The past week has been full of some unfortunate news for the Cowboys. I expected to focus my week primarily on the upcoming Senior Bowl and the business of filling coaching vacancies, but unfortunately the football news gods weren’t going to have any of that.
Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) celebrates making a tackle during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Really, Jay Ratliff?
Six weeks after the death of Jerry Brown because of a drunk driving accident involving Josh Brent, Jay Ratliff was arrested for the suspicion of DWI after he collided with an 18 wheeler in Grapevine on Tuesday morning. Ratliff apparently failed field sobriety tests, but refused to take a breath test –which resulted in his arrest and subsequent warrant-mandated blood test.
As far as the non-football implications, this incident shows an outrageous lack of maturity and moral substance, particularly when he saw two teammates and friends’ lives altered so dramatically. One young man lost his life because of a bad decision and the other lost his livelihood and freedom.
There have been reports for a long time that Ratliff has had some maturity and anger issues, punctuated with by angry confrontation with Jerry Jones in the locker room in December. When you start to stack all of the facets together – DWI after the events of Brent/Brown, being called a locker room cancer with anger issues, sustained and repeated injury issues, decline in production and evidence to a decline, and a large salary cap figure – it looks like Ratliff should be a good candidate for a June 1st cut, but I’m not so sure that’s going to happen.
The Cowboys had concerns with their defensive line even when assuming that Ratliff would be returning. If the Cowboys cut him, they suddenly have to address both the 1 and 3-technique defensive tackles in the draft, or less likely because of a concerning cap situation, in free agency. This simply may come down to a simple business decision that the Cowboys need him for football reasons too much to let him go.
I would also point out that it is extremely likely that Jerry Jones knew what had happened to Ratliff when he responded to a question regarding his locker room confrontation:
"“As far as I’m concerned, he is outstanding, he has given everything he’s ever had to the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones said. “With me, any of that emotion that was involved between us is only reflected back on many times that we’ve had in our own way some emotional time with each other. And it in no way before was ever contentious.“So when you’ve got the kind of background we’ve got together, then if you have a moment that you might not have been on the same page, that’s like father-son, that’s like family, that’s like all that. That’s forgotten when you know each other has your best interests at heart. We both know that.”"
I could be wrong and reading too much into it, but that doesn’t sound like Jerry has any intention of letting him go.
Bill Callahan, Coordinator of Sabotage
There are many reports that Bill Callahan will become the offensive play caller in the wake of Jerry’s comments suggesting that these duties will removed from Jason Garrett’s plate. Coach Callahan has had a fairly successful career of being an offensive coordinator and head coach in both the college ranks and in the NFL, culminating in an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII.
And while Callahan has had many accolades over the years, it is the events and allegations of the aforementioned game that have caused the most discussion in recent days. Last Saturday, on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Tim Brown asserted that Coach Callahan had “sabotaged” his team leading up to the matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. His allegation is basically that the Raiders had been working on a run-heavy game plan all week to exploit a perceived weakness of the relatively small and quick Tampa Bay defensive line. He claims that on the Friday before the Super Bowl, Callahan changed his game plan to a pass-heavy one because he hated the Raiders and wanted to allow his former boss, Jon Gruden, to win the Super Bowl. Oh yeah, and it probably led to the much publicized meltdown and absentia of starting center Barret Robbins.
Sigh. And then, probable G.O.A.T. and Hall of Fame Wide Receiver, Jerry Rice backed him up. As a side note, I always admired the talent of Jerry Rice during his career, despite the fact that he played for the rival San Francisco 49ers for much of my childhood. I always felt an attraction to the narrative of the “not the tallest or the fastest, but he works harder than everyone else” facet of his game. All of that might still be true, but I don’t have much respect for his intelligence or for his integrity anymore.
I don’t know Bill Callahan personally or have any intimate knowledge of his life or integrity, but I find it hard to believe that any coach in the world would throw the biggest game in all of sports, just because he had a grievance with his employer or an allegiance to his opponent. It just doesn’t pass even the most basic common sense, and that’s not even to speak to the plethora of inconsistencies or illogical details of these allegations. We could talk about how the Raiders didn’t have a thousand-yard rusher that season or how their quarterback Rich Gannon was the regular season MVP. We could discuss how the Raiders only rushed for 1.7 yards per carry during the game or how Tampa Bay led the Raiders 20-3 going into halftime, necessitating a pass-first offense in the second half to come back. I’m not going to deep dive into any of that because, frankly, I’m slightly ashamed I’ve dedicated this amount of time to a completely idiotic and illogical “news” item.
It would be a shame if the inane ramblings of his former players overshadowed what many are projecting as a step up in responsibility with the Cowboys this season, as the play caller. Many Cowboys fans have called this projected move more as an indictment of Jason Garrett as a coach, than as a positive move for the team as a whole.
Is the removal of play calling duties from Jason Garrett a neutering of his power?
The Cowboys have been 8-8 in Jason Garrett’s two full seasons as Head Coach of the Cowboys, and have been marred by miscalculations and perceived faulty decision making. I admit that there have been a few head shaking clock management and strategic decisions over the past couple of seasons, and so I think that the decision to remove the play calling duties from the head coach should be celebrated – and not necessarily considered as a negative.
In my mind, I’ve always been skeptical of the strategic decision to have your head coach also be, for all intents and purposes, your coordinator on one side of the ball. Some coaches have been successful in dual roles, but they are in the vast minority. The role of the head coach is to be the man in charge on the field – to oversee all three phases of the game – and to manage all of his personnel. To me, the head coach should be a big picture guy, letting his coordinators and position coaches manage the details and steer them in the right direction. When a coach has his head buried in the play sheet and is directing the offense, how does he have time to consult with his defense or special teams staff? How is he able to serve as the executive on the field when he is buried in the offense?
It is a popular talking point to say that Coach Garrett was promoted to head coach because of his play calling ability – so what does he bring to the table now that he no longer has those responsibilities? That concept makes perfect sense if we were talking about why Garrett was hired as offensive coordinator – it does not hold water when discussing his succession of Wade Phillips as head coach of the team.
Jerry Jones saw something in Garrett that made him believe that he was a leader of men and could take this team to the next level – something that Garrett has proven at times over his tenure here. His handling of the Josh Brent/Jerry Brown situation proved that nicely. I would also point to the fact that this team never quit throughout the season and overcame an absurd amount of first half deficits to either win or bring the game to within a score. It is clear to me that he is a leader of men and that he has the talent and intelligence to be a successful coach.
All the same, the 2013 season is time for him to turn this thing around and win. If not, no amount of leadership or intelligence will save his job, and then we will see another turnover of staff and system… or will we?
The Jon Gruden Conspiracy
If Jason Garrett doesn’t take the Cowboys to the holy land of the NFL playoffs, it occurred to me that a significant part of this staff has worked with and for Jon Gruden in the past. It would be a pretty savvy move on the part of the Owner and GM to have such a clever contingency plan in place.
Jerry has made it clear that he would like Garrett to work out and prove him right for identifying and nurturing the talented coach, but things haven’t worked as well or fast as he thought that they might. He has surrounded his coach with accomplished and well regarded (by some – Bill Callahan controversy not withstanding) crew of assistant coaches. These accomplished coaches also have all worked under Jon Gruden at one point or another in their career.
Gruden wants to return to the NFL coaching ranks for the right gig, and there aren’t many coaching positions more high profile than that of the Dallas Cowboys. It would have to be pretty appealing that a team is already stocked with a staff that you are familiar and comfortable with – and is as high profile as they come, an attribute that I think is appealing to Gruden.
I like Jason Garrett and think that he will end up being a good coach – either here or somewhere else. Many Hall of Fame coaches have started their careers without instant success, but the reality of the “win now” NFL doesn’t allows allow those coaches to come to fruition in their first stop. If Jerry Jones is keeping Gruden in his back pocket as a contingency, well – I have to say it’s pretty clever.