Dear Jason Garrett: Shut Up About Your “Right Kind of Guy”
Jason Garrett officially took over as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in January of 2011 following a half season interim stint after the team decided that winning under Wade Phillips wasn’t fun anymore. What Jason Garrett brought in with him was a desire to do things the “right way” and to have the “right kind of guy” on his football team, something he preached from the moment he donned the mantle of head coach. What that has wrought is a middling 42-32 record in five seasons, one great season that was a catch (yes, it was a catch) away from the NFC championship game, and a lot of drama. Jason Garrett is not worth his contract. Plain and simple. Jason Garrett would not be worth his contract if he was making my salary for writing this column. He has proven to be fairly inadequate as a game manager, which is the primary responsibility of the head coach, fumbling calls and strategy time and again through the last four years.
Garrett got a little breathing room when he was also calling the plays as he had to perform double duty (but a lot of head coaches can do that without issue, so not too much breathing room). Even after relinquishing the play calling duties to Scott Linehan a few years ago (the best decision of his coaching career) in order to be more of a “walk around” head coach, Garrett still had game management issues, a trait that appears to be difficult for him to shake. Sure, during that one magical season of 2014 where they basically all jumped on the back of DeMarco Murray, he looked like he knew what he was doing. That turned into fool’s gold though as, with his safety blanket of DeMarco traveling to greener pa$ture$, and basically a Junior Varsity squad at the skill positions in 2015, he actually had to coach…and he couldn’t. It’s easy to be seen as a good head coach when your defense over-performs and your offensive strategy is “best offensive line in the league, open a truck sized hole and let DeMarco fall forward for twelve yards”. When the chips were down, he failed to elevate a single player in the lost season of 2015.
One thing Garrett has not been able to shake though is the idea that if you get the “right kind of guy” you can develop him into a professional football player. The problem is, for every Jason Witten, there’s a Greg Hardy. For every Tyron Smith, there’s a Randy Gregory, etc. etc. So while his proposition could be deemed as accurate (though he inherited Witten from the Parcells regime and Tyron Smith was a top ten pick – neither player did he really have to “mold”) Garrett’s track record for his acquisitions throughout his tenure doesn’t really add up.
I will add the caveat that Garrett has to go through Jerry Jones for any personnel decisions, so the head coach cannot be blamed for all the transgressions of the Cowboys in that department over his tenure, but let’s look at the players that Garrett has at least had a hand in selecting over just his head coaching tenure (and to follow along, head on over to http://www.nfl.com/draft/history/fulldraft?teamId=1200&type=team) . First, let’s take this year’s draft picks out of the equation as we have no idea how they are going to turn out as pros, though Ezekial Elliott should be great, he is not without off the field issues of his own. In the five years we are going to look at (2011-2015), there will be two main points we are taking into account:
- Is the player a “pro”?
- Is the player a “right kind of guy”?
This is obviously why we are discounting the 2016 draft class because we don’t really know the answer to either of those questions yet. The Cowboys were able to hit on most of their first-rounders in Garrett’s tenure, with the only miss being Morris Claiborne, who is not horrible, but surely is not worthy of the number six pick in the draft. The second-rounders are where things get interesting. While they are all “pros” in name, the only one that has really done much of anything so far is Tyrone Crawford (2012), and he is far from a superstar. Gavin Escobar (2013) is serviceable as a backup Tight End, and Bruce Carter (2011) played well, but not even well enough to get a second contract from the Cowboys. The last two second-rounders, Demarcus Lawrence (2014) and Randy Gregory (2015) are leading the charge as the WRONG kind of guys, flying in the face of Garrett’s rhetoric (though I will say, coming out of college, I don’t remember any major red flags in regards to Lawrence in the character department).
The pros beyond rounds one and two, at least for the Cowboys, are sparse. Anthony Hitchens (2014 – 4th) has been serviceable when called upon. Terrance Williams (2013 – 3rd), J.J. Wilcox (2013 – 3rd) and Joseph Randle (2013 – 5th) all had flashes, but may not even be on the team after their contracts are up (Williams has been unable to step up in the absence of Dez and may be phased out by younger receivers waiting in the wings, Wilcox is being edged out by Byron Jones’ (2015 – 1) move to Safety, and Randle is already off the team after being the WRONG kind of guy over and over). The only other hit in terms of the draft was DeMarco Murray (2011 – 3rd), which I’ll hand it to the Cowboys, turned into a great pick. So, was Garrett really successful in his vision of getting the “right kind of guys” and turning them into pros? I’m going to say no, as, beyond the first round glut of talent on the offensive line, he has not been able to do much with what he has been given, and has even strayed from his “right kind of guy strategy” in the process.
While the free agent process has not really born fruit in terms of huge impact players, it has also been fairly devoid of the WRONG kind of guys aside from Rolando McClain in 2014 and Greg Hardy in 2015. Defensive players like George Selvie and Henry Melton have done well and not been disruptive to the team dynamic in their time with the team, so I’ll give Garrett a feather in his cap on that one.
Rhetoric, however, only works when you practice what you preach, and with Jason Garrett, it’s pretty evident that there’s been very little of that over the last few years as the Cowboys are reportedly paying upwards of $250,000 for having three players on their roster suspended for substance abuse (Rolando McClain, Demarcus Lawrence and Gregory).
Listen, I’m perfectly fine with giving guys another chance, surrounding them with a solid core (and you can’t get much better than the likes of Witten, Tony Romo and Sean Lee as your leaders), but when you are saying one thing and doing another, that’s when your message starts to fall on deaf ears. You often hear of coaches being fired because their message no longer resonates with the players, their rhetoric has gotten old and stale and the players are not responding to what the coach is saying anymore. This happens in every sport. Sometimes, a changing of the guard propels the team to success, like the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2008-2009 and 2015-2016. Their coaching change around mid-season propelled them to the Stanley Cup. Other times, a new coach is just another guy yelling at the players to run faster and play harder. While I’m not sure which one of those Dallas falls under, though I have a suspicion it’s the latter, it’s silly to keep listening to the same tired story when it bears no real fruit. All the Cowboys fans were told when Garrett took over that this was a process, to trust the process and it would bear fruit. Well, Philadelphia 76ers fans were told that as well, and they just fired the guy that installed their “process” last year because he was making a mockery of the NBA Draft. Maybe it’s time for Dallas to find a new process as swimming in a sea of mediocrity with only one playoff win in four years is not getting the job done, despite the talking points.