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.
Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys have what many believe to be the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott. However, you can never undervalue the importance of depth at any position. When the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft came around, the Cowboys added another weapon to the backfield by selecting Tony Pollard out of Memphis.
If you’re looking for a dynamic player maker with the ability to take it to the house at any given moment, Pollard is your man. The former Tiger averaged a touchdown every 13 touches in college. That’s an absolutely insane statistic when you think about it. He also tied an NCAA record with seven kick returns for touchdowns. Long story short, he can get you six points at the blink of an eye.
The versatility in his game is outrageous and undoubtedly the reason why he was drafted. In addition to running for 941 yards on 6.8 yards per rush, he also had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has to be salivating about the possibilities with his new toy. Having a running back that can not only carry the load as a runner but also line up at receiver keeps the defense honest. You never know what angle the offense is going to come from.
This has to be a sigh of relief for Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys don’t have to overexert him and can bring Pollard in on third downs if need be. Not just to give Elliott a breather but to change the pace of the offensive attack. You can hand the ball off, throw it to him or run jet sweeps when he is on the field. This sets up a potential combo at running back that could be the leagues very best shortly.
Speed, quickness, and agility are all wrapped up in the Tony Pollard package. The Cowboys now have a running back that can line up at multiple positions if need be. Also, this prevents a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the body of Ezekiel Elliott. This combination has all the potential to set the NFL on fire in 2019.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
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