When Should the Dallas Cowboys End the Jason Garrett Experiment?


As much as I like to look forward and focus on the future of the Dallas Cowboys, I often look to the past for answers. Today, I would like to look at teams that won the Super Bowl and compare them to the Dallas Cowboys.

Jerry Jones has publicly acknowledged the closing of our “window of opportunity”. The unspoken fear is that the careers of our franchise players like tight end Jason Witten, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and Romo will end without a championship. The three players I mentioned are 30 years old and over. It would be disgraceful if their careers ended without being a part of a championship team.

Romo became a starter in 2006 and soon to be Hall of Famer Bill Parcells was our head coach. That was the year of the infamous mishandled snap against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card playoff game. Since then, it may be fair to say that our head coaches have been underwhelming and lacking in experience.

Starting in 2007, Wade Phillips became head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Only counting the years Phillips coached a full 16 game season, he had 5 years of head coaching experience. He acquired another three full years of coaching with the Cowboys.

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Our current head coach, Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips eight games into the 2010 season. Only counting 16 game seasons, Garrett has a total of 2 years of head coaching experience. Garrett did not have any prior head coaching experience. While he played for a variety of NFL teams, in a coaching capacity, he served as the Miami Dolphins quarterback coach under Nick Saban and as offensive coordinator under Wade Phillips.

Was choosing Garrett the right choice? Should Jones have selected an experienced head coach? Should Jones have found someone from a proven coaching tree? I’m not a fan of Garrett, but it is still early in his coaching career. Maybe the day will come when the anti-Garrett segment of Cowboy Nation will be proven wrong. Hopefully Jerry Jones didn’t sabotage the careers of Romo, Witten and Ware by choosing Phillips and Garrett as head coaches.

Since 2007, five different coaches have led their teams to Super Bowl titles with Tom Coughlin winning twice. When Coughlin, head coach of the New York Giants, won his first Super Bowl in 2007, it was his 12th year as an NFL head coach. His second title came during his 16th year. From 1984 to 1990, Coughlin served under head coaches: Marion Campbell, Forrest Gregg and Bill Parcells.

Looking at the other coaches that won the Super Bowl in recent years, it seems experience isn’t the only deciding factor.

John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, won a Super Bowl in his 5th year as a head coach. While Harbaugh lacked prior head coaching experience, he served under Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid from 1998 — 2008.

Mike McCarthy, coach of the Green Bay Packers, won a Super Bowl in his 5th year as a head. From 1993 — 2005, McCarthy coached under Marty Schottenheimer, Ray Rhodes, Jim Haslett and Mike Nolan.

Sean Payton, coach of the New Orleans Saints, won a Super Bowl in his 4th year as a head coach. From 1997 — 2005, Payton served under Ray Rhodes, Jim Fassel and Bill Parcells. Payton should’ve been head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but that’s another situation Jerry Jones mishandled.

Perhaps the quickest to win the Lombardi trophy is Mike Tomlin, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin won a Super Bowl in his 2nd year and reached the Super Bowl again in his 4th year. From 2001 — 2006, Tomlin served under Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Brad Childress.

Interesting note — While Tomlin is the only “young” coach to not serve under Ray Rhodes, it turns out that Jon Gruden, who mentored Tomlin, did. That leaves me to another interesting note which I’ll mention soon.

What can we conclude from this? Jason Garrett is entering his 3rd full year as coach of the Dallas Cowboys. If young, inexperienced coaches are winning Super Bowl titles in their 4th and 5th years as head coach, Cowboy Nation will have to be patient as Garrett navigates the learning curve. Unfortunately, there are two factors working against Garrett.

The first is time. It is doubtful players like Romo, Ware and Witten will be able to perform at a high level over the next three years. Owner and General Manager, Jerry Jones hasn’t proven to be the most patient tool in the shed either. Jason Garrett must accelerate his learning curve to help the Cowboys capture a Lombardi trophy.

The second is Garrett’s lack of coaching lineage. With the exception of Tom Coughlin, every Super Bowl winning coach since 2007 has been connected in some way to Ray Rhodes.

Don’t worry Cowboy Nation, I do have some good news. Remember that interesting note I mentioned? Well, there is one prominent coach on the Dallas Cowboys’ staff that did serve under Ray Rhodes. This coach also served under Jon Gruden and has reached a Super Bowl as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2002. That coach would be play caller and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.

If the chain of coaches connected to Ray Rhodes continues to win Super Bowls, this could be the Cowboys’ year. If not, then how long do we continue with the Jason Garrett experiment?