Best Candidates to Replace Jason Garrett as Dallas Cowboys Head Coach
At the midway point of the 2012 NFL regular season, the Dallas Cowboys are just over two years away from the abrupt dismissal of former head coach and current Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. From that point, Jason Garrett has been on the clock as both head coach and offensive coordinator.
More importantly, Garrett was charged with changing a culture in Dallas that had recently gone way off course and showed no signs of correcting itself with Phillips in charge.
Since that surprising upset win over the New York Giants in Garrett’s first game calling the shots, the Cowboys have taken exactly zero steps forward when it comes to wins and losses. Dallas is exactly 16-16 under Garrett as either interim or permanent head coach.
It’s just not working too well.
It isn’t so much the idea that five-hundred football is as bad as it can get, but rather how and why the wins and losses just cancel each other out. That record over two regular seasons' worth of games is a snapshot of most Cowboys games.
Dallas has talent and this is why Garrett’s future is even a discussion.
Regardless of how loyal you think owner and general manager Jerry Jones is to Garrett, multiple circumstances going beyond the team’s win-loss record are creating a greater and greater likelihood that Dallas might have a new head coach in 2013.
If it’s true, then Jones will find himself in familiar territory having to bring in credibility beyond himself in order to change the team’s fortunes on the field. A prime example of this situation came following the 2002 regular season which saw a third consecutive five and eleven mark for the Cowboys under head coach Dave Campo. All that losing, plus the desire to build a new stadium, is exactly what brought you Bill Parcells.
Now, the Phillips-Garrett-era is wasting precious time maximizing much of the roster that Parcells put in place up until 2006. This is how long it’s been since Dallas has had what Jones refers to as a “walk around head coach." Jones puts Jimmy Johnson in this category as well.
So the question is this: Can Jones sell the idea that the Cowboys are heading in the right direction under Garrett for another year, especially if there’s no post-season this year? Or is it time to bring in an established and proven commodity to handle the task of leading the second most valuable sports franchise in the world?
If the latter trumps the former, here is the top 10 candidates to become the eighth head coach in franchise history.
10. Bob Stoops HC Oklahoma University
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I vividly recall the week leading up to the 2009 meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and the undefeated New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. As the Cowboys were heading towards the seemingly impossible task of knocking off an undefeated Saints team that would go on to win the Super Bowl, a season-ending third consecutive loss seemed imminent and rumors ran wild concerning the future of Wade Phillips.
Well, Dallas would win that Saints game and then roll into the playoffs, earning a victory in the post-season for the first time since 1996. So one rumor, in particular, never gained any legs thereafter.
It was reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN that Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops would be in the Cowboys' plans if a move was made.
And that wasn’t the first time that Stoops’ name had been casually linked to a future with the Dallas Cowboys.
How many of those rumors are credible is anybody’s guess.
But here’s a couple of things to remember about Jerry Jones and his history of hiring head coaches.
The first two coaches Jones hired were both from the college ranks. Also, both Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer had previously won national championships at the University of Miami and at the University of Oklahoma, respectively.
So the fact that Stoops currently coaches at the college level and he’s also won a national championship of his own won’t exactly be a deal breaker.
If Jones has to go to the coaching well again, you can bet that it’s going to be a big name that both makes a media splash and also one that gives Dallas fans some reason to believe that the future looks brighter.
Stoops has about as thick of a resume as it gets when it comes to any college coach that has never worked in the NFL.
Stoops joins three former Sooners head coaches in winning over 100 games for Oklahoma. Since arriving at Norman in 2000, no other school has appeared in as many BCS National Championship games than Stoops has.
I don’t think this move is likely because Jones can’t afford a fiasco like Nick Saban’s two year stint of mediocrity in Miami ending in 2006. Not that Stoops would require that mysterious Garrett “learning curve”, but the NFL would be an adjustment and Jones will likely want a guy who’s been there before and been successful.
9. Andy Reid HC Philadelphia Eagles
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It is beginning to look like the end is near for Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid. Heading into Week 10 of the NFL regular season, the Eagles are 3-5 and are even more likely to be looking into head coaching candidates for next season than the Cowboys.
One of just two current NFL head coaches to make this list, Reid would be an intriguing possibility for Jerry Jones. Reid wins football games and that’s how to best sum it up. While he has no Super Bowl wins, Reid has appeared in the game once and has also knocked on the door several more times.
Reid’s issue in Philly isn’t as much the fact that he hasn’t won a trophy yet as it is the fact that the Eagles just aren’t playing very well. It’s beginning to look like the selection of quarterback Michael Vick over former future prospect Kevin Kolb might have been the death blow to the Reid era.
But a look at Reid’s record shows a tireless worker that comes from a proven and stable offensive philosophy that can be traced all the way back to Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo could flourish in this system and all Reid would really need to do is develop the running game.
Reid is known for building his teams from the inside out, so improving the offensive line would be a priority.
Reid does not rank higher on this list because I’m not so sure he is out of a job yet. With a record of three and five, Philadelphia still has time, and two games against Dallas, to make a push for the post-season.
More likely is that the Eagles miss the playoffs and, according to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in the preseason, that scenario would mean curtains for Reid.
Or would it?
When you factor in the August death of Reid’s oldest son Garrett, it might be safe to assume that Reid might want to take a year or two off before jumping back into coaching.
As far as working head coaches, I can only see one other than Reid that looks like a legitimate candidate to coach the Cowboys.
8. Rob Ryan DC Dallas Cowboys
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A coaching change in Dallas following 2012 will likely involve an experienced head coach with NFL experience. There’s still more names to come that might outweigh this particular option, and that’s possible these days when looking at the waistline of second year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
But you have to admit that Ryan offers some things that could make him a dark horse candidate to succeed the floundering Jason Garrett.
Ryan has shown that in less than two seasons he can take a defensive unit with talent and make it work. The Dallas defense isn’t exactly “Doomsday” just yet, but there is quite a bit of talent on this side of the ball and it would be good to keep that in place. If Ryan gets another pure-pass rusher opposite outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware then lookout!
But Ryan also brings an aura of accountability and passion that just isn’t seen in Garrett or in Wade Phillips before him. Ryan has high standards and his experience in the NFL as an assistant isn’t questioned.
And Ryan is a likable guy, all in all. Texans can relate to his blunt, outspoken style that creates the right energy in the locker room. Understand that the Ryan family is from Oklahoma and if Texas is the heart of football in the United States, then Oklahoma is the jugular vein.
Jimmy Johnson is from Texas and his style and approach completely resurrected a franchise left for dead just a few years prior. Yes, Johnson is about as southern as it gets, and it shows.
Ryan also has coaching in the blood, as proven by the fact his twin brother Rex is in charge of the New York Jets and his father, Buddy, once fueled the Dallas and Philadelphia rivalry like nobody since George Allen.
Hiring Ryan would bring energy although it’s hard to see where exactly where the offense would go with Garrett no longer around to throw the ball 60-plus times per game.
Ryan is not exactly the biggest of names that could next grace the Dallas sidelines as head coach. But I would not look completely passed him either. There’s nothing to suggest that Ryan would be a slam dunk hire, but along with energy and passion can come good results and Ryan has those things.
I see Ryan as the only NFL assistant coach to be seriously considered if next season comes with a new regime.
7. Jimmy Johnson FOX NFL Sunday
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In the NFL today you simply have to expect the unexpected in order to keep up.
I’m going to bet you’re fully aware of FOX football analyst Jimmy Johnson and his history with the Dallas Cowboys. If not, then do some research on this topic. You just can’t make this stuff up!
Now, there is nothing at all to suggest that Johnson wants to coach again. In fact, everything points directly to the contrary. Johnson works once per week for about five months out of the year and makes seven figures. He also lives on the beach in the Florida Keys and—well, the guy sure doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to coach again.
Johnson will always be linked to Jerry Jones for what the two accomplished as much younger, wet behind the ears NFL decision makers. But based on the way it ended and how Johnson and Jones get along now, it’s always safe to speculate on such a dramatic reunion.
Impossible you say?
Well, two days before the first rumors surrounding Jones’ first meeting with Bill Parcells following the 2002 regular season, the Tuna coaching Dallas seemed ridiculous fiction. Nobody would have ever imagined that Parcells and Jones could co-exist in the same room, let alone professional football team.
Yet Parcells coached Dallas for four seasons, going to the playoffs twice.
Jones and Johnson buried the hatchet long ago on the ugly split in 1994 following the second of back-to-back Super Bowl wins over the Buffalo Bills. It’s not out of the realm of reality that these two could actually work together if they chose to. Just because there is no evidence of this now doesn’t mean that there might not be in the future. Or could there be interest already?
This candidate seems highly unlikely which is why I don’t put Johnson higher. It’s not his qualifications but rather what little bit I know about his lack of incentive to return to the schedule demands of an NFL head coach.
But I’m also not placing Johnson at the bottom either.
6. Tony Dungy NBC Football Night in America
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At a glance this idea doesn’t seem to be a good fit at all.
Tony Dungy’s defensive background makes him an unlikely fit given his 4-3 background but I wouldn’t necessarily rule him out either. If Mike Zimmer, another NFC assistant coach that ranks just outside this list, can take over the defensive coordinator spot for a new head coach that is changing schemes entirely then anything is possible. This happened under Parcells when he opted to keep Zimmer despite his having no background in the 3-4 scheme prior.
Dungy would be the other way around but remember we are also talking head coach here.
It is no secret that Jerry Jones is an extremely polarizing figure that is growing more and more divisive by the week. This happens when you’re losing games but it’s especially bad when you’re Jones or the Cowboys.
Jones is the guy who fired Tom Landry. He’s the guy who ran Jimmy Johnson away from town while at the top. He’s also the one who essentially fired Troy Aikman. He signed players like Deion Sanders and Terrell Owens in free agency.
Jones is the guy everyone loves to hate and what a buffer he could give himself by hiring the calm, cool and moral fabric of Dungy? Not that this would be a move of necessity but it could be rather potent the more you think about it.
Dungy might belong in a conversation about potential Jason Garrett replacements because he’s certainly qualified and he does have a Super Bowl ring.
Still, Dungy does not seem like he’s in any hurry to come back to coaching and likely not to do so with Jones and the Cowboys.
5. Norv Turner HC San Diego Chargers
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The only other active head coach to make the list, Norv Turner of San Diego, would certainly entertain the mind of Jerry Jones if Jason Garrett is let go. Turner’s career record as a head coach will have nothing to do with his being selected, if it does happen.
The reasoning here is that there is both history and success where the background of Turner and Jones are concerned. Everybody likes doing business with people they know first and then they move on to more unfamiliar grounds when necessary.
Jones hired Garrett because he knew him and the Garrett family so well. These things make a huge difference in both business and relationships, so acquaintance can never be over-looked.
Another big plus here is that Turner might be cool with Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator while he takes over an offense that has enormous potential. Turner’s offensive background is rooted from the passing attacks used by the San Diego Chargers head coach Don Coryell and quarterback Dan Fouts over 30 years ago. Former Dallas offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese comes from the same thread.
Turner understands the value of running the football, as proven by his usage of Emmitt Smith early in his career, and I believe that Turner could improve the Dallas offense greatly. This includes the overall performance of Tony Romo, a signal caller that upgrades the mouthy and noodle-armed Phillip Rivers in San Diego.
Is Turner out of work following 2012?
This is probably the biggest question concerning candidates like Andy Reid or Turner. Bu,t barring a major turnaround, Turner is on his last legs in Southern California.
He may not rank higher than some names you’ve heard for years concerning head coach possibilities in Dallas, but Turner is definitely not a name to forget.
4. Jon Gruden ESPN Monday Night Football
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Like a number of former head coaches with championship rings, I don’t get the feeling that Jon Gruden is in a big hurry to get back on the sidelines in the NFL.
Can you blame him?
Gruden entered coaching very young. I credit him for launching the careers of guys like Sean Payton, Josh McDaniels, Jason Garrett, Lane Kiffin and Mike Tomlinson.
I’m talking about the “young, hot head coaching candidate” that it seemed like everybody just had to have over the last decade plus.
Gruden has all kinds of time to decide on whether or not he wants to coach again and where that might be.
I don’t feel like Gruden is the best choice for Dallas because I just don’t think he’s done enough as a head coach—yes, even despite the Super Bowl ring.
Gruden is a sharp guy with a lot of fire and for that reason I would not be disappointed to see him in Dallas. But this would come with more modest expectations than if either of the top three on this list were to land in Dallas.
It would be interesting to see how Gruden’s offensive philosophy would work with Tony Romo as he is another “west coast” offense guy that would bring a system that Romo would almost certainly thrive in. Think John Elway after Mike Shannahan (still “west coast”) showed up in Denver.
But if you’re Gruden, then you’re aware that those Tampa Buccaneers of ten years ago were not built by you but rather by the aforementioned Tony Dungy. Tampa Bay never won another playoff game in Gruden’s six seasons following the Super Bowl win in 2002.
Could Jon Gruden and Jerry Jones work together?
I have no doubt.
3. Bill Cowher CBS The NFL Today
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Probably the most exciting candidate to replace a jettisoned Jason Garrett is former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher.
No other former head coach has more weight than Cowher when it comes to coaching any team he might be interested in. When it comes to Cowher, Jerry Jones would likely have some competition for the services of Cowher following at least six seasons away from the game.
Cowher’s resume is about as good as it gets until you realize that no head coach has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams. Parcells could not do it in New England following New York with the Giants and Mike Holmgren failed in Seattle following Green Bay.
So Cowher would be asked to do something no other coach has done before while leading the most visible and passionate lightening rod in the NFL: the Dallas Cowboys.
Make no mistake, Cowher is Valley Ranch material and I have no doubt that he would have Dallas in contention early and often if he was to take over most of the existing roster sooner than later.
It’s noted that Cowher was once said to have interest in coaching the New York Giants in the event current head coach Tom Coughlin was to get fired or simply retired. But every time Coughlin gets in really hot water he responds by winning the Super Bowl.
Could the Giants be a real interest of Cowher?
New York is the number one market in the United States and they also have a quarterback that has won two Super Bowls and a good pass rush every single year it seems. What is not to like about that idea?
Assuming Cowher coaches again, I would expect that destination to be pretty visible and competitive overall. Is it a reach to suggest that Cowher might be waiting on an expansion team to land in Los Angeles?
There is no telling where Cowher will end up and remember that this is another candidate that has dealt with personal tragedy in recent years and it’s quite likely that, like Jimmy Johnson, he just doesn’t want to trade the schedule of a once-per-week broadcaster on network television for that of an NFL head coach.
But if Jones wants to make the biggest splash possible while also reigning in a completely new perception and future, then hiring Cowher is probably the best way to do it.
Anything is possible, although Cowher landing in Dallas seems like the “long shot” of the top three.
2. Sean Payton HC New Orleans Saints (suspended)
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Easily the hottest candidate to replace Jason Garrett is none other than the very guy who probably inspired Jerry Jones to jump on Garrett in the first place.
Comparisons are plenty when it comes to suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and Dallas’ head coach.
The issue I’m having is that I don’t understand why.
One guy has won a Super Bowl and the other ices his own kicker.
Where’s the comparison?
In the wake of this week’s fallout following a Sunday night loss to the Atlanta Falcons, rumors are swirling about the future of Garrett anyway. But then came word that Payton might be available following the 2012 regular season.
Yeah, we already know about the voided contract but there is also the likelihood that Payton signs a new contract in New Orleans. I think this possibility is probably greater than people think which is why I do not think that Payton is the most likely hire by Jones.
Know that Payton has plenty of control in New Orleans and that he probably wouldn’t have the same thing in Dallas unless he really campaigned hard for it. He also has a championship caliber quarterback in Drew Brees and a very good offense in place.
I could absolutely see Payton having an interest about coaching this Dallas offense though.
Let’s put it this way: If Tony Romo was running the Saints playbook with Payton calling the plays you would see a completely different quarterback in the win-loss column.
Payton should get as much credit as anybody for the development of Romo given that he offered most of the first offensive impressions stamped on Romo, a fellow alumnus of Eastern Illinois and the Cowboys future starting quarterback.
Payton could feel as though the ride in the Crescent City is over, and it was a good run if that’s the case. I believe that Dallas would be of mutual interest to Payton if things work out the right way.
This candidate will be under the microscope for the remainder of the regular season.
1. Mike Holmgren Former President / Cleveland Browns
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When it comes to qualifications, no candidate is more qualified than soon to be unemployed Mike Holmgren.
In October it was announced that Holmgren would not be retained as president following a change of ownership with the Cleveland Browns. In the moments following the news, Holmgren clearly indicated that he is leaning towards coaching one more time in the NFL.
Holmgren’s name was immediately attached to Dallas by local media and with good reason.
Assuming Jerry Jones needs another head coach, Holmgren would bring him the best overall candidate to lead the Cowboys for as many as four to five seasons. Understand that hiring Holmgren would be a little like hiring Parcells almost ten years ago. Holmgren, especially after holding a front office job the last few seasons, probably won’t hold up for too long being the kind of head coach he is.
Like Bill Cowher, Holmgren is a guy that you expect to win. He is expected to win because he does.
It was already mentioned that no head coach has ever won Super Bowls with two different franchises.
Well, Holmgren is one of just four coaches to even reach the Super Bowl with two different teams, let alone win them.
Holmgren would bring more credibility to the franchise than anybody not named Cowher and his overall record and experience speaks for itself. Holmgren represents a once per decade coaching opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.
Holmgren is basically the dean of “west coast” offensive instructors and I’ve already cast my vote on Tony Romo’s fortunes in that offense. And it’s not like Holmgren has never managed a highly aggressive, gun slinging quarterback that takes risks and can really roll up yardage and points – and interceptions.
Holmgren understands running the ball and he, along with all other candidates combined, understands clock management, offensive balance and the preparation required to win. Just days ago I presented a full case for Holmgren being lured by Jones and I believe that this pairing is the most likely scenario in the event that Jason Garrett is shown the door.