Many in the media (local and abroad), as well as across the blogosphere, have taken a simplistic view on how Jason Garrett will retain his job following this upcoming season, stating one of two qualifiers:
He either has to make the playoffs, or he has to do better than 8 and 8.
While I understand that should he be dismissed, one (if not both) of the above probably did not happen, I believe this is taking a rather myopic approach to how a Head Coach is graded as far as their performance over an entire season.
There are quite a few issues that can occur within a season to derail a team's win/loss ratio and/or playoff chances, regardless of the job the Head Coach does. Injuries in particular, especially to key positions such as QB, could play a huge role in a losing season. Does anybody expect Weeden to take this team to a record better than 8 and 8, much less the playoffs? Lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball is the reason many within the media have already picked the Cowboys to go 8 and 8 – or worse – no matter what Garrett does.
Jerry Jones has made it clear. He wants Garrett to oversee the team as a whole, as opposed to leaning towards offense, which means that much of the defense, special teams and offense's success or failure falls on the coordinator's shoulders, in terms of play calling, and the actual players in terms of execution. Granted, Jason will likely have his hand in everything, but at the same time, if one unit out of three doesn't perform as it should, it will be difficult to just point the finger at Jason…at least for me.
This line of thinking set me to questioning the most important attributes of a Head Coach and, furthermore, how their successes and failures are measured; how do we truly determine a Head Coach's value?
Organizationally, I think most agree that the culture has improved over Garrett's tenure. Despite the occasional low-risk / high-reward chances taken on less-than-RKG material players, for the most part, he has placed an emphasis on filling the locker room with guys who have Team Captain on their resume, a high level of passion for the game of football, willingness to put in work both on and off the field, and for the betterment of the team, men who support each other in that ambition. Or, at least, so it seems. And just so there is no further confusion, RKG doesn't mean country-club-membership-touting boy scout/choirboy who spends his time off looking for opportunities to help old ladies across the street.
While I am certainly guilty of yelling at the television for certain plays called in situations where Garrett has in the past tried to be, in my opinion, so clever he out-smarts himself, the offense, especially these past two seasons, has not been the issue that has handcuffed this team to mediocrity. I am not attempting to dismiss blame from Garrett for how the Special Teams and Defense has performed; I am simply stating that the X's and O's of this game have not been his issue and, therefore, likely are not going to be the reason Garrett is dismissed following this next season.
Obviously, Wade's team made it easy to see that it was time for him to be replaced…they quit. But I really can't say that I've seen that level of quit since Wade left. For the most part, this team has battled, losing by seven points or less the majority of the time since Garrett took over for Wade in 2010.
Garrett lost 3 games,
all of which were by 3 points or less:
Saints by 3
Eagles by 3
Cardinals by 1
Garrett lost 8 games,
5 of which were by 7 points or less:
Ravens by 3
Giants by 5
Falcons by 6
Redskins by 7
Saints by 3
Garrett lost 8 games,
5 of which were by 6 points or less:
Jets by 3
Lions by 4
Patriots by 4
Cardinals by 6
Giants by 3
Garrett lost 8 games,
5 of which were by 3 points or less:
Chiefs by 1
Broncos by 3
Lions by 1
Packers by 1
Eagles by 2
My hypothesis is that based on the above information, we can infer his team has not quit on him and have fought to the end. Granted, a few of those losses were situations where teams came back to win, such as the Chiefs, Packers and the Lions from last year, but I do not believe that was a result of the team quitting.
Admittedly, I still hold Jason responsible for those losses because I honestly believe play calling and in-game management had more to do with it than anything. However, with Marinelli, Linehan, and Bissacia calling the shots for the most part as far as play calling, we should see improvement on the in-game management this season because that will be the only aspect of the game Garrett should be directly responsible for…and even with that, I'm sure Callahan will be backing him up.
So with this host of proven talented coaches behind Garrett in 2014, what can we, the fans truly look at to say one way or another if Garrett did a good job or a bad job?
For me, Garrett's ultimate measuring stick will come when this team experiences those “defecation hits the oscillation” situations.
When things go wrong, how does he, his subordinate coaches and, more importantly, his players handle it? Will they continue to fight or will they roll over and submit? If and when injuries occur, will the next man up be ready? I don't expect said player to completely replace his predecessor; but I do expect him at the very least to know his role, his assignments and execute to the best of his ability. When the football takes an unlucky bounce, how does the team respond? With a fight to get the ball back, or do they allow the momentum of the game to be sucked away?
Obviously, these things are the intangibles that are often times hard to measure and can be subjective from one viewer to another, but still, I believe the people within the organization will know. And that's what I think Jerry Jones will be looking at come season end, with or without the playoffs or a record better than 8 and 8.