- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Look, I like to needle Dallas Cowboys fans when they insist on the same old complaints about Tony Romo and about Jerry Jones being the GM and the general culture of overreaction and mopey negativity that seems to have enveloped them all. But the truth is, I can see why it's frustrating to be a Cowboys fan. I really can.
This here is an example, this weird taped Jerry Jones radio interview in which he reaches for the wrong explanations for the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Specifically, he cites early season losses to Seattle and Chicago as examples of the defense underperforming:
"I didn't like the way we were playing in a lot of cases," Jones said in the taped interview that will air in its entirety Saturday night on KTVT-TV in Dallas. "I thought we could play better before the injuries, and so I factored that in. It wasn't like we had a lot of injuries out here when we played Chicago. It wasn't like we had a lot of injuries when we played Seattle. I didn't like the way we played there.
"It's not hard for me to go to those games and say what can we do to improve when we played Seattle and when we played Chicago, and I liked the way we played in subsequent games and I know we didn't have the talent level on the field that we had when we played Seattle and Chicago."
Whatever, dude. Seattle scored one of its touchdowns on a blocked punt. And Chicago? The game in which Romo threw five interceptions and the Bears scored two touchdowns on defense? I'm not saying the defense played great in those games, but if you want to cite examples of games in which it flopped, there are better ones available. Redskins on Thanksgiving. Saints in Week 16. The Cowboys gave up more than 400 yards a game in the second half of the season. You could have fired Rob Ryan on the numbers alone.
Oddly reaching for Seattle and Chicago as examples feels like a guy trying to make up a reason instead of giving the real one. Especially after head coach Jason Garrett cited a decision to "move forward in a different direction philosophically" as the reason for Ryan's firing. That's different from what Jones said, and of course Cowboys fans and critics everywhere will roll their eyes in the opposite of shock at this.
Ultimately, the reason for firing Ryan is not the issue here. It's not as though he had one of the best defenses in the league the past two seasons. There's justification for the firing. My thing is: Pick one and stick with it, and it might even help if you go with the truth. "The guy didn't do a good enough job," is one possibility. "We're going to switch to a 4-3 for personnel reasons," also works, and might jibe with what Garrett said. But if the head coach is saying one thing and the owner/GM the next day is out there saying it was because they couldn't cover Brandon Marshall after Romo's spirit-breaking fourth and fifth interceptions in Week 4, that starts to make you question the leadership at the top a little bit, no?
Get your story straight, fellas. When people find themselves following and rooting for a non-successful team, their sole remaining hope lies in their ability to believe that the people running that team have a coherent plan and vision for how to make it better. In the little time I spent around the Cowboys this year, I came to believe there was such a plan, and that progress was indeed being made. Right now, however, Jones is in the midst of something like a public tantrum -- a series of firings and overwrought radio interviews designed to convince the fans he's as mad as they are.
He needs to cut it out. He can be mad if he wants, but it's the fans' job to be irrationally so. Not his. Do Cowboys fans want to know that the people running their team are as upset about the way the season ended as they are? Sure. But much more than that, they want to know that those same people are devoted to improving the team. And the push me, pull you impression that's created when they can't even figure out a way to explain the firing of the defensive coordinator isn't sending that message.
Ryan didn't necessarily deserve to stay, but firing him constitutes a big change. If you're a Cowboys fan, you want to hear from the people in charge what it all means about the better future they have planned. You don't want to hear multiple, conflicting, half-baked explanations as to why it happened. You want to hear what's going to happen next, and as a result. And you want the people in charge to have enough confidence in their plan to present it to you with the courage of their conviction. That's leadership. And that -- not some haphazard series of radio sound bites -- is what the Cowboys need right now.