The Dallas Cowboys Coaching Staff Has Plenty to Prove in 2009

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The Dallas Cowboys Coaching Staff Has Plenty to Prove in 2009
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

After NFL coaching legend Bill Parcells left the Dallas Cowboys following their 2006 campaign, there was some uncertainty surrounding the team's future.

Jerry Jones brought in the underwhelming Wade Phillips and largely unproven Jason Garrett to fill in “Big Bill’s” very large shoes, and, to the surprise of many, the Cowboys flourished.

At least for a little bit.

After a tremendous 2007 regular season that saw the Cowboys own the league’s second best offense and a 13-3 regular season record, things took a turn for the worse. In the first playoff contest for the new coaching regime, the Cowboys lost a heart breaker to the rival New York Giants, who would then go on to win the Super Bowl.

Despite the setback, optimism was still running rampant in Dallas, and fans and media alike were still predicting big things for "Big D" in 2008.

Unfortunately, a team that was widely considered Super Bowl favorites at the beginning of the season once again floundered in December and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Following what was easily one of the most embarrassing and disappointing seasons in franchise history, there was an outcry for change in the organization, and angry, disappointed fans wanted to see some heads roll.

But while owner and general manager Jerry Jones has certainly made several drastic—and perhaps surprising—changes in the makeup of the team's roster, the coaching staff has remained largely intact.

To the chagrin of many Cowboys fans, who were hoping for a major overhaul this off-season, they will have to make due with what is almost an identical coaching staff next season.

Outside of letting go of Brian Stewart and Bruce Reed, and bringing in ex-Jaguars special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, the staff is almost completely unchanged from last year.

The fiery Dave Campo is still patrolling the secondary, Ray Sherman is coaching up the young receivers, and John Garrett continues to ensure that tight end Martellus Bennett has his shirt tucked in.

But these aren’t the guys that people think of when they think of the Cowboys’ coaching woes.

When people think of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, they almost certainly think of head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, both of whom have come under some serious scrutiny in the months following the 2008 season.

Son of longtime NFL coach Bum Phillips, Cowboys' head coach Wade Phillips is widely regarded throughout the NFL as one of the best defensive minds in the game. As an assistant on his father’s staff in Houston early in his coaching career, he helped to introduce the 3-4 defensive scheme to the NFL, and still uses a 3-4 system today.

Phillips has always been considered an outstanding defensive coordinator, but when his name is brought into a discussion of NFL head coaches, one common theme tends to come to people's minds: Playoff failures.

In seven-plus seasons as head coach, Phillips has never coached a team that won a playoff game. His current post-season record stands at 0-4.

Still, most people fail to realize that, on the whole, he has actually lead some pretty good teams.

In his seven full seasons, he has only had one team that finished the season with a losing record, and his career win-loss percentage (.588) currently stands at No. 35 on the all-time rankings for NFL head coaches.

While detractors will often simply point to his lack of playoff success, Phillips apologists will argue that he has never really been given a fair chance to make a team "his." His longest stint as a head coach was with the Denver Broncos, when he coached for only three full seasons before being let go. Oftentimes, that is just not enough time for a head coach to fully implement their system.

The Cowboys' front office has made moves this off-season to help make the 2009 Cowboys a little more "Wade friendly." Like Bill Parcells did before him, Wade has brought in a couple of "Wade guys" through free agency in Igor Olshansky and Keith Brooking, who played for him in San Diego and Atlanta, respectively.

Perhaps more importantly, Wade will again be calling the defensive plays in 2009. After relieving Brian Stewart of those duties after a week seven blowout by the lowly Rams last year, the Cowboys defense improved dramatically.

In the first seven weeks of the season, under the play calling of Stewart, the Cowboys defense gave up an average of 25 points and 303.9 yards per game, while only causing 2.85 sacks and 1 turnover.

Under the play calling of Phillips, however, Dallas only gave up 21.1 points and 286.9 yards, while collecting 4.2 sacks and 1.7 turnovers per game in their final nine.

With no new defensive coordinator coming to town, and Wade continuing to call the plays, the Cowboys defense is looking to improve even more next season.

Like Wade Phillips, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has seen his stock fall dramatically since the Cowboys' wonderful 2007 regular season.

One of Jason Garrett's biggest strengths is also one of his biggest weaknesses. He is a young coach chalked full of potential, but with a lot to learn. While many think that he will be one of this league's next great coaches, he is not there yet.

After retiring from playing the game, Garrett joined the Miami Dolphins as quarterbacks coach in 2005, before joining the Cowboys as offensive coordinator—and presumably head coach-in waiting.

Garrett quickly experienced success, when the Cowboys offense finished their 2007 campaign second in points (455) and third in yards per game (365.7).

As good as 2007 was for Garrett, though, 2008 was equally bad, when his offense finished 18th in points (362) and 13th in yards per game (344.5).

Many have attributed his drop off in success to injuries. Throughout the 2008 season, the Cowboys experienced numerous injuries to several of their key offensive players, such as Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Jason Witten, Kyle Kosier, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd.

Still, others will blame Terrell Owens, arguing that he was a divisive force in the locker room, and particularly destructive to the continued development of the young coordinator.

Others will simply point to Garrett's lack of creativity in his play calling.

Regardless of what the reason is for Garrett’s shortcoming in 2008, there is no argument that those need to be addressed if he is going to continue to be considered one of the NFL’s brightest young coaches.

There are still plenty of questions surrounding the Dallas Cowboys and their coaching staff heading into next season, and no job should be considered safe. While they are a staff that has shown great promise at times, they have proven that they can be quite disappointing as well.

One thing is for certain, though. Next season will be a make or break year for several of the Cowboys coaches, and they have got plenty to prove.

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