Despite the fact that owner and general manager Jerry Jones has stated otherwise, it's widely believed that head coach Jason Garrett is coaching for his life in 2013.
If this is true, here's a look at the top five candidates who could replace Garrett as the ninth head coach in franchise history—the eighth such hire for Jones.
If this scenario comes to pass following the 2013 NFL regular season, there are a few directions that Jones can take. He has taken each one before.
Jones could opt to dip into the college ranks to find his next man. There is big splash potential in this direction. Jones could also look for a previous NFL coach who's not currently employed, and there's a reasonable short list of options.
Jones could also promote from within the organization as there's a plethora of head coaching experience and credentials already on staff that dwarf fourth-year veteran Garrett. There's also the possibility that Jones could look around the league at other coaching staffs, but I doubt this will be preferred, especially if the candidate has no previous head coaching experience.
I may regret it later, but I'm leaving off the name Bill Cowher for two reasons.
First off, Cowher hasn't coached since the 2006 season and having just turned 56 as of May, I'm having more and more doubts that he'll end up coming back to the NFL to coach. That broadcast booth is pretty cozy by now—and so is that paycheck.
Second, I can't imagine Jones and Cowher being able to work together in the same room. Granted, I never would have thought that Jones and Bill Parcells could unite either, which they obviously did. Cowher just doesn't seem like a likely candidate despite the fact that he's easily the best one.
But there's still names out there from each category mentioned above, and if a move is made next offseason, remember these potential replacements for Garrett.
Rod Marinelli would seem to be an unlikely candidate to ever serve as a head coach again. After all, he was the perceived author of the only 0-16 season in NFL history, as the 2008 Detroit Lions achieved the wrong kind of perfection—but hey, they did go undefeated during the preseason!
In Marinelli's other two years as head coach, he compiled a record of 10-22 from 2006-07 and only lasted three seasons in the Motor City.
While the head coaching stripes may not seem to be there, Marinelli is recognized as being among the top defensive coaches in football. Most of his difficulties in Detroit can be attributed directly to the shockingly poor results brought forth by former general manager and player Matt Millen—I'll let you do the research on that odyssey.
It's possible that Marinelli has no interest in being a head coach again, but I always say that money can make anybody reconsider their plans.
It's also true that Jones would have a difficult time hiring a head coach with the stigma attached to Marinelli—then again, Marinelli is still on the staff, albeit as defensive line coach.
If Jones is determined to not bring in a big name following a potential firing of Garrett, Marinelli could actually be part of the discussion.
Remember that Jones does what he wants, when he wants.
Anything is possible if an unplanned and unwelcomed head coaching search gets underway in less than a year for America's Team.
The most likely of the in-house replacement candidates would have to be newly appointed offensive play-caller Bill Callahan.
Unlike Marinelli, Callahan has some better selling points as an NFL coach, even if his most memorable moment came as the losing head coach of Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. Callahan's Oakland Raiders were simply smashed by Tampa Bay, which led to a sooner-than-expected exit from the Bay Area about a year later.
Callahan would have a less-than-stellar run at the University of Nebraska after leaving Oakland in 2004 and was back in the NFL by 2008 as assistant head coach with the New York Jets.
It's hard to say exactly what Callahan can bring as a head coaching candidate, but remember that he's taken a veteran team to the Super Bowl before.
He didn't lose to the Buccaneers at Qualcomm Stadium simply because he's not a good coach. Callahan's boys were outmanned by their previous head coach from just a year before that clearly had better, younger talent across the board.
Soon to be 57, Callahan still has plenty of years on the sidelines left, if he chooses. Whether he would want the head coaching gig in Dallas or not I have no idea. I do think that he would make a lot of sense should Jones decide to make a change. Callahan wouldn't be a bigger face than Jones, and he might be looking at his final shot at being head coach.
This would not represent the kind of ''wow'' factor that Jones is known for, but Callahan is experienced and credible.
Since Jones has his new stadium built, I'm not sure how much incentive he's got to bring in a successful and established football professional. You know, a guy who's been to the ''big dance'' and won it.
We won't know Jones' mindset on this idea until we know exactly how the end of Garrett unfolds, if, in fact, it does.
But let's say that Dallas really struggles and despite his best efforts, Garrett can't even keep the locker room. Let's assume Jones goes with a name bigger than himself for just the second time during his quarter-century of ownership.
In this case, Jones will go with a guy he likes above all else.
Mike Holmgren is apparently a guy who Jones has a good relationship with. He was quoted with the following by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com last November:
We are good friends, have a lot of respect for each other, served on the competition committee together for eight years. He's very familiar with how we operate the Cowboys and does have a high appreciation for our talent that we have on the team right now. All of that is a compliment. Thank you, Mike.
Remember the phrase ''good friends." This will be a greater element than anything else should Jones find his back against the wall again while needing to hire a bigger name than the previous in-house candidates following next season.
Holmgren has taken two teams (Green Bay and Seattle) to the Super Bowl, and his record is 1-2. He's also hinted that, despite his recent departure as team president in Cleveland in 2012, he might want to actually coach once again.
Finally, Holmgren might be the best guy available to help get the best out of quarterback Tony Romo given his extensive offensive background and also his previous relationship and success with Brett Favre.
While it might not seem too likely, Jones could actually dip into the college ranks for the third time during his tenure as owner of the Cowboys. This strategy worked too brilliantly with his first coaching hire in Jimmy Johnson. Things weren't quite as dominant under Barry Switzer, but a third Super Bowl win for Jones came as a result.
Bob Stoops is in the midst of a highly successful and visible run at the University of Oklahoma. Under his leadership, the Sooners have won a national championship (2000) and eight Big 12 championships. Oklahoma has played in the BCS National Championship Game three additional times under Stoops.
I could go on and on about points scored, conference victories, Stoops family members in the coaching business, etc. But there's no point—Stoops has done it all, and he could possibly pass former Sooners head coach Switzer for most career victories while at Norman this coming season.
It doesn't seem likely that Stoops would leave the golden nest he resides in with Oklahoma, especially given his current salary structure as one of the top paid college football coaches in the country—and this is saying a lot.
Jones would really have to dip into the well to bring this candidate on board, and this assumes that Stoops wants to coach in the NFL in the first place. As recently as 2009, Stoops was rumored to be a possible replacement for then-head coach Wade Phillips, but when Dallas ended up winning its first playoff game since early 1996 the following postseason, nothing more was ever mentioned.
Stoops has had opportunities to coach in the NFL before, but he's always shied away from the idea. Based on the experience not exactly enjoyed by coaching mentor Steve Spurrier while he was with the Washington Redskins years ago, I can't think of why Stoops would be compelled to leave the security of Oklahoma for the NFL—unless the money is really big and possibly if it's the Dallas Cowboys calling.
For now, the commonly discussed possibility percolating is the return of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden to the sidelines—Dallas seems to be as likely a landing spot as anywhere else.
You're probably familiar with Gruden's story as a young head coach who hopped from Oakland to Tampa Bay following four seasons with the Raiders. After just his first season in Florida, the Buccaneers had their first Super Bowl championship, ironically against the same Raiders team that Gruden had just coached a year earlier.
It's true that Gruden was much more about hype and facial expressions than he was about winning. His career numbers as a head coach are rather modest considering all of his exposure.
Nonetheless, Gruden is still among the younger head coaching names available, and this means that he's somewhat likely to give it another run in the NFL—but not just anywhere.
Some have stated that Gruden could never work with Jones.
As I mentioned earlier, I thought the same was true about Parcells and Jones, and yet…
It's also well-known that much of a potential assistant coaching staff for Gruden may already be in place as of right now.
Gruden had both Marinelli and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin along for the ride in Tampa when the Bucs blew away the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII—the Cowboys even have Rich Bisaccia, former special teams coach with Tampa, performing the same role he did under Gruden a decade ago.
So, the Gruden ties are numerous in Dallas—but these assistants just mentioned also have ties to Garrett, although they certainly don't have the same strength or history.
Will Jones try to pry Gruden from the broadcast booth at ESPN?
Well, anything is possible, but this won't come cheap.
Will Gruden be worth what it takes to lure him back into coaching?
This I kind of doubt.