Dallas’ Playoff Hopes and Off-Season Hurdles

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Jerry Jones has dazzled fans (and the media) alike since 1996 into thinking the Dallas Cowboys have enough talent to compete for a championship nearly every season. This constant hype has masked the rotgut in the entire organization.

The Dallas Cowboys Football Club is sick. There is a malaise that permeates that entire organization, and I am not talking necessarily about football operations. For anyone who watches Dallas Cowboys preseason games produced by Blue Star Media, a subsidiary of the Dallas Cowboys, one notices onscreen gaffes and errors from the folks who are supposed to be behind the scenes. Doesn’t that bear striking resemblance to the Dallas Cowboys’ stalling out in the red zone or getting a false start on 3rd and 1?

Well, these kinds of things have been happening for 14 years at a minimum. Whether it is spiritual or mental, there is a funk at Valley Ranch that curtails talented people. Take a look at how well Sean Payton and Rob Ryan have done since leaving. If they performed at the level they’re at with the Saints while still in Dallas, they would still be in Dallas.

Hiring the hottest, biggest coaching fad won’t solve it. The Dallas Cowboys’ biggest problem since Jerry Jones ousted Jimmy Johnson is stability. Since 1994, Dallas averages a head coach every three years. That is second-worst in the league. The only team with a worse coaching tenure average is Oakland with a coach every two years.

Take a look at the recent Super Bowl winners’ average coaching tenures:

  • Baltimore: 6 years
  • NY Giants: 7 years
  • Green Bay: 5 years
  • New Orleans: 5 years
  • Pittsburgh: 10 years
  • Indianapolis: 4 years
  • New England: 7 years
  • Tampa Bay: 4 years

In order to build a successful franchise, a head coach has to stay at least four years. And all of the playoff drought franchises you can think of average three to four years per coaching hire. Changing leadership so frequently upsets the groove needed for sustained winning.

The problem is Jerry Jones, and not that he meddles or any of the other canards from when Newt Gingrich had political clout. It is that he annually builds up the Dallas Cowboys into this team that is always a piece away from a championship. And the fans believe it, even if they vehemently despise Jerry Jones. Nonetheless, they are thinking like the very man they loathe when they want to swap coaches at the soonest sign of a lost coaches challenge. They believe they’re a Mike Holgren or Jon Gruden away from success, but the problem is much deeper, much grittier, and much more complex than those guys want to deal with.

Nov 10, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett tosses the football prior to a game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

To me, that is why Jason Garrett is very integral to the Dallas Cowboys’ continued success. Unquestionably, the talent acquisition under Garrett has improved. No one’s job is virtually guaranteed anymore; there is a strong competitive atmosphere. His actual coaching still remains to be seen, but he has done a good job bringing in men who work hard and seek to improve, not rest on their future laurels. It is this kind of ethos that has to permeate the Dallas Cowboys to undo the rotgut of the mid to late ’90s Cowboys.

This is why I say, even if the Cowboys fail in these last six games, they have to stay with Jason Garrett and let him coach out his contract. It won’t be the pseudo-intellectual’s version of “insanity” either. Letting a coach build his system is something Jerry Jones hasn’t done since Jimmy Johnson.

There are vast historical precedents for it too. The Pittsburgh Steelers went through head coaches like a yenta through half-truths from 1950-68. In 1969, the Rooneys hired Chuck Noll and left him alone. Four Super Bowls later, the rest is history.

More people can quote inaugural Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay’s remarks about his team’s execution than they can remember his seven-year stint in Tampa Bay. After losing 26-straight games to commence Buccaneers history, management left him alone. 36 games later, McKay had them playing in the 1979 NFC Championship game, their first of three playoff appearances during his time in Tampa Bay.

Though I’m sure the allegations of how mean Jerry Jones treated Tom Landry and his surviving relatives makes for splashier history on par with the protocols of Rupert Murdoch and William Randolph Hearst, The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry should have an account of Tom Landry’s ten-year contract extension. No, owner Clint Murchison did not award it to the old Coach after a Super Bowl berth or two, but after the 1963 season when Landry was a combined 13-38-3. Dallasites wanted Landry gone, but Murchison awarded Coach Landry a ten-year extension. Three seasons later, Dallas played Green Bay in the Cotton Bowl for a World Championship. If that isn’t in Mark Ribowsky’s book, then that’s all anyone needs to know about his grasp of Dallas Cowboys history.

If Dallas runs Garrett off, he will succeed elsewhere. He almost did in Baltimore. Remember: it was Garrett that turned down Ozzie Newsome, not the other way around. Why would Newsome want to hire Garrett if he’s such a straw man and a pushover?

Let Garrett go to the Giants after Coughlin retires, and they compete in the NFC Championship game. Allow him to stay in Dallas and restore the winning culture, and Dallas will compete for an NFC Championship in three years and many more thereafter.