DALLAS – If Jerry Jones listens to Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle long enough, he might end up offering Jason Garrett a lifetime contract extension.
Carlisle has become a Cowboys fan and friend of Garrett’s in recent years, somewhat regularly visiting Valley Ranch during the Mavs’ offseason. As a head coach who has dealt with his share of adversity, Carlisle also has tremendous admiration for how Garrett has handled the various difficult circumstances encountered by the Cowboys this season.
Garrett faces arguably his biggest challenge during his three-plus year tenure as a head coach, preparing the Cowboys to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the de facto NFC East title game after franchise quarterback Tony Romo underwent season-ending back surgery.
“When things don't go well and you have upheaval and you have adversity, that's when the head coach has to step up in a leadership position and has to direct, has to lead, has to sometimes re-direct focus, whatever the case,” Carlisle said Friday on 103.3 FM ESPN. “We've all been through some of this stuff. I went through the brawl year in Indiana when we had three guys suspended for half of the year and we lost Ron Artest for the rest of the year. In those situations, you've got to look around and convince your guys that there are great seeds of opportunity there. And I know that's what Jason Garrett is doing now.
“I have such high respect for him. I've been over there probably a dozen times in the last two and a half, three years, sitting in on meetings, see how he organizes, how he cultivates togetherness on that team. They've gone through some incredibly difficult things with health issues, now Romo’s out and everybody’s calling for his job. This guy always just stays the course and keeps working with his guys. I have super, tremendous respect for him. He would be successful in almost any position you put him in.”
Carlisle referenced the infamous “Malice at the Palace,” the Nov. 2004 brawl between the Pacers and Pistons when he was Indiana’s head coach. That resulted in lengthy suspensions for three of the Pacers’ best players: Artest (rest of season), Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O’Neal (15 games). Indiana still advanced to the conference semifinals that season.
That situation is somewhat comparable to the rash of injuries that have hit the Cowboys this season. The headliner Romo, but the Dallas defense has been hit especially hard by injuries since the start of training camp.
According to Carlisle, psychology is a higher priority than even scheme for a head coach dealing with such situations.
“I believe that the most important thing in a leadership position of being a head coach is your demeanor and body language in the face of what I call adversity, high-level adversity, upheaval, whatever you have,” Carlisle said. “If you present an air that you understand the direction that the team needs to go and you have an air of, ‘Follow me and we’ll be OK,’ that sets a phenomenally important tone. Jason does all those things.
“Look, they’ve had so many health issues the past couple of years. The fact that they’ve remained competitive and had some really difficult losses and came back and bounced back and had some really good wins after getting crushed a couple of times, that tells you that there’s strong leadership there. Face it, being the head coach or the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is an incredibly demanding position to be in for both Garrett and Romo because there’s just such incredibly heightened hype and attention on the Cowboys. I think it’s one of those situations, and I think Garrett has grown tremendously because he’s done something that’s very difficult to do. He’s kept the team extremely competitive, he’s kept the attention on the things he needs to keep it on and he’s let his owner be his own man. That’s a gift that he has. Few coaches in that situation would be able to do what he’s done. …
“If there’s anybody that can get that thing together and find a way to have one of those Hail Mary games where you make something happen and you buck all the odds, I mean, Jason’s the guy to do it. I give them a puncher’s chance this weekend.”