The Dallas Cowboys do not play a game that matters again until September, but coach Jason Garrett’s proximity to the hot seat is already being discussed.
That’s what happens when you miss the playoffs for the fifth time in seven full seasons as coach, with the Cowboys finishing 9-7 in 2017.
At the Senior Bowl this week, owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked if it was fair to consider Garrett on the hot seat in 2018.
“It’s fair for you to ask,” Jones told reporters in Mobile, Alabama, “but he’s not on my hot seat.”
Well, what else would you expect Jones to say in January? He would not answer that question in any other way. Jones backed Wade Phillips publicly until the end in 2010 when it was painfully obvious the players were no longer buying what he was selling.
“I would like for Jason to repeat as coach of the year within 24 months,” Jones said. “And he’s capable of doing that if we do good next year, be coach of the year twice in 24 months. That would be great.”
Garrett was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year after the Cowboys’ 13-3 finish in 2016. He took a team that lost its starting quarterback, Tony Romo, in the preseason, handed the keys to a fourth-round pick, Dak Prescott, and built the offense around a rookie running back, Ezekiel Elliott, to finish with an NFC-best 13 wins.
He didn’t have the answers in 2017 with Elliott’s suspension and injuries to offensive tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee derailing their season. By the end of the season, the passing game was unrecognizable even after Elliott’s return from suspension.
While disappointed in missing out on the playoffs, Jones never gave serious consideration to dismissing Garrett. But there have been changes to Garrett’s coaching staff. Wade Wilson (quarterbacks) and Joe Baker (secondary) were fired. Receivers coach Derek Dooley became the offensive coordinator at Missouri and will be replaced by Sanjay Lal. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was allowed to leave for the same job on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raiders. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack was fired and replaced by Paul Alexander. Passing game coordinator/linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is expected to join Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis and was replaced as passing game coordinator by Kris Richard, who spent the previous three seasons as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.
More spots need to be filled, which is why Garrett was not at the Senior Bowl this week.
The coaches who remain and new coaches spent the week going over the Cowboys’ personnel, reviewing the 2017 season and what needs to be done to improve. Attending the Senior Bowl can be beneficial to coaches as they get a first look at prospects, but the truth is the week often turns into a high school reunion of sorts where coaches spend time catching up with buddies instead of paying attention to what’s happening on the field.
“I’m really excited about the changes we’ve made on the coaching staff,” Jones said. “There have been many. Probably by the time we’re through there would’ve been eight coaching changes. And so I think all of those give us a chance to improve, and we really are pleased with the availability of the coaches we’ve got and so I think that will help us. It was all done with the personnel we have and the moves we might have in mind.”
Garrett faced a more pressure-filled future in 2014. He was coming off three straight 8-8 finishes and was in the final year of his contract. The Cowboys went 12-4 and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs largely on Romo’s best season and DeMarco Murray’s 1,845 yards rushing.
That earned Garrett a five-year deal. This will be the fourth year of that contract.
“Jason has had a lot of success here,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “At times when we have had an offseason there’s been some extenuating circumstances and I just think Jason is a great head football coach. He was coach of the year last year. This is a tough business now, when one year you’re coach of the year and the next people are asking questions like this. I understand it. I understand that’s the nature of our business, but we just really believe Jason is the right man for the job.
“He has a great way about the team. He represents the organization in a great way and we just feel like he’s the right guy for our organization.”
But make no mistake — he will be on the hot seat even if Jerry Jones doesn’t want to say it right now.