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What Must Jason Garrett Do to Keep His Job for the Dallas Cowboys?

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What Must Jason Garrett Do to Keep His Job for the Dallas Cowboys?
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It seems like all Dallas fans have been talking about since the turn of the 21st century is firing the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach.

It’s like the entire fanbase and media contracted the same itchy trigger-finger syndrome that plagued Jerry Jones in his early years as an owner and caused him to fire Chan Gailey, despite back-to-back playoff berths.

How nice do two playoff appearances in a row sound now? It hasn’t happened since Gailey’s successful ’98 and ’99 seasons.

Regardless, here we are in 2012 and it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Jason Garrett is on the hot seat. This Sunday’s game in Atlanta will mark his 32nd as a head coach and a loss would make him 16-16 since taking over for Wade Phillips in 2010.

You don’t need me to tell you that coaches with a .500 win-loss percentage have a short shelf life in the NFL.

But you might need to be reminded that constant turnover in head coaching is a sure way to strangle a franchise. Jerry Jones already knows this since he’s gone through four in the last 10 years and has one playoff victory to show for it.

He forgot that the plan all along was to find a coach that would be around for many years to come. Immediate success is always welcome but not necessarily required. Jerry Jones knew when he promoted Garrett that there was going to be a learning curve.

That learning curve, however, has expired. Garrett has had two full preseasons (although 2011 was slightly abbreviated by the lockout) and after Sunday, will have had the equivalent of two regular seasons as a head coach to make his case.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

At the midway point of the 2012 season, a 3-4 start has him under review and fans calling for his head.

As has been stated over and over again, there’s an all too familiar lack of preparation and execution with this team. We were quick to crucify Wade Phillips for his lack of leadership, and he certainly deserved a lot of the criticism he got. But, as hard as it is to admit, this team has regressed since his removal. "Regress" is a word you never want to use to describe your franchise, especially one that’s not considered to be in a rebuilding mode.

The Cowboys are built to win now, not later. And if Garrett can’t prove that, Garrett won’t be around later. The question becomes, how can he prove it? How can he save his job?

 

Commit to The Run

And I’m not just referring to play-calling. I’m referring to revamping the roster.

I don’t how Felix Jones can be trusted going forward. And given the unreliability of DeMarco Murray's health, Garrett is in a tricky situation. Fortunately, as what may be the only silver lining of the tragedy that is Hurricane Sandy, the NFL trade deadline has been moved back from 6:00 p.m. Tuesday to 6:00 p.m. Thursday.

It has been speculated that New Orleans Saints running back Chris Ivory (via rotoworld.com) could be traded a seventh-round pick. If there’s even a tiny bit of truth to that rumor, Jason Garrett (ipso facto Jerry Jones) needs to be aggressive and bring in some new blood. I don’t know if that means demoting Felix Jones or Lance Dunbar, who has been good at returning kicks, but I do know that Ivory’s size and speed are worth a late-round draft pick.

Or even better, trading Jones straight up could prove to be a game changer if the Saints would go for it. At some point we have to come to the conclusion that he will no longer be a Cowboy. And it’s better to come to that conclusion now by trading him rather than by cutting him when the season ends.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Obviously, these are upper-management decisions and it’s unlikely that Garrett has the ability to do anything other than make suggestions. But making suggestions is the first step toward making decisions. Meaning, with the right eye Garrett could not just save his job, he could earn a promotion.

I’m giving a lot of credit to Ivory by suggesting that he will be a difference-maker, but you have to start somewhere. Even if the Saints aren’t interested in Jones, the Cowboys need to be interested in Ivory.

 

Experiment with Wide Receiver Combinations

Experimenting is hardly a good way for a coach to save his job. But it’s becoming clear that Kevin Ogletree isn’t the answer as the third wide receiver. All we can assume is that he’s proven his case in camp and practice as being the best option.

I still have to wonder about Cole Beasley. Is he getting snubbed because Miles Austin is so dominant in the slot (the only spot in which Beasley would be effective)? If yes, then how is he ahead of Andre Holmes on the depth chart?

Or, more importantly, how is Dwayne Harris ahead of Holmes on the depth chart? Can he not run routes? Is he too slow? Can he not catch? We saw him do it in preseason. A couple of times. The 6-4 wide receiver ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, and his size would certainly provide a red zone threat for an offense that has struggled to score points.

Why hasn’t Holmes been used more often? Is it because he wasn’t drafted?

I remember another undrafted free agent by the name of Miles Austin. There’s no way Garrett would have looked past him, right? Surely he would have recognized the talent in Austin just as Wade Phillips did.

Injuries and incompetence have been the storyline of Cowboys receivers over the last few years. Why not see if Holmes can add a little bit of a spark? Ogletree isn’t working out and Harris has done little to suggest he’s going to improve.

Why not dress Holmes for a game or two and see what happens?

 

Hire an Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach

Again, this is something that really falls under the responsibility of the general manager, but it takes a good coach to realize where and when he needs help...and to ask for that help.

It’s hard enough to decide when to call a run versus a pass on 2nd-and-1 when trailing the Giants by two with time expiring. Factor in clock management and personnel decisions, and you have a recipe for Cowboys football. We’ll never forget what happened on the road last year against the Arizona Cardinals when Garrett iced his own kicker and went on to lose a game that changed the momentum of the season.

Imagine if Phillips had made that same mistake. His plane would have been shot down before ever entering Texas airspace.

You would think Garrett would have learned from that situation, but as fate would have it, the Cowboys managed to botch the final 26 seconds against the host Baltimore Ravens just a few weeks ago, blowing what would have been a great upset.

It’s a frustrating thing to witness. We all hope that these are one-time things, but they seem to keep happening. If there’s one thing a coach should be great at, it’s clock management. Anyone that’s ever played Madden knows how to manage the clock. Why doesn’t Jason Garrett?

He needed an offensive coordinator last year, and he needs one even more now. He can still call plays and be in charge of the general game plan, but having the option to ask someone for his opinion in a tough situation, or having someone who will step up and cover for him when he has his head buried in the playbook can’t be a bad thing.

 

Conclusion

Everyone wants to see some fire-breathing, neck-strangling and cussing, no-nonsense coach come into the Dallas locker room and whip some discipline into this cast of characters.

That’s the mindset that the media has painted as the key to winning championships.

But I challenge Cowboys fans to look at their team and be honest: Who would you replace him with? Jon Gruden? He’s become more TV personality than coach. Maybe Jerry could lure Les Miles out of LSU? Or maybe Chip Kelly is ready for an NFL position and the Cowboys could trade for Colin Kaepernick. And there’s always the possibility that Andy Reid gets fired from the Eagles.

But let’s be honest, not one of those guys is a good fit. And it’s not like Eric Taylor is walking through that door anytime soon.

You probably noticed how much I referenced Wade Phillips. He was the prime example of soft leadership that lost control of his players. But his winning percentage is tied for the second best in Cowboys history with Tom Landry. Only Barry Switzer has a better win-loss record. Granted, the number of games coached is the alarming difference, but the moral of the story is the same.

There’s a peculiar sense of irresponsible play-calling and game management. There’s the ever-present feeling that the Cowboys can’t be counted on to win the games that they should, nor counted out of the games that they shouldn’t.

They already have two “could-have-won” games in the first half of the season, which hurts. But they have the same record now that they did at this point in 2011—the obvious difference being this year's strength of schedule.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Traveling to face the undefeated Atlanta Falcons is a tough way to come out of a heartbreaking loss. But I can’t think of a better way for Garrett to save his job than by winning on Sunday night.

The odds are obviously against him. This represents yet another game where I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Cowboys won.

The key to shaping a championship team is by playing the best of the best. The collective record of their opponents so far this season is 24-13. Three of their four losses have come against teams that are currently in first place. The Falcons have shown their vulnerability, and the Cowboys have shown their opportunistic big-play ability. If the Raiders can intercept Matt Ryan three times and take Atlanta down to the final seconds, imagine what the Cowboys can do.

Even if they don’t win, Garrett needs to prove that he wasn’t the reason Phillips got fired, and instead needs to prove that he was the reason the Cowboys got their first playoff win in 12 years. His play-calling has certainly come under fire, with many questioning his discretion. And as long as the Cowboys are embarrassing themselves, his longevity as a coach will always be questioned.

That’s the burden that any head coach must bear once they represent the Blue-and-Silver Star, even if the general manager is to blame for many of the systemic problems. Still, barring a disastrous second half, Garrett is no danger of losing his job.

At least not this year.

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