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Can Jerry Jones justify not firing Jason Garrett?

After an especially Black Monday in the NFL, is Dallas behind the curve of change?
12/31/2013 10:18 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

After three straight 8-8 seasons, how much longer will Jason Garrett be smiling?(AP)
The NFL's annual "Black Monday" has come and gone, and with those casualties combined with the Texans' firing of Gary Kubiak earlier in December, the league has at least six head coaching vacancies heading into the new year.

Perhaps shockingly, Dallas isn't one of them, as owner Jerry Jones has continually reiterated since last week that Jason Garrett's job is safe and that he expects the fourth-year coach to "learn from his mistakes" and "go on to win Super Bowls here."

A novel thought, but to this writer, in today's NFL, there's no way Jones can really justify not firing Garrett, especially if any or all of his assistants are dismissed this winter.

And there's one reason for that: Nov. 8, 2010.

That was the day that Jones fired then-head coach Wade Phillips, who had led the team to a 1-7 start, and replaced him with "whiz kid" then-offensive coordinator Garrett. Never mind that in the previous three seasons after taking over for Bill Parcells, Phillips had led the team to a 33-15 record, two division titles and their first (and as of now, only) playoff victory since 1996, because the 1-7 start gave Jones just enough of the opening he needed to get rid of Phillips and install a "Jerry Jones guy," one he nearly lost to multiple other NFL job openings the previous two offseasons.

To be fair to Garrett, the team did respond to the change, going 5-3 in the second half to finish with a respectable 6-10 record, but since then, his entire tenure has literally been second (and third) verse, same as the first.

In his first full season, Garrett was 8-7 through 16 weeks, with his Cowboys set to face the Giants at MetLife Stadium on New Year's Day 2012 in a winner-take-all Week 17 showdown, the loser going home and the winner taking the NFC East crown and playoff berth that goes along with it; Dallas lost a decisive 31-14 decision, and I'm pretty sure you know how the Giants' season ended that year.

Replace Giants and MetLife Stadium with Redskins and FedEx Field and you have the same ending in 2012, and then replace all that with Eagles and AT&T Stadium and you have 2013; each game got a little more competitive as the years went on, but the result was the same: Dallas finished .500 and goes home, while someone else goes on to the playoffs.

In the real world, that's not called making progress, especially when you look at how the Cowboys somewhat "bottomed out" this year. Sure, you can pass blame off to his assistants a bit for the Cowboys regressing on both sides of the ball stats-wise, but given that they got worse after making changes, who really has to take the blame?

Offensively, Garrett ceded this year's play-calling to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, who was with the team when they finished sixth in total offense in 2012, and the team dropped to 16th in that category this year, dropping more than 30 yards per game despite actually scoring more points. How that's possible may be a mystery, at least until you look into the defense -- a unit that gave up the most total yards per game and seventh-most points on the season and finished in the middle of the pack in turnovers, getting much, much worse despite making a coordinator change from Rob Ryan in 2012 to supposed elite DC Monte Kiffin in 2013.

Forget that rumors say the team is working on an "amicable retirement" for Kiffin, and forget that Ryan went to New Orleans and turned what was the league's worst defense in 2012 into the fourth-best in 2013 -- how does Garrett avoid being the fall guy for that drop on both sides of the ball?

Again, in the real world, the answer is "he wouldn't," and he would be out of a job like the others right now.

That real world is very real in Cleveland, where Rob Chudzinski was fired on Sunday night after only one season on the job, one where he finished 4-12 with seven straight losses to end the season. That was seen by Browns management as "a lack of progress," no matter that during the season the team traded its supposed top-tier running back, lost its starting quarterback to a season-ending injury and went through three signal-callers, and had 10 of their 12 losses against teams that either made the playoffs or were in the hunt until at least Week 16 -- yet still played competitively down the stretch and could've (should've?) won three of those last seven.

Would lifelong Browns fan Chudzinski have been fired if they did hold on against the Jags, Pats, and Bears and finished 7-9? Probably not, because it would've marked the Browns' best finish since they went 10-6 in 2007 and a two-game improvement from 2012.

But alas, he's unemployed, and that same real world is also very real in Minnesota, Washington, Houston, Tampa Bay and Detroit, too, with the first three teams dismissing coaches just a year removed from the playoffs and the latter firing Jim Schwartz after what was, record-wise, the second-best season of his five-year tenure and a three-game improvement from the year before.

As time has proven, though, the circus that is Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys is far from the real world, and so Jason Garrett is safe even as the world crumbles around him -- and as the guy he replaced awaits his fate after helping the Texans to two playoff berths and spending the final three games of this season as their interim head coach.

Jones has never been one in touch with reality, but how many more mediocre seasons and cosmetic changes can the Cowboys absorb before he has to realize that it's the operator, and not the machine, that doesn't work?

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