The Cowboys have fallen to 6-7 which means in so many words, the future of Jason Garrett has already been decided. This team has given up on him, the front office has fallen out of love with someone they consider the equivalent of a family member and now they’re preparing for the first real coaching staff in close to fifteen years. The Cowboys are already linked to a variety of names (Urban Meyer, Tony Elliott, Lincoln Riley, Josh McDaniels and Ron Rivera) and you’d assume that plenty of rocks will be turned and names will be surfaced. We’ll have plenty of time to break down names and resumes. Instead I wanted to take a look at the six things the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys will HAVE to have in order to be successful.
1- A defined coaching role
“What do you do?” has been a question asked about Jason Garrett quite recently and it’s a question he seems incapable of answering adequately. The Cowboys promoted Jason Garrett because he was deemed to be an offensive guru who would hold men accountable and unite the locker room. The problem is he struggled with in game decision making and the Cowboys brass deemed that to be a function of Garrett being so caught up in the day to day running of the offense. As such the Cowboys made Garrett a “walk around coach”, almost like a CEO overseer of sorts. That hasn’t QUITE helped the cause any as Jason Garrett has continued to make gaffes and “What do you really do?” continues to be a running question in Cowboys land. If you’re not good enough to be both a coordinator and a head coach and if you don’t poke your influence in on any of the teams and if you’re the walk around coach who seems incapable of making adjustments then what do you do? That can’t be a question with the next guy. The next Cowboys head coach needs to be able to tell us what he does on a week to week basis. If he’s an offensive mastermind, he better be able to call plays. If he’s a defensive guru, he better have a hand in gameplanning and facilitating. If he’s a walk around coach, he better be a master at in game adjustments and have an expert level feel for the game. I think the next head coach needs to give the “walk around CEO” gimmick a rest.
Every coach on the face of the Earth has a scheme and a prototype for what they want. I’m not asking the next coach to abandon his principles and have no semblance of a philosophy. That said, this team has clearly had a make and model that’s unbreakeable for far too long. With this coaching staff if a player doesn’t fit into a set mold (Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer, defensive ends under 6’2) then they wouldn’t give them the time of day. That’s just not how a successful franchise can be run. The next coach needs to be adaptable and willing to make exceptions to the rules. If a good player doesn’t fit then modify it so you can get a fit. Got a corner who is a bit too small to be your usual #2 corner? Wide receivers smaller than you’d like? Find ways to maximize their skill sets by getting them into space. Tight ends who can’t block? Stop trying to run with them on the field and use them as passing weapons. Adapt the scheme to help the players you have because chances are you won’t always be able to find the guys you protoypically want and you’ll HAVE to win with a spare piece of two. To steal a quote from potential Cowboys candidate Urban Meyer? This is a league won by players with assists from the coaches. It is not a league won by coaches. Long story short, this next coach needs to be able to put his ego aside and work with what he’s given. Rigidity has exposed Jason Garrett (and by extension Kris Richard as well) to the point where his job is in peril.
3- An aggressive mentality
A lot of Cowboys fans lament the lack of creativity this team has and we’ll talk about that in a minute. My bigger problem isn’t a perceived lack of creativity but an obvious and readily apparent lack of aggression. The Cowboys have a team philosophy that if they do what they do and if they can do it perfectly and don’t make a mistake then they’ll win no matter who their opponent is. One of the words you’ll often hear and one of the words that Cowboys fan have a visceral reaction to is “execution” and how annoying it is. Sometimes certain situations require you to do more than just execute; they require you to take risks and accept the responsibility of finding ways to win. That means being more willing to go for it on 4th down, a willingness to get creative with fakes on special teams, blitzing more and finding unique ways to keep the pressure on the defense. The Cowboys under Jason Garrett have historically shelled up a) on the road and b) against good teams. The next coach has to be willing to embrace the risks required to win big games.
4- An embrace of in game analytics
There’s a misnomer that the Cowboys don’t like analytics. It’s false. The Cowboys have an analytics department. Their entire injury prevention program is rooted in analytics which dictate who practices when and for how long and in what capacity. Their drafting philosophy is a combination of old school scouting and analytical data. They value analytics, so much so in fact that they were hiring people as of this year to fill spots in their analytics department. What the Cowboys lack apparently is a respect for in game probability based analytics. Jason Garrett admitted as much that WPA is not used on the sidelines. Coaching in the NFL is the toughest spot in all of pro sports and so why wouldn’t you want in game analytics? Something to maybe help your decision making process? I don’t need the next head coach to make every decision off of a spreadsheet but I do think he needs to at least accept the possibility that the numbers DO help along the way. Why be stubborn to what can help you win games? Even if your decision is to never use the analytics during the game, a complete ignorance to them is unacceptable. The next coach needs to be more flexible when it comes to data.
This is a tremendously harsh media market. Most of the Cowboys media are the same dudes who roasted the team when they won Super Bowls. They challenge the coaches and the players. They’re ultra aggressive about the team they cover and they can wear on folks. The expectations of the fanbase are usually distorted. It requires a unique level of savvy to pull this off and to maintain your control on the team, the media and the front office. When it comes to the media, Wade Phillips tried to kill them with kindness, Bill Parcell aimed to bury them in snark and old man gruff and Jason Garrett gives them nothing. Contrary to popular belief, dealing with Jerry Jones is not impossible. Cowboys fans who really follow the team know that Jerry and Stephen Jones and Will McClay will do whatever they can to make their head coaches happy, even if that means contradicting their big board to get the coach in question THEIR guy. He gives coaches a ton of input if he trusts them and believes in what they’re saying. You have to have the ability to work with Jerry Jones primarily when it comes to convincing and selling him on your vision for the team. It requires a strong personality and like a Vince McMahon, Jerry Jones clearly values strong personalities who are willing to challenge him and make him think. The Cowboys are about to be paying three offensive players in
6- An eye for talent
There’s an argument to be made, one I think even the most cynical bitchy Cowboys fan would agree with, that Jason Garrett is one of the greater talent evaluators that the Cowboys have had as a head coach since the Jimmy Johnson’s initial arrival on the scene. Unlike Jimmy, Jason hasn’t had a bevy of firsts, seconds and third round picks to do it with either. Garrett has a tremendous eye for talent and while he may not apply that eye towards his implementation of said talent, that’s not really the point. Jason Garrett alongside Will McClay created for a solid 1-2 punch in terms of scouting and developing talent through the draft, undrafted free agency and the fringe free agent market. The next head coach is going to need to have Garrett’s ability to identify talent, especially late in drafts and in undrafted free agency. The Cowboys will be losing a serious asset if Garrett is no longer sitting in on scouting meetings.