Jason Garrett, the Hot Seat, and Building a Winner for the Cowboys

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In 2012, Garrett kept a team competitive despite freakish injuries and tragedy: The Dallas defense was so beat up last year, and the still-rebuilding roster was so thin behind the starters, the scouting department was literally pulling veteran orphans like linebackers Brady Poppinga and Ernie Sims off their couches at home and plugging them into the lineup. Dallas signed cornerback Sterling Moore off the New England practice roster on a Friday in late November. And they were so hard up for warm bodies that he saw game action two days later on Sunday. That’s a thin roster.

Aug 25, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys safety Danny McCray (40) is tended to by trainers after an injury in the second quarter against the St Louis Rams at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

But a Garrett-led team doesn’t wilt under adversity. The 2012 Cowboys continued to compete and expected to win every week, even as key contributors kept going down. Then tragedy struck, and popular practice squad player Jerry Brown was killed in teammate Josh Brent’s drunk driving accident – it happened the day before a road game against a playoff-caliber Cincinnati team during a critical stretch late in the season.

If a team ever could be forgiven for packing it in, it was this physically beaten up, emotionally battered Dallas Cowboys team. But they kept competing to the end, and had a real chance to win the NFC East in the fourth quarter of the season’s final game. The 2012 season was kept together with duct tape, baling wire, and the iron will of its head coach. Garrett may be a Princeton man, but his 2012 coaching job showed pure Texas toughness.

Garrett himself will never offer explanations or excuses like these for losing. With Garrett, it’s never the injuries; it’s never the refs; it’s never the breaks. Garrett thinks like a winner. Winners don’t make excuses for losing; winners go do better. That’s what Garrett will do again in 2013.

But none of this matters to the experts; they see 8-8 and shout “Hot Seat!”

In 1991 the Cleveland Browns were rebuilding, too. They also gave a young, untested coordinator his first head coaching job. After three straight losing seasons, the Browns went 11-5 in 1994 and won a playoff game. Bill Belichick was building a winner in Cleveland, but the records his first three seasons – 6-10, 7-9 and 7-9 – didn’t show it.

Garrett’s eerily similar records – 6-10, 8-8 and 8-8 – don’t show it either. But whatever their record this year, the Cowboys will come to play every single week. That’s what Garrett brings to this organization – a mentally tough, no-excuses culture of high expectations and accountability, and players who compete hard every week. The record may not be there yet, but everything else about his resume – including his early success in evaluating draft talent – suggests he is building something special in Dallas: a perennial contender.

Jerry sees it, too. He believes in Garrett, and has on more than one occasion spoken of his partnership with the head coach as “long term.” That’s good for Dallas fans. Because just as they eventually came for Belichick, the wins will come for Garrett.

As for the Hot Seat? That’s not going anywhere. Rest assured the TV genius class will continue to add richness and texture to our NFL viewing experience, exhaustively analyzing the win-loss column in search of coaches to kick.

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