Commentary

Garrett won't play puppet for Jerry

Bringing in Scott Linehan proves Cowboys coach isn't going down without a fight

Updated: January 29, 2014, 2:48 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett is a lame duck, which is considerably different than being a puppet.

See, a lame duck is a coach in the final year of his contract who hasn't received an extension, for whatever reason. A puppet is a coach who is so happy to have a job that he does whatever his boss tells him without any push back.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Gus RuelasJason Garrett is only guaranteed one more year under Jerry Jones, so he's doing what he has to do to keep his job.

Well, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan -- Jerry Jones' handpicked playcaller -- won't be calling plays this year because Garrett wants Scott Linehan in that role.

Is that the kind of power play a puppet makes? Nope.

A puppet wouldn't go to the owner and essentially say, give me the playcaller I want since you're not going to keep me another year if I don't win enough games. None of us knows exactly how the conversation between Jerry and Garrett went down, but all we have to do is look at the final result.

The Cowboys made the formal announcement Tuesday night, but Linehan already had been attending meetings at the club's Valley Ranch training complex and is now the team's passing-game coordinator and playcaller.

The reality is Garrett has one of pro sports' toughest jobs. He works for one of the most dysfunctional franchises in professional sports, and he's trying to win enough games to keep his job -- all while rebuilding the roster.

Garrett has never been a puppet; it just appears that way to most folks, which is understandable because Garrett fights few public battles. He prefers to operate behind the scenes, where he can be more effective. Or you have to read between the lines to figure out when he's fighting Jerry.

For example, Jerry said last week that Callahan and Monte Kiffin were still the offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. A day later, Garrett said each man was under contract but that their roles might change. And on Tuesday night, the team announced that Kiffin had been demoted to assistant head coach/defense with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli taking over as coordinator.

Now we know what Garrett meant. That's not a move a puppet makes.

No coach since Jimmy Johnson has won every battle with Jerry. Some, such as Barry Switzer, Dave Campo and Wade Phillips, rarely, if ever, fought back. They accepted their circumstance and made the most of it.

Chan Gailey certainly tried to put his own imprint on the team, but he alienated Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman in the process and was fired after two years and an 18-14 record.

Not even Bill Parcells got everything he wanted. Jerry made him keep Larry Allen for a couple of seasons, then he signed Terrell Owens, a player Parcells clearly didn't want.

Garrett grew up in this organization as a player and he watched Jerry from a coaching perspective during his three-plus seasons as offensive coordinator, so he knew the unique set of problems Jerry created. Not many coaches face a situation where their owner fires their defensive coordinator (Rob Ryan) and replaces him with a 73-year-old coordinator (Kiffin) who had been out of the NFL for four seasons -- all based primarily on the advice of a dear friend.

If Garrett must occasionally lose face publicly so he can manage the owner effectively, it's a trade he willingly makes. If you understand who Garrett is and what he's all about philosophically, then you'd never call him a puppet.

What Garrett presents to fans and the media is a facade. He's much more emotional and demonstrative when he's talking to the team or individual players. He provided a glimpse of that in training camp, when the website MMQB videotaped his welcome-to-training-camp speech and he dropped quite a few naughty words.

Garrett copies the approach Aikman used with the media in his playing days -- be as boring as possible.

"Then he became an announcer and people wanted to know where all this personality came from," Garrett said last summer of Aikman. "He always had it; he just didn't show it to everyone."

Garrett has changed the culture since he took over, but it's a continuing evolution. We've seen players such as right tackle Doug Free publicly chastised for their performance and others such as running back DeMarco Murray and linebacker Bruce Carter benched for mistakes on the field.

Accountability is a regular part of the vernacular at Valley Ranch these days, and Garrett is obsessed with adding hard-nosed, hard-working players to the roster. It's why he's forever talking about "the right kind of guys." He emphasizes drafting intelligent players who have been leaders and captains. Clearly, he's trying to create a certain type of atmosphere.

Garrett has a definite vision for the type of team he wants, but it takes time. You really can't rush the process, no matter how frustrating it is for fans who have celebrated just one playoff win since Super Bowl XXX.

But Garrett is only guaranteed one more year.

A puppet would accept his fate under an owner who believes with all his heart that his flawed approach is the best way to build a champion.

Instead, Garrett keeps fighting.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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