It’s Jason Garrett’s fourth full season as head coach and the Dallas Cowboys are NFC East division champions with an outside shot at the conference’s top seed heading into Week 17. Garrett took over one of the oldest rosters in the league and now has one of the youngest. He led the rebuilding of America’s Team and now has a roster that can execute his sustainable formula for winning.
This season also marks Jim Harbaugh’s fourth year as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He took over a roster with nine Pro Bowlers, including six All Pros, and the team won its division his first two years. In Harbaugh’s third year the 49ers earned a wild card berth. This year, San Francisco is 7-8 and out of the playoffs.
It’s an interesting comparison, because both were first-time NFL head coaches hired the same year. One coach took over a bad roster and has built it into something good; the other took over a talented roster and has watched it get worse every year.
This isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Harbaugh. My main issue is with a sporting press that is either too lazy or too incompetent to see beyond a team’s won-loss record and tell us what’s coming. Harbaugh is great because his team went to three straight NFC Conference Championship games; Garrett’s a bum because his team was stuck at 8-8.
But this year Dallas could put up 12 wins to San Francisco’s seven. Each coach has had four years of organization building, of shaping the roster, of pounding a philosophy. Neither team became what it is today overnight – it was the result of literally years of decision-making. Someone who knows what to look for could have observed those decisions, drawn conclusions, and prepared us for it.
Instead, we get puzzled looks – when did the Cowboys get good? Very likely that process started four years ago when they hired their head coach, but you didn’t notice because the depth of your insight does not extend beyond the standings.
When did the 49ers get bad? I wouldn’t know. I don’t follow them like I follow the Cowboys. But folks expect Harbaugh to be a hot coaching prospect if the 49ers let him go, so apparently they don’t think he’s the reason the team has gone from 13-3 to 7-8 in the space of four seasons.
Harbaugh won at Stanford, but in fairness that was with quarterback Andrew Luck running the offense. In the college game, one dominant player like Luck can make a whole program relevant.
Harbaugh won in San Francisco, but that was with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Fair-minded people could argue that Harbaugh’s talent has actually underachieved in San Francisco – that this team should have won a Super Bowl at some point in the past three years.
When did the Cowboys get good? Very likely that process started four years ago when they hired their head coach, but you didn’t notice because the depth of your insight does not extend beyond the standings.
Perhaps that’s why 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, who has been with the organization since 2005 and helped build those talented rosters, is apparently done with Harbaugh. Doesn’t that give any of the coach’s potential suitors pause – that some pretty smart football people don’t want anything to do with him?
Meanwhile in Dallas, after years of listening to morons lament that Cowboys GM Jerry Jones would never have the stones to hire “a real coach like Jim Harbaugh,” we can all be thankful the organization stuck with Garrett through near constant criticism. That took real stones, Jerry – to ignore the noise and trust that you hired the right guy in 2011.
You knew you hired the right guy; you saw evidence of it everywhere you looked, except the standings. Four years later, Jason Garrett’s story is just beginning in Dallas. And Jim Harbaugh’s story is done in San Francisco.
Wish someone would have been paying attention and seen that coming.
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