- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every assistant coach should be harshly and honestly evaluated after the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
That uncomfortable process is very much underway with the firings of running backs coach Skip Peete and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. It’s unfortunate for good men to lose their jobs, but that’s life in the NFL, and the firings can be easily justified from a football perspective.
Just wondering whether tight ends coach John Garrett gets an exemption.
The only reason the elder Garrett brother wouldn’t be in jeopardy of losing his job is the same reason he was hired in the first place: He happens to share bloodlines with the then-offensive coordinator/current head coach.
Please don’t point to Jason Witten’s record-breaking career as proof that John Garrett has done a good job. Witten was a three-time Pro Bowler when Garrett showed up at Valley Ranch. He doesn’t need a position coach to push him to be great. In fact, the example Witten sets is the best asset Garrett has.
Garrett should be judged by the development of young tight ends. That’s been a major failure during his six-season tenure.
Martellus Bennett didn’t develop one bit during his four-year tenure with the Cowboys, who didn’t spend a second-round pick on the dude just to be the equivalent of a third tackle despite what they want you to believe. In fact, Bennett regressed during his time under the tutelage of Mr. High and Tight, catching four touchdown passes as a rookie and failing to reach the end zone the rest of his time here.
But the Cowboys still missed Bennett after he left for the Giants, where he basically matched his four-year Dallas production in one season. Just look at the glaring differences in Dallas’ two-tight end packages the last two seasons.
In 2011, the two-tight end packages were a Jason Garrett favorite despite Bennett’s limited contributions as a pass catcher. The Cowboys drastically reduced how often they used two tight ends after his departure, when John Phillips filled Bennett’s role.
According to Stats Inc., the Cowboys ran 320 plays using two-tight end formations that season. Tony Romo was 59-of-89 passing for 729 yards (8.2 per attempt) and four touchdowns and was sacked six times. The Cowboys rushed 225 times for 935 yards, an average of 4.2 per pop, and two touchdowns.
The Cowboys ran 198 plays out of two-tight end packages in 2012. Romo was 51-of-74 passing for 556 yards (7.5 per attempt) and three touchdowns. The Cowboys’ average yards per carry in these packages plummeted to 2.7, gaining only 326 yards on 120 carries.
Phillips, a fourth-year player, caught only eight passes for 55 yards. Some questioned why rookie James Hanna (eight catches for 86 yards) didn’t get a bigger share of the snaps, wondering whether Garrett was showing favoritism to a player he coached at Virginia. (Kevin Ogletree, who kept getting No. 3 receiver reps despite being the fifth-best receiver on the roster, was also coached by Garrett at Virginia.)
Speaking of favoritism, Garrett’s three-year stint as Virginia’s receivers coach certainly shouldn’t have made him attractive to NFL teams. The Cavaliers’ passing offense ranked 91st, 57th and 102nd in the nation during those three seasons. Garrett added the assistant head coach title in his final season, when Virginia matched its worst record in a two-decade span.
Prior to his extended stay at Valley Ranch, Garrett had been an NFL position coach for consecutive seasons only once. That was as the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 1999 and 2000. Jake Plummer, who looked like a promising young quarterback when he beat the Cowboys in the playoffs the season before Garrett’s arrival, threw for 22 touchdowns and 45 interceptions in their two seasons together.
It’s probably pure coincidence that Romo matched his career high and tied for the NFL lead with 19 interceptions this season with Garrett passing game coordinator, a promotion his little brother gave him in 2011. After all, it’s a meaningless title that didn’t add any significant responsibilities.
But that title, like John Garrett’s mere presence at Valley Ranch, is a reminder that nepotism runs rampant around those parts.