Commentary

Jason Garrett learning from mistakes

Cowboys coach has made tough decisions along the way, but has room to grow

Updated: March 30, 2012, 11:04 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Jason Garrett wants to let you know something: He doesn't think he's the smartest guy in the room.

He doesn't want you to believe his Ivy League background gives him a sense of entitlement over the coaching staff, fans or media.

Garrett knows he's smart -- like most NFL coaches -- but he'll admit he's made mistakes and says he's growing because of it as he enters his second season as the Dallas Cowboys' full-time head coach.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJason Garrett has made his share of mistakes, but he's also made some tough decisions since taking over the Cowboys.

"Well, when you make a lot of decisions in the position I'm in, trust me, you're going to make a lot of mistakes," Garrett said this week at the NFL owners meetings. "The biggest thing I try to do is be critical in the self-evaluation of myself, of our staff, how we're doing things, and make the adjustments. Take the emotion out of it and just be really objective as best you can when you're evaluating yourself and our staff."

Garrett has made tough decisions since taking over the Cowboys. His first one was benching RB Marion Barber in the middle of the 2010 season for failing to comply with the new dress code for road games. Garrett agreed with his longtime friend, offensive line coach Hudson Houck, that the team needed to draft OT Tyron Smith in the first round last year.

Underachieving veterans -- including Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Roy Williams, Terence Newman, Kyle Kosier and Andre Gurode -- were let go.

Garrett also agreed to bring in the opinionated Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator -- which is the total opposite of Garrett's personality.

Then, this spring, Garrett gave up the offensive coordinator title, giving it instead to veteran coach Bill Callahan, who replaced the retired Houck.

"One of the things we try to do with our staff is we put guys together who are not yes-men, guys who will hopefully tell me that wasn't very good," Garrett said. "So hopefully we can be better, and that's our objective. Our objective is to be as good as coaches as we can be ... put as good a team out there as we can. Critical self-evaluation is important around the fact that we have to have core beliefs in the things we're doing. Big-picture stuff, smaller-picture stuff ... we try to balance that, and it's an important part of our process to get better week-to-week and year-to-year."

On the field, Garrett made some critical mistakes.

In San Francisco, he should have taken Miles Austin out of the game late when it was clear he was hampered by a hamstring injury.

He cost his team a victory at Arizona when he mismanaged the play and game clocks, even icing his own kicker, Dan Bailey, leading to a missed field goal at the end of regulation.

A few days after the game, Garrett apologized to the team for his mistakes.

On Christmas Eve against the Philadelphia Eagles, there seemed to be some miscommunication between Garrett and owner Jerry Jones regarding the availability of quarterback Tony Romo.

After Romo suffered a bruised hand, it appeared Jones was telling Garrett that Romo wasn't allowed back into the game.

In some ways, Jones might have undermined Garrett on the sidelines.

In Year 2 of the Garrett administration, we might have a much better head coach. One who is also still learning from his mistakes.

"Oh, absolutely," Garrett said. "I think you guys have heard me say this a number of times. What we do as coaches and what I do as an individual coach, after every game you say, 'What was good and what was bad?' What we try to do is take a very critical eye of self-evaluation. And we do this with our players all the time: We come in on Monday after a game and say this is what we like, this is what we didn't like. Well, before we do that, we say this is what we like, this is what we didn't like [regarding the coaching], whether it's putting a game plan together, calling plays, game management. It's a really important thing for me as the head coach of this football team to look at myself first, look at what we're doing as a staff, before we walk in to talk to the players."

On to the mailbag:

Q: Calvin, what can we expect from Bruce Carter this year? And why didn't the Cowboys sign London Fletcher, considering he's asking for the same money Dan Connor got? He made about 30 tackles in two games against Dallas last year and played his butt off all season. He's probably only looking for a two-year deal, which is what Connor got. I know he's 37, but with Carter in the fold, why not? We need that beast and team leader that Fletcher is. Do you think that Fletcher is better right now than Connor? Thanks. You do great work. -- Mike Roberts (Hampton, Va.)

A: I don't believe the Cowboys want to get older players at linebacker. Keith Brooking and Bradie James are in their 30s, and the three other inside linebackers -- Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Dan Connor -- are in their 20s. If the Cowboys want to keep a veteran linebacker, why not keep Brooking, who is willing to play special teams and get snaps on passing downs. Fletcher is a fantastic player, but the Cowboys are just not interested. It's time to get younger at some spots.

Q: It's not entirely clear that the offensive line has improved through the recent free agency efforts. It appears all we have done is get a few more Holland/Parnell/McQuistan kind of guys to create competition. So how is our line going to be improved over last year's disaster? (Assuming we don't draft DeCastro, of course.) -- Joseph (Great Falls, N.J)

A: The Cowboys needed to get younger along the interior of the offensive line. Nate Livings started 32 games for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Carolina's Mackenzy Bernadeau can play both guard spots and center. If David DeCastro is available at No. 14, I believe the Cowboys will pass on him and get a defensive player. The team spent $30 million on two free agents to help the offensive line. It's time to see what they can do.

Q: Hey Calvin, I understand the Cowboys just franchised Anthony Spencer for $8 million this year and are talking about possibly drafting another pass rusher early in the upcoming draft. What's your take on Victor Butler getting more playing time and a shot at showing he's the reason we should not have kept Spencer for so much money? -- Todd Mitchell (Carrollton, Texas)

A: Victor Butler played well last season and the Cowboys expect him to get better this season. Jerry Jones was raving about Butler at the NFL owners meetings, and that's a good thing. Butler isn't better than Spencer. Here's a quote from Jones regarding Butler: "He had the highest ratio of successful plays for the time he played on our defense when he was in there. The best ratio on our defense for his time played and his production on making plays."

Q: Rumor has it Mike Jenkins wants a contract extension. Is it smart for the Cowboys to invest money in a player who hasn't proven he can play at a consistently high level? -- Travis (Hamilton, N.Y.)

A: It's not a rumor. It's a fact. Jenkins' agent approached the Cowboys about a contract extension, but the franchise is going to take a wait-and-see approach with Jenkins. He has been inconsistent at times, but last year he had a good season despite battling numerous injuries. He won't get paid right now, but if he plays well he might get paid.

Q: Hello sir, I would be thrilled to hear more of your thoughts on Dallas' defensive line. I read your articles, and to be totally honest with respect to your profession, you seem to gloss over Marcus Spears and his lack of production when it comes to the quarterback. I thought he was more active last year than any year he has played, but that does not warrant him escaping the bust label, in my book. What about you? And is it imperative to you that the Cowboys draft or sign a DE/DT; you know, versatile linemen over any other position? It would improve the offensive line in practice. I thank you for your hard work and time if you read this. -- Joe B. (Oklahoma City)

A: I agree that we forget about how well Spears played last season. Spears is underrated on the field. He's a well-respected player in the locker room and I expect him to contribute again this season. Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher had the two best seasons on the line. The Cowboys could draft a defensive lineman in the draft next month, and if that happens, a veteran player might get clipped.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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