Garrett must change culture of Cowboys

Posted Nov. 08, 2010 @ 4:36 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Cowboys have fired head coach Wade Phillips and named Jason Garrett their interim head coach.

CBS-11 in Dallas was the first to report the firing. ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Ed Werder and NFL Network's Michael Lombardi also have confirmed the report.
Phillips had a 34-22 record in his 3½ seasons on the Dallas sideline, twice winning the NFC East and leading the franchise to its first playoff victory in 14 years last January. He could not overcome a horrendous start to the 2010 season, however, as the team that had Super Bowl expectations at the beginning of the season has started 1-7, including a nationally televised 45-7 loss in Week Nine to the Packers.

Garrett has been the team's offensive coordinator since 2007. He spent eight seasons as the team's backup quarterback.

The PFW Spin

We're not going to spend a lot of time in this space debating whether Phillips deserved to be fired or not, or whether it was his coaching or leadership that was at fault for the team's disappointing start. There's little question that a good portion of this talented roster quit this season when things started going poorly, and a coach only can take so much of the blame for that.

Moving forward, Garrett finds himself in the position he expected to be in as the team's head coach, but certainly not the circumstances surrounding it. When Jones signed Garrett — prior to Phillips' hiring — the owner did so with the idea that Garrett one day would lead the Cowboys. But Jones and Garrett never imagined that he'd be taking over midway through a 1-7 season with a talented but severely underachieving roster.

Garrett also has not had the smoothest three seasons as offensive coordinator. His play-calling has been roundly criticized, even by Jones this season, and his star has fallen since being a finalist for head-coaching openings in Baltimore and Denver, as well as high on the list at one point of other coach-needy teams a few years ago.

It should be noted that being a coordinator and being a head coach are two different jobs with different responsibilities. We've seen repeatedly in recent seasons that quality coordinators — including Phillips — have had less success as head coaches as they did calling plays or designing offenses or defenses. Head coaches must be business managers, and they have to take responsibility over the entire roster and entrust the day-to-day coaching to assistants.

Garrett will be charged immediately with changing the culture around Valley Ranch. It's an extremely difficult task. Garrett has been a part of a staff that has allowed the team to float along without any major, tangible change in effort or emotion through a losing streak that has seen the team get outscored 121-59 the past three contests. Garrett is forceful, businesslike and organized, and sources have told PFW there have been times over the past few seasons where he was reticent to step on Phillips' toes as far as how to run the club as a whole. Expect a shakeup, style-wise, with how Garrett approaches the daily operations now that he is head coach, but this reality is undeniable: The roster, with starting QB Tony Romo sidelined with a fractured clavicle, is not going to change dramatically. The Cowboys only have who they have, so the changes will have to start with the players themselves.

Everyone is playing and coaching for jobs right now. Expect that to be part of Jones' address to the team behind the scenes. Garrett has to feel this pressure as much as anyone else. He knows he's no longer seen as the savior anymore. However, starting from a position where the team is down and out, and with veteran signalcaller Jon Kitna running the team, Garrett has a chance to improve his reputation. If he can lead this team to something close to a 4-4 mark and get the 'Boys to play with some sense of urgency, Garrett really could put himself in the middle of the team's permanent job search.

But as everyone knows with the Cowboys, several big names are bound to be brought up from now until the end of the season regarding the head-coaching position. This is one reason why Garrett reportedly was hesitant to take this job with an interim title. He has to be convinced by Jones that he would have a legitimate chance to retain it heading into next season. Garrett might, but the cavalcade of rock-star candidates is nonetheless a part of the process.

Expect to hear the usual cadence of names: Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher all have been connected to the Cowboys in the past and again could find themselves candidates. Cowher and Gruden are coaching free agents currently working in the media, and Fisher has an option for next season that could free him up to be pursued. Others have speculated that Panthers head coach John Fox, whose deal runs out after this season, is as good as gone from Carolina and that his no-nonsense style might be the perfect antidote for the team's laid-back atmosphere that needs changing.

But each of those candidates, especially Gruden and Cowher, must decide if they want to work with Jones, who maintains daily control over the team and the roster and who is famous for speaking his mind often, which some coaches wouldn't be able to tolerate. After Jones ceded some control over personnel to Bill Parcells, many thought he had changed his spots. But Jones recently said he didn't anticipate ever giving another head coach that much say over the roster.