QUICK OUT: The Stepford Coach


Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Since I started writing for The Landry Hat, I’ve watched more than my fair share of Jason Garrett’s press conferences.  It hit me recently how hard it must be to be a beat writer for the Cowboys and have to attend these press conferences week after week looking for some small tidbit of meaningful information.  Like me, they are often disappointed.  In fact, the more I think about it, I am not entirely convinced that Garrett is a real human being.

Don’t get me wrong.  No one was more excited than me about the unceremonious firing of woefully bad head coach Wade Phillips and the promise of future success that the sharp, young Garrett represented.  This was Jerry Jones’ guy!  And, in Jerry’s world, Garrett has enjoyed previously unknown levels of autonomy (not like a normal coach/GM relationship, but a lot for Jerry Jones).  When Garrett took over a 1-7 team in 2010 and directed them to a 5-3 finish, every Cowboy fan was excited about what he’d be able to do with a full year.

In 2011, there were warning signs but everyone agreed when they finished a disappointing 8-8 that the Cowboys troubles were all about the defense – specifically the secondary.  Fix that, and this team would be Super Bowl bound.  Four games into this season, the secondary is performing much better (although don’t ask Brandon Marshall or Jay Cutler how good they are), but numerous other areas of concern have reared their head instead.  By going “all in” to fix the secondary, the team seems to have neglected other important areas – like the offensive line.  It feels very much like this season is headed south in a hurry with 4 of the next 5 games on the road with playoff caliber teams.  But, according to Jerry Jones and everyone else in the Cowboys organization, “we are in fine shape at 2-2”.  What?  Did you watch the Bears game?

So, let me cut to the chase.  I honestly believe that Jerry Jones has replaced the “real” Jason Garrett with a robot – a “stepford coach” if you will.  Before dismissing this notion as completely crazy, consider  1) that Jerry Jones has plenty of cash (have you seen the size of the big screen in Cowboys Stadium?), and 2) he doesn’t like anyone to disagree with him – this is his team and he’ll meddle anywhere he feels like it.  What better way to put to rest once and for all any objections a real coach or GM would have?  What better way to spend seemingly endless dollars than to convert your head coach into an obedient, perfect, submissive automaton?  Complete control at last.  Let’s examine some of the evidence.

Garrett has obviously been programmed to remain calm at all times and basically has a set of canned answers to most questions.  “Hey, coach, what do you think about the (insert name of upcoming opponent here)?”  “They are a very good football team and they represent a big challenge for us” is the inevitable reply no matter who the opponent is.  His press conferences are filled with platitudes like “we need to take better care of the ball on offense and on defense go get the ball”.  Wow.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Or, there’s the always popular, “he’s working very hard to get better at the things we need him to do to help this football team”.  Most of his answers in fact are very general, very non-committal, and very unemotional.  Just the kind of things you would program a doll with a pull string hanging out its back to say – or a robot.

Now, let’s look at his play calling.  Since being hired as the Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, Garrett’s play calling has become increasingly predictable and decreasingly effective.  For at least 2 years, I could without a doubt predict what the first offensive play of every Cowboy game would be – a straight ahead dive by the running back (usually for no gain or maybe one yard).  He’s gone from being considered innovative and imaginative to being mind-numbingly conservative and predictable.  It’s like there is a machine calculating the odds on every play and selecting the safest call.  You can almost hear the computer tapes whirring in his head – statistically, there is a 53.2% chance of success if I run on first down.  Who cares if they have 8 guys in the box…it’s what the program says to run.

Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Most of the Cowboys plays seem pretty simple and conformist.  We don’t run traps or counters or reverses or try to change it up at all.  It’s always a standard formation running a standard play.  With the bye week, I got to watch a lot of other teams this last weekend and I saw some pretty innovative stuff being run by other teams.  But, not the Cowboys.  No huddle?  Nah, we can barely get lined up in the right place when we huddle.  Pass on first down?  Sometimes, but its usually a straight drop back and a throw to the wide receiver running an ordinary route.  When that fails, we run on second down and get stuffed setting up a predictable pass on 3rd down.  Or, we run on first down, get stuffed, and then throw two short passes or incomplete passes on second and third down.  Sometimes it is enough to get first down, but often it’s not.  Very predictable stuff.  And, very few in-game adjustments.  We stick to the plan no matter if its working or not – like it was programmed in ahead of time.

So, as frustrating as it has become for Cowboy fans, having a robot for a coach could ultimately be a good thing.  It means that it should be easier to change the program.  Jerry Jones needs to hire new tech geeks and dial up the emotion, intensity, and risk-taking parameters in his coaching program.  Even if we ultimately still lose more games than we win, at least it would be entertaining.  The Cowboys have not only lost in spectacular fashion lately, but it is just so hard to watch at times!  It’s entertainment Jerry – let’s at least try to make it entertaining for what you are charging for tickets, seat licenses, and beer.  Some fans have gone as far to say that we should promote Rob Ryan to Head Coach – I’m not in that camp yet, but at least you can tell he genuinely cares about the outcome.  The press conferences would at least be a lot more enjoyable, unpredictable, and entertaining!  Go Cowboys!  Let’s program a win in Baltimore.

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