Only once in the history of the Dallas Cowboys has a head coach been fired in the middle of a season. It happened in 2010 following a humiliating 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Wade Phillips was shown the door and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took over.
Six years later, Garrett is poised to earn his first NFL Coach of the Year award. The Cowboys reached 13-3, tying their best record in franchise history. The top seed in the NFC for these 2016 Playoffs, Dallas is preparing for their first game as they'll be hosting the Packers this Sunday.
With Green Bay back on the schedule and Garrett's stock never higher, it's an interesting time to reflect on how things have circulated since that fateful week in 2010.
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Jason Garrett was always known to be a favorite of owner Jerry Jones. In 2006, Bill Parcells was using a hybrid duo of Tony Sparano and Todd Haley as his running and passing game coordinators, respectively. When Parcells retired in 2007, Jerry brought in Garrett to run the offense. Sparano even stayed on staff as the offensive line coach but all coordinating duties now belonged to Jason.
After Dallas had the league's 2nd-best offense in 2007 there were plenty of teams interested in making Garrett their head coach. He reportedly turned down offers from the Ravens and Falcons that offseason. Jerry gave Garrett a raise that, at that time, made him the highest-paid assistance coach in the league.
Jason had other interviews the next two years but you always had a sense that both he and Jerry were waiting for the master plan to unfold in Dallas. That may have been why Jerry hired an older guy like Wade Phillips, someone who could only keep the seat warm for so long.
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The early part of the 2010 season is arguably the lowest point in recent Cowboys history. Even with Tony Romo starting, Dallas had a 1-4 record to begin the year. Then, against the New York Giants, Romo suffered his first collarbone injury and was lost for the season.
Veteran Jon Kitna took over and fared no better, losing that week to the Giants and again the following game. At 1-6 and seemingly lost as a team, the Cowboys traveled to Green Bay to take on a Packers squad that would eventually go on to become Super Bowl Champions that same season.
Going into that game, Jerry Jones had said that he wasn't a fan of firing a coach mid-season. However, the brutal 45-7 thrashing that the Cowboys endured pushed Jerry to take action. There was nothing left to lose with Wade Phillips, so Jones ended his tenure and named Jason Garrett the interim head coach.
Dallas won the very next week, on the road against the Giants. They would finish the year 5-3 despite Kitna remaining the starter. There seemed to be a new enthusiasm and effort throughout the team under Garrett's leadership, and this generated optimism about what the future would bring once Tony Romo returned.
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The only time Cowboys fans want to see "8-8" is when you're deciding between blue and white Troy Aikman jerseys. Otherwise, it conjures some disappointing memories.
From 2011-2013, Dallas finished each season with an 8-8 record. They narrowly missed the playoffs each year, either losing a Week 17 game or squandering a good record with a December collapse. Tony Romo's injuries also played a part as he missed late-season games in 2011 and 2013.
Coaches have been fired for less than what Jason Garrett produced during those three years. However, Jerry Jones likely saw what many of us did. Despite the roster undergoing a massive overhaul and Romo's occasional absences, Garrett kept them competitive. They were always just on the cusp of the postseason.
If Garrett could finally build his foundation and coach his roster, what would the results be?
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Jerry Jones' faith began to be rewarded in 2014.
The Cowboys jumped to 12-4, winning the NFC East for the first time since 2009 and only the third time in 16 seasons. Behind the dominant offensive line that began construction with Tyron Smith in 2011, Garrett's first pick as a head coach, DeMarco Murray set a team record in rushing yards.
Dallas won their first playoff game against the Detroit Lions and then traveled to Green Bay, their first visit to Lambeau Field since that fateful 2010 game. The Cowboys' postseason ended in controversy with a Dez Bryant catch that was ruled incomplete. Even with that disappointment, everyone was excited about what the future held and the foundation that Garrett had laid.
Those good feelings would be short-lived, though, because of another Tony Romo injury. The 2015 season would mark another low point in Cowboys history as Romo missed 12 games and parts of others. The team fell to 4-12, its worst record since 1989. To put that in context, '89 was Troy Aikman's rookie season, Jerry Jones' first year as owner, and Jimmy Johnson's first as a head coach.
Despite this fall from grace, many did not blame Jason Garrett. They remembered what he did the previous year and focused more on the lack of depth at quarterback, or the issues with the defense. However, had Garrett not earned the cache of success from 2014, it's reasonable to assume that last year might have been his undoing.
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While you could've made a case in 2014, this season truly feels like we've come full circle from the start of Jason Garrett's tenure. 2014 could have been an aberration, but now he's won two division titles in three years and with two different starting quarterbacks. There is now a system in place in Dallas, Garrett's system, and it's getting results.
One of the most common mistakes in professional sports is when management doesn't give a coach time to fully implement his vision for a team. How often do we see coaches gone after just one or two seasons, still in the midst of trying to optimize the roster for their system?
This is a case when Jerry Jones' loyalty, which has gotten him in trouble in the past, yielded wonderful results.
Jerry handpicked his coach, groomed him from 2007-2010 and then stood behind him through some rough spots. The reward will likely be Garrett becoming the first Cowboy to win Coach of the Year since Jimmy Johnson in 1990.
In a way, it's like Jerry Jones has also come full circle as an owner. He finally seems to get what works and what doesn't, and Jason Garrett was one of the guys who helped teach him.
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Jason Garrett's career seems to keep intersecting with the Packers. You can go all the way back to his greatest day as a player, the 1994 Thanksgiving victory that he led over Green Bay as the Cowboys' third-string quarterback. That performance showed you that Garrett lived what he preaches now to his players, focusing on the moment and being your best at any given opportunity.
Garrett's coaching tenure began thanks to a crushing loss to the Packers. His peak thus far is the 2014 loss in Green Bay, a game Dallas arguably could've won but for a single bad call. Now the Packers are back in his crosshairs as he tries to lead the Cowboys back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1995.
It's not often that coaches get more than one window to try to win a championship. Garrett has navigated the closing of Tony Romo's and led the team into the Dak Prescott Era. He has instilled a culture into the organization that has players giving their best and seemingly fighting for one another and the franchise they represent.
This Sunday, Jason has a chance to separate himself from Wade Phillips, Bill Parcells, and every other Cowboys coach not named Landry, Johnson, or Switzer. A win would be a new milestone in his career.
As always seems to be the case, though, Garrett and the Cowboys will have to go through the Packers first.
NFL to Study Marijuana Use, Will It Impact Randy Gregory’s Status?
The NFLPA and the NFL have reached an agreement to research alternative pain-management tools for the players. They'll form joint medical committees to study different strategies, among which will be the use of marijuana. It's important to make it clear that said committees will not be exclusively about marijuana, but a lot of different issues related to pain-management in the league. However, it'll likely be one of the most important aspects of their work.
Marijuana continues to be a highly debated topic and it's no different when discussing the NFL. Dallas Cowboys fans should be very familiar with the situation. Earlier this year, David Irving "quit" on football during an Instagram live stream while smoking weed. In the video, Irving talks about how he thinks it's better to be addicted to marijuana rather than certain medications used by NFL teams to treat their players.
Although David Irving is not an authority on substances, that is where all of this debate centers around. Throughout the league, players are given strong medication to deal with injuries and the physical pain of playing pro football. I'm not an expert either, but it's more than fair to say there's a strong argument here. Specially in a country where marijuana has already been legalized in 10 states and the trend points toward legalization continuing.
The current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) between the NFL and NFLPA will expire after the 2020 season and how the league's drug policy looks like in the new agreement will be a huge factor for reaching a satisfactory CBA for both sides.
Of course, the fact that the NFLPA and the league are working together on such an important task doesn't mean we will see any immediate changes or that the NFL's ban on marijuana will be lifted anytime soon. Many big question marks will have to be answered before we hear about teams implementing this substance as a pain management tool.
For the Dallas Cowboys, this will be a relevant narrative down the line. Pass rusher Randy Gregory was reinstated after serving an indefinite suspension due to substance abuse prior to the 2018 season. After a dominant year, Gregory was suspended again by the NFL and it all points toward him sitting out this upcoming season and perhaps even more.
Even still, the Cowboys are still standing behind their 2015 second round pick. If the league ends up lifting its ban on marijuana, they'll have to decide what they will do with players already serving a suspension for this reason. Guys like Randy Gregory, for instance. If it's decided they'll be reinstated to the NFL, the Cowboys will sure be glad to have supported Gregory all throughout the process.
Last year, the pass rusher proved how effective he could be even with a short period of time training. Hopefully, the Cowboys are able to get him back on the field eventually, where's been consistently dominant. In the meantime, we'll see how recently acquired Robert Quinn does in Dallas.
The NFL won't be lifting its ban anytime soon, but it's good to know they're at least open minded to changing the league's policy and consider alternatives that could benefit the players' health. We'll see how these new medical committees work and keep you updated here at Inside The Star.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
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