In his first three years as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Switzer posted a 39-16 record, including five playoff wins and a Superbowl ring. Franchise icon Tom Landry was 9-28 his first three seasons, on his way to posting five straight losing records.
The Black Monday bottom-liners are screaming for Jason Garrett’s head. Winning is all that matters in the NFL, they say, and at 24-24 his first three full seasons, Garrett has shown he simply can’t win. For the bottom-liners, there’s no need to look beyond the win-loss record in judging a coach’s worth.
Does anyone reading this believe Barry Switzer was a better NFL coach than Tom Landry? Any bottom-liners out there care to make that argument, based on the won-loss records their first three seasons?
Most observers acknowledge that Switzer’s stellar record and Landry’s dismal one are largely the result of circumstances. Landry took over an expansion franchise; Switzer inherited a reigning Superbowl champion.
The point isn’t to compare Switzer to Landry (silly), or Garrett to either of them. The point is simply to assert that circumstances matter. A coach’s worth can’t be smartly measured solely by wins and losses his first three seasons.
Now consider what Garrett inherited when he took over the Cowboys at midseason in 2010.
Garrett took the helm of a 1-7 team that was not competitive. The Cowboys had just been blown out 45-7 in Green Bay on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, a sign of having quit on their season and the genial head coach who led them. Garrett inherited an aging roster rife with entitlement and bereft of accountability.
Along with a roster in dire need of rebuilding, Garrett inherited a man widely believed to be the worst GM in all of football, and the reality that the owner would never fire him.
Yet despite the size of the task and the apparent obstacles, Garrett’s teams have competed for the division crown in Week 17 each his first three seasons.
Even as he worked to gut the old organizational culture of entitlement and replace it with one firmly rooted in competition and accountability.
Even as he remade an aging roster with younger, faster “right kind of guys.”
Even as he performed the delicate task of influencing his boss to become a smarter GM – and make no mistake, Jerry is a better GM today than he was when he hired the red head.
It’s anyone’s guess how Garrett and his staff were able to coax Sunday’s prideful, gutsy performance out of a battered group led by a backup quarterback who hadn’t taken a meaningful snap in two years.
The Eagles were averaging nearly 30 points per game and had put up 84 points the past two weeks – no one was stopping them. Every analyst agreed that Jerry’s roster was outmatched, talent-wise. But they were intense. They were physical. They were tough. They were relentless. The competed the right way.
The stage was huge, and even though they lost, it was clear to all they had showed up for it. It was a team performance every Cowboys fan could be proud of. They did right by the star.
It’s not all about wins and losses. Circumstances matter. How did Garrett get the most out of his men on Sunday? During his Monday presser, he laid it out for a skeptical group of reporters:
“I think our players believe in our program. I think when you watch us play you see that they believe in our program and what we’re trying to get accomplished. That’s a big part of the identity of a football team that you’re trying to establish. Now, we haven’t gotten the job done. So we have to live with that reality. But how you do things matters. Bottom line matters, but how you do things, how you play, matters. We have to continue to build on that and believe that you’re going to break through in the other areas to take the next step.”
The circumstances of Jason Garrett’s first three full seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys suggest his 24-24 mark is a promising start to a long, successful career as an NFL head coach. Here’s hoping he has that success in Dallas, and not somewhere else.