The Dallas Cowboys will soon embark, if they haven’t already, on the search for their next head coach. But after years of ranging between average and good, it’s time to stop playing it safe. The Cowboys need to take a gamble if they want to move the needle to greatness.
The Jason Garrett Era appears to be ending any moment now and the organization will be looking for just its ninth head coach in six decades. Moving on from Garrett is the right call for a variety of reasons, but Dallas could wind up treading water if they don’t swing for the fence with the next hire.
Garrett had an 85-67 record as head coach, which averages out at about a 9-7 record per season. If you adjust for Tony Romo’s injuries and Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, it’s closer to 10-6 each year.
Jason won three division titles and mostly dominated the NFC East in head-to-head games over recent years. He’s been good enough to keep the Cowboys in or around the playoff picture for the majority of his tenure.
Will hiring an NFL retread like Mike McCarthy really guarantee improvement? He averaged 9.6 wins in 13 years with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Or what if we’d gone with Ron Rivera; 8.4 win average with the Panthers.
We’re not the Redskins or Giants; guys like Rivera and McCarthy probably aren’t going to improve things in Dallas. We might as well keep Jason Garrett and stay on the treadmill of mediocrity.
The Cowboys are moving on from Garrett because they want to achieve something more than the occasional divisional title and brief playoff appearance. But if they want to land the next great one at head coach, Dallas will need to take a chance.
The reality is that 31 teams in the NFL are chasing Bill Belichick, hoping that their current guy or next hire will join the lineage of legendary head coaches. But the road to Canton for great coaches has often started with some humble or unexpected beginnings.
After taking some time away from coaching college football and working in land development, Bill Parcells returned as a linebackers coach with the NY Giants in 1980, eventually working his way up to the head job. Bill Walsh went from NFL assistant jobs to head coach at Stanford for a few years before being hired by the 49ers.
And as we all know, Jimmy Johnson had zero NFL experience before Jerry Jones hired him in 1989 to coach the Dallas Cowboys.
But perhaps the greatest story of all is Belichick’s. After a bad run with the Cleveland Browns, 36-44 with one playoff appearance, Belichick didn’t get another head coaching job from 1996-1999. He worked as an assistant with the Patriots and then the Jets before New England hired him in 2000 for a second chance in the big chair.
To put that in Cowboys terms, it was the equivalent of Scott Linehan or Rod Marinelli being hired as a head coach today.
Of course, six Super Bowls later, we know how it worked out for the Patriots. And while Belichick is uniquely surprising given how he started, all of these coaches illustrate that the unconventional route is often the most profitable.
Sure, the Cowboys could hire some hot assistant from the NFL ranks. But time has proven that those guys generally come with a flash of success, even a single Super Bowl win like Doug Pederson brought Philly, but then quickly rejoin the ranks of average performers.
Case in point; look what happened this year to “genius” Sean McVay and the Rams.
It’s time for Jerry Jones to take a real gamble again, like he hasn’t done since hiring Jimmy about 30 years ago. Otherwise, the risk is not really improving this team much or at all from what we’ve seen the last decade.
I don’t necessarily mean pulling someone from the college ranks, either. Yes, I think a guy like Lincoln Riley or Matt Rhule would be the right kind of hire at this point. But I’m not limiting my search there.
What about a guy with some baggage like Josh McDaniels? Yes, he had a bad run as Broncos head coach 10 years ago. But like Belichick when he went back to working for Bill Parcells, McDaniels has been learning from from a legend and perhaps will be stronger for his bad experience.
As a Jedi master once said, “the greatest teacher, failure is.”
Hopefully, Jerry Jones has learned from these 25 years of ultimate failure with the Dallas Cowboys. It’s been a long time since we added to the trophy case and a lot of that has had to do with uninspired choices for head coaches.
Jason Garrett was worth a shot and he almost delivered. The 2014 Dallas Cowboys were a championship-worthy team and just had bad luck in a single playoff game. You could argue the same in 2016 as well.
But Garrett proved in the last decade that he’s not a great coach. He’s just another good-to-average guy in the vast sea of safe options.
It’s time to gamble on something different. It’s time to try to find out our next great one; the next Cowboys head coach who can rival Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson in franchise history.
May the Force be with us.