been beaten by the very best teams in the league. Of their remaining eight games, five are at home and only one is against a team that currently has a winning record. There is reason to believe things so far have been tougher for the Cowboys than things will be the rest of the way.
But those are excuses, this is a results business and the results say Garrett is a .500 coach. So this becomes about evaluating the kind of job he's actually doing. And it's not great. The clock-management issues, the delays in sending in the plays ... these things are easy to spot, as is the fact that the offense (which is Garrett's responsibility) appears to be regressing. The additions of offensive line coach Bill Callahan and the free-agent guards they signed were moves of Garrett's making, and they have not paid off. Tony Romo's having a bad year. Dez Bryant isn't making the step forward he was supposed to make. There is no run game to speak of with DeMarco Murray injured, and it's not as though they were running for 175 yards a game when he was in there.
There are plenty of reasons, if you believe 32 games is a sufficient sample size, to conclude that Garrett isn't doing a good enough job. But only one man's opinion matters, and that man is the guy who hired Garrett in the first place. Just because fans are looking for reasons to fire Garrett doesn't mean they should assume Jerry Jones is, too. Jones has publicly said, many times, that he regrets firing Chan Gailey after only 32 games, and that he's learned lessons about the importance of continuity. Good leaders stand by their plan and their people, and Garrett is Jones' guy and his plan is to give him every chance to succeed.
Jones likes Garrett. Garrett is Jones' hand-picked choice to coach the team. If anything, he's looking for reasons to keep him. Another 5-3 finish that got the team back to .500 would allow Jones to claim that Garrett had done a good job recovering from a tough first half. It would push Garrett's record to 21-19, and Jones could very easily say he's not going to fire a guy with a winning record. A finish better than 5-3 would make the Cowboys a playoff contender, possibly even a playoff team if things broke the way they did last year in the NFC East.
A total flop against the soft second half of the schedule? Say, a 3-5 finish and a 6-10 record for the year? That's the kind of thing that could change Jones' mind. So could the sudden appearance in the coaching free-agent ranks of a highly qualified offensive coach such as Sean Payton or Andy Reid. As much as Jones likes Garrett, he likes Payton as well. And if a coach with Payton's pedigree hits the market, every team with even the faintest of question marks in the head coach's office is going to have to take a long look.
But the key thing to remember, amid the frustration, is that Jones feels differently about Jason Garrett than Cowboys fans do. Jones thinks more highly of Garrett than you ever did, or else Garrett would never have been the coach in the first place. Jones wants Garrett to succeed -- wants to build the Cowboys into a consistent winner around him and with the help of his vision. That might sound crazy and unjustified to you and to me, but it's what Jones has in mind for his franchise. And in order for him to get rid of Garrett, something big is going to have to happen to change his mind. So while you may want Garrett out and you may think it's obvious that he needs to go, you shouldn't assume it's definitely going to happen.