As the season draws to a close, the Cowboys once again find themselves holding playoff destiny in their own hands. Win out, the division is theirs. Lose, possibly even one game, and the off-season will be dominated by the specter of failure and questions of what can be done to fix the team.
One of the biggest story lines of the season has been whether or not the Cowboys will keep Head Coach Jason Garrett if the year ends in disappointment. Garrett, who took over as interim Head Coach when Wade Phillips was fired half-way through the 2010 season, has been a bit of a punching bag for fans throughout his tenure.
While he has posted a winning record of 28-24 during the regular season, his teams have failed to reach the playoffs during his first two full season as Head Coach. They’ve come close, staying in the hunt until the final minute of both regular seasons, but not close enough.
This year’s team seems destined to follow a similar path. The NFC East is now guaranteed to come down to a two-team battle between Philadelphia and Dallas, who play each other in the regular season finale. For Cowboys fans that are used to getting their hearts broken in remarkably similar ways, it seems determined that the season will come down to a win-or-go-home game against the Eagles.
And that could happen. And they could lose. Or they could win. But that only matters for this season.
If Jerry Jones wants to look at the long-term plan for this team, his most important goal should be keeping Jason Garret around for a long time.
Even if the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the chances of Jerry keeping Garrett around are remarkably slim if this team fails to win the NFC East. Even though he has publicly said Garrett is not playing for his job, Jones has been known to go back on his word. And while I once wrote an article saying Jerry has changed and become a more patient Owner and GM, he also has a lot of emotion tied up in this team. I could easily see him making a rash decision and cutting loose the best shot the Cowboys have at a great, long-term, head coach.
I just hope he won’t.
Why do I have so much faith in a coach that has zero playoff wins and some high profile game-management mistakes on his resume?
His attention to the little things that coaches do impresses me. You want to hear Garrett excited? Get him on the subject of meticulousness. Here’s a quote of him talking about what he observed when visiting Duke to shadow Coach K (full video here, quote starts at 3:28):
You talk about the best coaches, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that there’s ever been a better coach than that guy…He was amazing, he was amazing on so many different levels. You know I’ve told people it was a combination of IBM at it’s finest and the greatest Mom and Pop shop you’ve ever seen. And what I mean by that is that everything he did…the meetings, the practices, the walkthroughs, the meals, was just so perfectly organized. It was seamless. The interaction between the coaches and the players, the players and the managers, the managers and the coaches, everybody throughout the entire Duke Basketball organization, it was just, it was perfect. It was so organized and so well-thought-out and everything ran so smoothly. And so I’m sitting there in the middle of this and I’m saying to myself, well this is why he’s been successful for the past 31 years.
That Garrett gets excited about precise meal plans shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a Princeton graduate whose offense is detailed down to the amount of steps a receiver or lineman should take on a given play. But I think many fans fail to appreciate this trait. Amat Victoria Curam.
Another reason I like Garrett is his relationship with the team. The players treat him as their leader. Listen to Witten, Ware, Romo, or Dez talk to the media and you will constantly hear Garrettisms. They speak of “the process”, “getting better every day” and “being positive”. Boring, routine, football talk? Maybe. But that is Garrett’s message and his players believe in it.
Speaking of players, the way he has created competition on this team is outstanding. More than ever I have confidence in the back-ups because they are Garrett’s “right-kind-of-guys”. Players like Bernadeau, Scandrick, Jeff Heath, and Kyle Wilber have come up as quality starters when the team needed them most. That speaks to depth, which in turn speaks to good coaching. Players all over the roster want to play well for Garrett.
How does he get so much out of them? Listen to Garrett talk about Coach K’s personal approach to coaching (from the video linked above):
He has this whole other side that’s so personal and so caring of everybody within the organization. The way he talked about the players, and if a guy was going through something, whether it’s a technique in basketball or a family issues, or whatever was going on, it was just so engaged and personal. So much care, so much emotion went into that. So if you looked at that part of it, you would say this is why he’s been so successful for the past 31 years. It’s these personal connections that he’s made.
Garrett has taken this lesson to heart. You can knock his use of time-outs and questionable decisions on field goal attempts as much as you want, but coaching is just as much about statistics as it is psychology. I will always remember the way he handled the Josh Brent situation, somehow preparing a football team to win a game days after having a teammate die, as a signature Jason Garrett moment. That day cemented his reputation as a leader in my mind.
It doesn’t surprise me when I hear the players repeating Garrett’s words and playing hard for him. I’ve payed attention to his philosophy since he became Head Coach. This is what he spoke of wanting to do, and it’s what’s happening.
But the biggest reason I like Garrett? An accolade more important than his attention to detail and appreciation of psychology?
Jason Garrett, is all business. He has that Lombardi way of presenting what he wants done, that business-like approach, no stone unturned, the confidence in what he is saying, it makes him sound like Lombardi, and sound like he has the same approach.
For those that don’t know, Pat Summerall was one of few players coached by both Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. He came up with this answer when asked by a reporter about which current NFL coach reminds him most of those Hall of Famers.
If the season ends in failure, the pressure is going to undoubtedly be on Jerry Jones to fire Jason Garrett.
We can only hope he doesn’t do it.
Or, you know, that the Cowboys season doesn’t end in failure. That would be cool too.