Jason Garrett taking no shortcuts

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is building his team the right way. Too bad he might lose his job before it all pays off. AP Photo/LM Otero

IRVING -- Jerry Jones has tried every shortcut known to man to make his football team champion again.

None have worked the way he envisioned. And that's the reason the Cowboys have one playoff win since 1996.

There are no shortcuts to building a winner in the NFL. This isn't like the NBA, where you can tank games, draft LeBron James and go from 17 wins to 50 wins in three seasons.

Yes, Bill Parcells won 10 games in his first season -- a five-game improvement in the standings -- but that was a mirage. The Cowboys went 6-10 the next season and never again won 10 games under the Hall of Fame coach.

But Parcells' philosophical approach laid the foundation for the team that went 13-3 in 2007 and had the best record in the NFC.

Like Parcells, Garrett is trying to build a winner capable of sustained success. Like Parcells, Garrett might not reap the rewards of his work.

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs each of his three full seasons as head coach, and few expect to see them in the postseason this year. The Cowboys are on their third play-caller in three seasons, as well as their third defensive coordinator.

At some point, the guillotine will find Garrett, as it should. Ultimately, Garrett's going to be judged on wins and losses. Right now, though, he's still implementing his plan to make the Cowboys a winner.

"The most important job I have and our staff has is to put the team together the right way," Garrett said. "Obviously, the rules in the NFL are set up so I can't just snap my fingers and get whoever I want whenever I want. There's a draft. There's a salary cap. There's all of these different considerations. The thing we decided on three years ago is we were going to try to do it the right way. We weren't going to make ad-hoc, short-term decisions that didn't make any sense. We were going to try to build a program with the right kind of guys and think about it for now and the long term and build the right kind of team that we're all going to be proud of."

Now, you might think Garrett is awful at game management. Or you might be sick of his monotone voice at the podium, but he's trying to build a team the right way. To see his plan requires you to look beyond the raggedy defense and your dislike of Garrett. If you do, you can see he's trying to build a winner with staying power.

It takes time. You can't rush the process with high-priced free agents.

We've seen Jones try that numerous times, and it's never worked.

Creating a long-term winner is about building the offensive and defensive lines through the draft and shrewd free-agency moves that don't necessarily generate a lot of headlines.

Garrett understands what he wants to do, and he knows what a championship team looks like, having played on the Cowboys during the glory days of the '90s. That's why he persuaded Jones to use a first-round pick on offensive lineman each of the past three seasons. Jones had never used a first-round pick on a lineman since he bought the team in 1989. And it's the reason he got rid of offensive linemen Andre Gurode, Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier within two years of becoming the head coach. The Cowboys needed to get younger and better on the offensive line, and the best way to do it was to rip off the band-aid.

Building a winner is the reason DeMarcus Ware plays for the Denver Broncos and Jason Hatcher plays for the Washington Redskins. You can't pay age in today's NFL unless you're on the cusp of winning a title. Ware and Hatcher were each in their 30s. Keeping them on this team made no sense.

You've seen this team. You know it's at least a couple of seasons away from being a legitimate contender -- and that's being optimistic. There's every chance that just as the defense gels, Tony Romo and Jason Witten will be too old to carry the offense, and DeMarco Murray will be running the ball for someone else.

The odds are Garrett won't see this job to completion.

Garrett is in the final year of his contract, and though the owner is not inclined to fire him, someone will have to pay with his job if the Cowboys miss the playoffs again.

San Francisco was stuck in the abyss for many seasons. From 2003 to 2010, the 49ers won eight games once.

Mike Singletary got fired, but he helped build the foundation Jim Harbaugh has used to take the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship each of the past three seasons. Shortcuts don't work. Garrett is sticking with his plan, regardless of the result, because he knows the process works.

"There are always temptations to take shortcuts in anything in life," he said. "You have to be mentally tough, strong and disciplined to that plan. The word I think about more than anything else is build. I've been thinking about that for a long time. We have to build this program, and we have to build this team."

And if another coach benefits, so be it.