In the past month, I have been privileged to talk to such legendary Dallas Cowboys as Randy White, Emmitt Smith and Jimmy Johnson. When the conversation turned to what went wrong with the 2010 Cowboys, the answer was this: they were too soft, too undisciplined and just plain sloppy.
Here is what Jimmy Johnson had to say about the 2010 Cowboys: "Talent-wise, I think the consensus is that the Cowboys were talented last year. I thought they were a sloppy team. They had too many penalties. They had too many crucial turnovers. That’s why they lost some of their close games."
The great Randy White, Hall of Fame defensive tackle and one of the fiercest competitors ever to wear a star on his helmet, also gave me his two cents on last year's Cowboys team.
"You have to make players work hard," White said. "You’ve got to make them accountable. You make them be there on time. Make them wear a coat and tie, like Coach Landry did. Little things like that add up at the end of the day, and it equates to winning on the field."
White talked about how things were done when he was with the Cowboys.
"Discipline, accountability, work hard in practice. The little things that, when I played football, that’s what you did," he explained. "That’s the way you did things, ever since I played little league football. You get there on time, you work hard in practice."
Both Jimmy Johnson and Randy White were excited about the Jason Garrett hire. Johnson talked about how Garrett has spent his whole life preparing himself for this opportunity. White discussed the difference he saw in the team's approach after Garrett took over in 2010.
Emmitt Smith also has high hopes for Jason Garrett.
"I am excited for Jason... What I love is, by watching the Cowboys' last five or six games of the season, I saw a different team," commented Smith. "I know he implemented a couple of changes to the practice schedule and I think it paid off.
"It showed up in the areas where the Cowboys ran the ball very…um, well, I am not going to say very effectively, but they ran the ball better. Offensively, they started cutting down on some of the penalties. Defensively, they started getting turnovers, which is also important. And they started playing competitive football, which is most important.
"Give Jason Garrett a whole year to make his demands and expectations known to the team, in terms of the off-season training program and the in-season training program, and get them to buy into that, I think you will see a very different football team.
"One thing I can say about the Dallas Cowboys: They have always had talent around them. They have been one of the most talented football teams in all of football. With this type of focus and commitment from Jason Garrett, I think they can turn it around fairly quickly."
None of these Cowboys legends ever mentioned former head coach Wade Phillips, the man dubbed "Coach Cupcake" by one area writer, they all implicated him in their criticism of the team's softness. Thankfully, that era has come to a merciful end and the arrow, at least as far as coaching is concerned, seems to be pointed directly upward.
It took no time for Garrett to put his mark on the team. The change in regimen—wearing pads in practice, honoring the dress code, showing up for meetings on time and meeting team standards—seemed to breathe new life into the team.
After the Cowboys' abysmal 1–7 start under Wade Phillips, Garrett's squad finished the second half of the season 5–3. His offense averaged 29 points per game, and that was without starting quarterback Tony Romo. The defense, while still giving up way too much real estate, was nonetheless feistier. They fought for 60 minutes.
The three losses under Garrett were by a combined seven points. The team was competitive.
Compare that to a 35–17 shellacking by the Jacksonville Jaguars under Phillips. Then remember Jags' QB David Garrard saying, "It just looked like they weren't into the game the way an NFL team should be."
Or compare the way Garrett's troops fought to the the way the team laid down on Phillips in the game that finally convinced Jerry Jones to implement a coaching change. That was a prime time, Sunday night, nationally televised humiliation at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers.
Final score: 45–7.
Thanks to a change in leadership, the 2011 Dallas Cowboys will be a drastically improved team. I do not believe Jason Garrett will accept "almost" as "good enough." Nor do I believe Rob Ryan will accept his defensive players making "business decisions" and electing not to attempt a tackle. (You have been warned, Mike Jenkins.)
This is Dallas, dadgum it. This is Texas. Football is king. Tackle football is king. We know what a real Cowboy looks like, and we won't accept the drugstore kind.
We still remember the Landry mile, when Tom Landry would not only make his players run a mile on the first day of training camp—he ran it with them.
We remember an irate Jimmy Johnson's lack of sympathy for a kicker when the player said he couldn't run wind sprints because he had asthma.
"Asthma, my ass," Jimmy barked. He then pointed to the parking lot and snapped, "The asthma field is over there."
There is no crying in Cowboys football. No whining. No excuse-making.
With this in mind, I have borrowed from that legendary Texas songwriter, the great Willie Nelson, and put these sentiments into song. Sing it with me, now.