Dallas Cowboys: Grading Each Member of 2011 Coaching Staff
With any business or organization, the tone is set from the very top.For as long as owner and general manager Jerry Jones insists on doing things his way, I predict that America's Team will remain largely irrelevant on the NFL landscape.
It's time to review the coaching staff, from top to bottom, following another season of disappointment that offers little in the form of future optimism.
No, it's not all Jones' fault. At the end of the day, he was not the one calling plays, running practices and so forth.The cast of characters that follows were the ones responsible for a mediocre 8-8 record in 2011.
This is how they did ...
Head Coach / Offensive Coordinator: Jason Garrett
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Garrett just completed his first full season as head coach, and the results were something less than stellar.
I have never believed that each win and loss points directly to the head coach even though they are responsible for each of those. I do believe, however, that other areas fall solely on this position.
Since owner and general manager Jerry Jones fancies Garrett as a sharp offensive mind, Garrett is also graded as a play caller and this category is probably worse than the head coach discussion.
Following 2010, most felt that Garrett’s record of 5-3 (really 4-3 since the season finale in Philadelphia was a victory against Eagles backups in Philadelphia) deserved a grade of I, for incomplete.
Well, now it’s complete, and I’ll point to the three most obvious blunders that formulate my grade.
1. The loss to AFC Super Bowl representative New England Patriots in October was unfortunate. Road games are tough but this ended up being a loss against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. That the Cowboys could neither score more than 20 points against this unit is not encouraging. Failing to keep the ball away from Tom Brady late in the 4th quarter was the nail in the coffin.
2. Two weeks before the Patriots loss, Dallas suffered its biggest collapse in history. After taking a 27-3 lead early in the second half, Garrett found a way to hand massive momentum back to the Detroit Lions via two pick sixes in a matter of minutes. With a quarterback still suffering from multiple injuries sustained against San Francisco two weeks prior, it never occurred to Garrett to run the ball and pound the young, demoralized Lions into submission. Garrett was like a 10-year-old playing Madden 2012 on Playstation 3 and should have been fired for complete incompetence.
3. The loss at Arizona against a non-playoff team wasn’t as much a head scratcher when you consider that the Cowboys, despite having as many fans in Phoenix as the Cardinals do, always find creative ways to lose in the dessert. On the other hand, have you ever seen a head coach, in a tied game, decide that with about 30 seconds left and two time outs remaining that a 49-yard field goal attempt is plenty close enough for a rookie kicker?
After wasting half a minute, the Cowboys attempted a longer field goal than necessary and Dan Bailey hit a 49 yarder for an apparent win—except Garrett called timeout, as Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt might have done, nullifying the kick. Bailey missed the following attempt, the game went to overtime, and I trust you remember the rest.
That same 10-year-old playing Madden 2012 on Playstation 3 would have managed the clock better than this. And now Bill Callahan comes riding in, obviously to fill the voids Garrett can’t.
HC Grade: F-
OC Grade: C
Quarterbacks Coach: Wade Wilson
If quarterback play is any indication of where exactly you are with your quarterback coach, then Dallas is in pretty good hands.
Wilson has been around the block many more times than Garrett and I have no doubt that his experience is critical in Tony Romo’s overall performance.
Understand that if Romo had good pass protection and run blocking you’re probably looking at a quarterback who’s played in multiple conference championship games and might have won a Super Bowl—yes, he’s that good.
Wilson doesn’t get credit for Romo being an upper echelon quarterback in the NFL, but we know he certainly is not messing things up. Wilson is the only veteran presence Romo has on the coaching staff. Romo, despite playing injured most of the season, still turned in his best season in most statistical categories.
QBC Grade: B+
Offensive Line Coach: Hudson Houck
It’s certainly safe to say that Houck has seen better days and better offensive lines during many years on the Cowboys coaching staff. He didn’t have the services of linemen like Erik Williams, Larry Allen and Mark Stepnoski as he did during the 1990s championship runs. By 2011, he obviously didn’t have players like Flozell Adams or Leonard Davis but rather had a relatively young line that really only included future player Tyron Smith to hang his hat on.
If an experienced chef doesn’t have good groceries to work with, then his creations probably won’t be very impressive. Houck will now ride off into retirement and really should have no regrets moving forward. Still, it’s hard to give a glowing testimonial to an offensive line coach that just wasn’t able to keep his franchise quarterback healthy too many times from 2008 through last season.
OLC Grade: C-
Wide Receivers Coach: Jimmy Robinson
There’s no question that Robinson has been around some good wide receivers during his time spent coaching which began in 1984. Names such as Andre Rison, Michael Haynes, Marvin Harrison, Amani Toomer, Joe Horn and Greg Jennings have each benefited substantially from Robinson’s tutoring.
Having completed his first season in Dallas in 2011, it’s not quite certain what impact Robinson will make with Dez Bryant who fell way short of expectations on the field. His total of 928 yards on 63 catches with nine touchdowns is by no means pathetic, but it’s not exactly the stuff that Michael Irvin was made of.
Miles Austin barely crossed 500 yards receiving on 43 catches with seven scores during a season that was arguably more disappointing than Bryant’s.
If not for the completely unexpected performance turned by 2011 arrival Laurent Robinson, it’s safe to say that the Cowboys would have been nowhere close to playoff contention.
When your starting tight end—even if his name is Jason Witten—is your leading receiver and your quarterback is named Tony Romo, there is some issues that need to be resolved.
WRC Grade: C
Running Backs Coach: Skip Peete
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Since run blocking, a function of the offensive line, is so critical to the success of any team's running backs, there is no reason to beat up on Peete seeing as the Dallas offensive line just started its rebuilding project in 2011.
In fact, the surprising rookie performance by DeMarco Murray is among the best indicators for future success for the Dallas offense moving forward. Prior to injuring his ankle during the first meeting with the New York Giants in early December, Murray already had 897 yards rushing and was well on his way towards surpassing the rookie season of Emmitt Smith in 1990.
Until Dallas builds on offensive line that can bang the ball across the goal line, especially inside the 10 yard line, the Cowboys will not be contending for anything. However, it does look like the combination of Murray and Felix Jones has the potential to give Dallas the potent rushing attack it has been missing since the days of Smith.
RBC Grade: B-
Tight Ends Coach: John Garrett
The brother of head coach Jason Garrett can tout the success of Jason Witten all he wants. But this is where it all stops.
John Garrett also carries the title of “passing game coordinator." The Dallas passing game is a mess, and I can’t say which Garrett is more responsible. At the end of the day, however, the yardage gained by the Dallas offense in the air is better than most teams.
As a tight end coach, only Witten is a Pro Bowl caliber player and one has to wonder where exactly Martellus Bennett has been since—well, since he was drafted. Bennett has played four seasons and has the same number of touchdowns. For a tight end drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, this is shockingly poor. Even more unacceptable is the fact that Bennett scored all four of those touchdowns as a rookie and has done precious little since.
For an example of how good an offense can be with two tight ends working within the passing game, look no further than the New England Patriots—I’ll let you do the research there. The Patriots wide receivers could get starting jobs in Dallas, and it’s a shame to see two guys named Garrett completely unable to maximize the fire power the Cowboys possess.
TEC Grade: C
Defensive Coordinator: Rob Ryan
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If any part of the Dallas coaching staff is deserving of an “incomplete” grade, it would be Rob Ryan, son of former defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan.
The NFL lockout hurt all teams as draft picks could never be acclimated to their new teams and obviously there was no free agency movement until the lockout ended just prior to training camp.
Beyond not having much time to implement his version of the 3-4 defense, Ryan was also hurt by the fact that his depth chart just isn’t very good from top to bottom.
The interesting question is going to be whether the Cowboys will actually switch back to the 4-3 defense this offseason as it has been hinted by head coach Garrett.
The main reason I will not give Ryan an incomplete grade for 2011 is the fact that he, just like previous head coaches Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, trotted out Jay Ratliff at nose guard. There’s no greater offense across the entire defense lineup than this one, silly move that has never equated to success in Dallas.
This move hurt the linebacker, the secondary and obviously affected the offense.
You realize that Dallas’ second best pass rusher tied with Orlando Scandrick, a cornerback, with all of two sacks in 2001?
I like Ryan a lot. I love his swagger and confidence and I think this brings energy while Jason Garrett probably brings naps. However, I expected much more from a guy whose father made a living out of sending opposing quarterbacks to the locker room.
DC Grade: D
Defensive Line Coach: Brian Baker
Brian Baker joined the Cowboys coaching staff just under a year ago. Just over a year ago he took the defensive line coaching position at the University of North Carolina.
Yes, Baker was at Chapel Hill for about a month before he bailed for the same position in Dallas.
Wonder if he thinks today that he made the right call?
I question whether or not Baker is the right fit in Dallas. This could change if the Cowboys switch back to the 4-3 base defense which would really help the personnel they have right now much better than continuing to chase the “3-4 dragon."
Baker has had previous NFL assistant coaching stints in Carolina, St. Louis, Minnesota, Detroit and San Diego. That is a lot of 4-3 background right there and perhaps this is why the first words out of Baker’s mouth upon landing at D/FW International Airport were not, “We are playing a 285 pound nose guard why?”
DLC Grade: D
Linebackers Coach: Matt Eberflus
I suppose that if you’re the position coach for DeMarcus Ware, you will end up looking pretty good. Yes, Ware is that good, and nothing negative can really be said about the job that Matt Eberflus is doing.
I would argue that the Dallas linebackers were probably the best area of the entire Cowboys depth chart in 2011 and it certainly extends beyond just Ware at his outside linebacker spot.
Sean Lee has emerged as the best inside linebacker that Dallas has had in quite some time. His future should see multiple Pro Bowl selections beginning next year and also gives the Cowboys flexibility as they continue mulling over the possibility of moving back to a 4-3 defensive alignment.
Anthony Spencer, once again, did not accumulate an impressive number of sacks but his physical nature and experience were key in run support. His future is very much in question with respect to his free agent status as the offseason begins in a few weeks and obviously where Dallas goes schematically on defense.
Victor Butler, with limited opportunities shows signs of being the pass rushing compliment that Ware needs so badly but it’s unclear at this point what his role will be in the future.
One thing is for sure: The Dallas linebackers were not the reason this team underachieved following the 6-10 disaster of 2010. For this fact, Eberflus gets more than a passing grade.
LBC Grade: B
Secondary Coach: Dave Campo
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Over a combined 18 seasons as either an assistant or head coach of the Cowboys, Dave Campo saw all the ups and all the downs, starting with the 1-15 campaign in 1989, the first year of the Jerry Jones era.
The Cowboys have never had many secondaries that changed football games, even going back to the glory days of the 1990s. This is not to say that it’s all Campo’s fault, but at no point that I can remember did Dallas ever shut down opposing passing games because of an overload of talent in the secondary.
In Campo’s second stint with the Cowboys beginning in 2008, Dallas made the playoffs just one time and there’s numerous reasons for this, beginning with the fact that the Cowboys are just too small upfront in this 3-4 scheme. This puts everybody at a disadvantage and especially the secondary.
Still, Campo’s results included a franchise worst performance in 2010 and things were not much better in 2011. Sometimes change is what’s needed, even if a good coach is involved. This is why Campo will coordinate defense for the Kansas Jayhawks football team in 2012.
Good for Campo.
SC Grade: F
Secondary Coach: Brett Maxie
Brett Maxie, along with Dave Campo, will not be a part of the Dallas Cowboys organization in 2012. Maxie recently accepted a job offer from Tennessee to handle secondary responsibilities there all by himself.
It was never clear to me why the Cowboys felt that Campo and Maxie were both needed as secondary coaches but I never called Jerry Jones to ask.
In keeping in mind that Ron Ryan’s defense in 2011 was a rushed project, I also see that guys like Campo and Maxie have been around a lot of 4-3 programs as either coaches or players and so it should come as no surprise that the Dallas defense, as a whole, is a mess heading into 2012.
Jermone Henderson replaces both Campo and Maxie as secondary coach, and time will tell if his presence will make any difference.
SC Grade: F
Special Teams Coordinator: Joe DeCamillis
There might not be a more fiery special teams coach in the NFL than Joe DeCamillis.
I think it’s a safe argument that DeCamillis had his best season as special teams coach, especially with the emergence of rookie kicker Dan Bailey. Should be a safe bet that kickoff specialist David Buehler will not return and that a huge plus given the roster spot that can now go to a much more important position.
Fully recovered from the practice facility collapse in May 2009, DeCamillis can now focus on developing some kind of return game for the Cowboys on both punts and kickoffs. This is still a pretty glaring weakness as the Cowboys, in large part because of limited roster space due to having three kickers, just don’t have a guy that can do either.
With kickoffs now launching from the 35-yard line, Bailey will be fine on kickoffs and Dallas could have a much more volatile special teams unit if DeCamillis can find a Devin Hester-type of player to create some big plays.
STC Grade: B-