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Jason Garrett enters critical season

IRVING, Texas -- Of the eight head coaches who took over teams at the start of the 2011 season, Pat Shurmur, Hue Jackson and Leslie Frazier already have been fired.

Jim Harbaugh and John Fox have taken teams to the Super Bowl, and Ron Rivera has won an NFC South division title.

Jason Garrett, who's had three consecutive 8-8 seasons after going 5-3 in the last eight games as an interim coach in 2010 to win the job, has been in football purgatory.

Three straight times the Cowboys have played for the NFC East title on the season's final week, and three times they have lost.

Now, Garrett is entering his fourth full season. We have zero idea if he'll get a new contract at the end of the season. We don't even know what kind of criteria owner/general manager Jerry Jones will use to judge him.

Trying to guess is folly.

A segment of the population will suggest Garrett should be canned if the Cowboys don't make the playoffs. While they have a point, we've seen 10-6 teams miss the playoffs and 8-8 teams make the playoffs.

Smart teams fire a coach when they believe he's one of the key reasons the teams is losing instead of winning. Or teams fire a coach when they need a scapegoat, which certainly could happen here.

As we've discussed many times, Jerry isn't firing himself.

Ever.

Rod Marinelli is the Cowboys' third defensive coordinator in three seasons. Scott Linehan is the third playcaller in three seasons.

At some point, Garrett will be the only dude left to fire since the general manager is keeping that title until the day he takes his final breath.

What we do know is that Garrett is responsible for just about every player on the roster. Only Tony Romo, Jason Witten and L.P. Ladouceur remain from the Bill Parcells era.

And Anthony Spencer, Orlando Scandrick, Doug Free, Dez BryantSean Lee, Jermey Parnell and Barry Church are the only guys left from Wade Phillips' three years and eight games as head coach.

Give Garrett the credit or blame for everyone else.

The best thing he's done is overhaul the offensive line with three No. 1 picks -- Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin -- in the past four years. That's impressive, considering Jones had never used a first-round pick on a lineman since he bought the team in 1989.

But the defense was repugnant last season, yielding 415.3 yards and 27.0 points per game, and there's no good reason to think it'll get better this season without defensive linemen DeMarcus Ware (Denver), Jason Hatcher (Washington) and Sean Lee (injured reserve).

It's so bad that the Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to Baltimore for former Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, the eighth player taken in the 2010 draft. This is the same dude who tweeted he was "done" a couple of months ago.

Does that sound like the right kind of guy to you? Me either. Desperate times, though, call for desperate measures.

It certainly appears Garrett has relaxed his standards -- at least just a tad -- to make sure he gets some better players on defense. Sometimes you need edgy players who prefer something other than milk and cookies or PG-13 movies.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence had some off-the-field issues at Boise State, and defensive lineman Jeremy Mincy had some issues with the coaching staff in Jacksonville.

Study the rosters and you'll see that at this early date the Cowboys will face a talent deficit most weeks. You can compensate with quality coaching.

The biggest impact Garrett can have on this team is by being considerably better at game management, whether we're talking about when to use timeouts, when to run the ball or when to challenge a call.

The brain farts must end. So, too, must the ridiculous run-pass ratio the Cowboys have had way too frequently under Garrett, whether they occurred in wins or losses.

There's a reason no current NFL coach has survived three consecutive non-winning seasons. This is a results-oriented business that doesn't usually get too caught up in the process.

Jerry wants wins. Garrett must provide them, somehow, this season.

Or the longest playoff drought since Jerry bought the team will extend another year. If that happens, who will be surprised if Garrett becomes the latest member of the Class of 2011 to get fired?