What components must be considered when selecting the proper head coach for the Dallas Cowboys? I think we see that this is a more complicated decision (or should be) than many of us sometimes consider. In the case of interim coach Jason Garrett, the evidence is starting to work its way into proper focus. Seldom do you get the opportunity to "test drive" your potential coach, but the second half of the 2010 season is appearing to be more and more about that.
So, in no particular order, with 3 games of evidence sitting before us, let's go over the big 3 items that must be considered - whether these are the 3 items that Jerry Jones is considering is certainly open for debate:
1) - Emotional Leader
Very simple question with a very simple answer. Do the Dallas Cowboys play hard and play tough for Jason Garrett? Do they follow him into battle with every fiber of their being dedicated to representing the Cowboys proudly? Do they respond to what he says and believe that if they listen to him, he will figure out a way to get them into a position to win?
I don't think there is much question that the makings are there to believe that he is prepared to fill this position. Again, on Thanksgiving Day, he says the right things, he looks the part, and most importantly, his team appears to be willing to take a bruise to help the team. I realize that every time I type this sort of thing it is somewhat laughable about how far we have lowered the bar with respect to where the Dallas Cowboys normally judge themselves, but it had to be done. You have to build a foundation first, and the foundation here had to remove the "country club" mentality that seemed to cover this organization during the Wade Phillips administration.
We know the Cowboys ownership make things difficult for their coach if he is not a born leader. A guy like Wade will have the players looking over his head to see their true boss, and the sad thing about Wade was that it seemed like he actually didn't mind. This never sat well with me, and whether perception is reality can be debated, but I believe that Garrett demands some level of respect and wants the players to look at him when he is talking.
Through 3 weeks, I believe I have seen the highest level of effort and intensity from the Cowboys. Intensity does not equal excellence all of the time, and when a team like the Saints matches your level of fight then it is going to come down to talent and execution, but I see the passion returning to the Cowboys sideline. In 2008, the Cowboys quit numerous times on their leader, Wade Phillips. After 44-6 in Philadelphia, when they quit in a game with their entire season hanging in the balance, Jones should have fired the supposed leader of his team. He did not, and from there, it seemed just a matter of time.
They may have liked him, but they didn't emotionally respond to him often enough. It may happen to Garrett, too, and we may look back and realize that the problem was with some of the players, but for now, I going to suggest that Garrett meets my level of expectation in this category. It looks like they respond to him. It is not a given that players react to an "interim" label, but the difference between early and late November is shocking as it pertains to this team's will and pulse.
2) - Game Strategist
With yesterday's taste still in my mouth, this appears to be a topic that will come under the greatest scrutiny. On the other hand, this is also the nature of the job. In the Saints game alone, we can point at the play call on the Marion Barber toss on 4th and 1 in the 2nd Quarter as a very questionable decision. Since the play failed, it is very easy to say that it was a poor call. There are subjective judgements and objective judgements in this business. There is nothing subjective about 4th and 1. Either you get there or you don't.
How about the idea of a toss to Barber? I know many people suggest you run Barber between the tackles and Jones on edge plays. But here is the problem with that elementary thought process: The other team knows it, too. Can't we assume that if Barber is in the game, the Saints are sitting between the tackles and playing the tendencies on Barber? And if so, could you argue that the only reason it was a poor play call was that Marc Colombo was pushed back into Barber's path?
But should they have kicked there? And then, should they have gone for it on the very next drive from the 2 yard line, instead of settling for 3? Are both of these decisions made easier if you think your offensive line is a mess? On the other hand, isn't that the best time to find out how good your coaching is? If they can scheme around a poor offensive line, then that should demonstrate what they might be capable of if they ever had an excellent line.
When you are the offensive coordinator, you do not have to decide anything more than which play you would run if the coach tells you he wants to go for it. You don't have to first consider the entire idea of going for it - and what that means to your defense if you don't make it, the context of where you are in the game, and all of the ramifications involved.
But as the head coach, Garrett makes decisions on accepting penalties, calling for reviews (he got them right yesterday), going for it or kicking, and then calling plays on top of all of that. You may now understand why many head coaches resist the urge to call all their own plays. It is just too much on your plate. Ideally, you might want to oversee the effort, rather than trying to do it all on your own.
Later in the game, Garrett did not allow his kicker, David Buehler to attempt a 53-yarder in the 4th Quarter, down 23-20 - despite the fact that Buehler already made a 53-yarder before halftime. Instead, he opted for a punt that did not achieve the ideal result. Then, to further complicate matters, he had to settle for a 59-yarder as his last gasp effort to get those 3 points in the final minute.
The 59-yard attempt was not the major strategy question there, but rather why did the Cowboys not work the middle of the field more on the downs leading up to it with 2 remaining timeouts. Instead, 3 consecutive throws to the edge for Dez Bryant fell incomplete. As we have said, if any of those throws get to Dez like the play is designed, then Garrett's decisions aren't picked apart. But, like every decision that every coach ever makes, the concept is not judged - but, the result is. And the results of 3 throws to Dez Bryant were 0 yards closer for that tying FG attempt.
So, is Garrett ready and able to get all of these decisions right? Of course not. No coach gets them all right. He simply has to out-perform his competitors. So far, I would suggest that we will need a much larger sample size on this one.
3) - Talent Evaluator
Now, this particular component of my perfect head coach scenario might be more about my preferences and not those of the only guy who really matters here, Jerry Jones. But, I think it is vital to the advancement of this franchise to have a coach who can get in that decision room with Jerry and Stephen and argue hard for his position on player evaluations.
You see, I really have no idea how much say Wade Phillips had when it came to personnel. Was Felix Jones his idea? Was the Roy Williams trade something he needed to see completed? Did he campaign for Stephen McGee in the war room? How about Jason Williams and Anthony Spencer on draft day? You hear whispers, but most of it is hearsay.
However, when this team had ideal coaches under Jones, named Jimmy and Bill, I have no question that they not only had an opinion, but also made the call on who the Cowboys would acquire and what they would pay.
Can I trust that Jason Garrett is deciding which RB is getting the most snaps? Can I believe that Garrett has the power to bench Leonard Davis or Marc Colombo? In the off season, will Garrett argue hard for or against Roy Williams and Marion Barber coming back? Will he take a stand on whether he believes Keith Brooking is still capable or whether both safeties must be replaced?
If the answer to any of these questions is "No", then this thing is broken beyond repair, and we must hope against all hope that Jones hires Bill Cowher and concedes control of the football operation to someone he believes is capable. If he thinks Jason Garrett is another in a line of Chan, Campo, and Wade where Jerry can continue his poor track record of personnel decisions and the head coach sits in the corner and bites his tongue, then Garrett is not the man for the job.
This team is 3-8. They may seem close to contending in your mind, but reality is 3-8 and that is not close. They need a coach who can handle all 3 of these departments and they cannot afford to get this decision wrong.
Jason Garrett may be that guy. I honestly feel great about his ability to be an emotional leader. But, I wonder about his ability as a game strategist for now and I have no idea yet about his ability to evaluate talent and more importantly, whether his opinion will matter to the Jones family in the war room.
This cannot be a knee jerk decision. This must be free of emotion and properly thought out. If the only way this team can improve its personnel evaluation process is to go get Cowher, then that is an easy decision. Jason Garrett may be the most promising young coach in the NFL, but this job, with this owner, calls for way more than that.
The biggest issue still remains the biggest issue. The man who must evaluate all of this is the man who is responsible for why this job is why it is. Is there any chance Jerry can get this decision right?
If you are a Cowboys' fan, that should be your biggest Christmas wish.