“It just made sense to us, to me at that time, to go ahead and play field position,” Garrett said Monday.
The Cowboys never got the ball back and fell to 2-3 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who made it to the AFC Championship Game last season and have a punishing defense, coming to AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
Questions about Garrett’s job security haven’t stopped since the end of the 2017 season. Before the first padded practice of training camp in Oxnard, California, this year, one fan yelled, “Coach Garrett, I love you, but this is your last year.”
The calls on social media grew louder after the 19-16 loss to the Texans and will grow louder still if the Cowboys are unable to put together any kind of winning streak.
Garrett is 70-58, including 1-2 in the playoffs, as Cowboys head coach. In 2016, he was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. He has won two NFC East titles. He has the second-most wins in franchise history to Tom Landry, but the decision to punt is viewed by some as the last straw.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been steadfast in his support for Garrett, even though he critiqued the decision to punt. He has long viewed Garrett as his Landry.
Jones opened camp by succinctly stating Garrett was not on the hot seat, but even he has a breaking point.
Here are factors to consider:
Why is this season different from others for Garrett?
Start with the financial ramifications. Owners don’t like to pay coaches not to coach.
Garrett is signed through 2019 at $6 million per season. Only wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal has a contract that goes past 2019.
After the Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015, there was some talk inside the organization that Garrett could be in trouble a year after a 12-4 record and the controversial loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.
Garrett was in the first year of a five-year, $30 million contract then, meaning Jones would have had to have eaten more than $20 million. Plus, quarterback Tony Romo started and finished two games that season because of a twice-broken left collarbone, offering up a good reason/excuse for the poor season.
The decision to stick with Garrett looked like a wise one in 2016, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 with a fourth-round pick in Dak Prescott substituting for an injured Romo. At the time, it looked like Jones’ willingness to stick with Garrett through the three consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011-13 was going to pay dividends with a young team on the rise.
The Cowboys still have a young team, with only one position player older than 30, but they appear destined for another playoff-less season without a quick turnaround.
Would Jerry make an in-season move?
He has made one in-season coaching change since becoming the owner and general manager in 1989, elevating Garrett from offensive coordinator to take over for Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start to the 2010 season.
Garrett was viewed as a head-coach-in-waiting before Jones even hired Phillips as head coach in 2007.
Secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard would be the most obvious candidate to take over if Jones made that kind of move. Richard has interviewed for head coaching vacancies in recent years while he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, but how would that help the offense?
How would a coaching change affect Prescott’s development?
The Cowboys entered this season hoping Prescott would play the way he did in the first 24 games of his career, when he had 39 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his past 13 games, he has 10 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
The Cowboys can look to sign Prescott to a contract extension after this season, but there has been nothing through the first five games of this season to suggest they should. At present, their priorities would be signing DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones to long-term deals before Prescott.
Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan are the only voices Prescott has had in his three years. A new coach can bring fresh ideas, perhaps incorporating more creativity that has allowed young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to excel early in their careers. Of course, that new coach might want to bring in his own quarterback, but in 2003 Jones convinced Bill Parcells to go with Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson to see what those young signal-callers could do. He could do the same with whomever he chooses as Garrett’s successor.
Is this all on the head coach?
Of course not. Contrary to popular opinion, Jones has always been heavily influenced in personnel by the coach. Always. He did not draft Randy Moss 20 years ago, in part, because then-coach Chan Gailey did not want Moss.
The perception Jones picks the players and tells the coach to make do is flawed. He will make decisions that might run counter to the coach’s wishes at times, but the majority of the organization’s decisions come from a group that includes Garrett, Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and vice president of player personnel Will McClay.
So far it looks as though the Cowboys went with a flawed approach at wide receiver and tight end in trying to replace Dez Bryant and Jason Witten by committee. Tight end Geoff Swaim has three of the Cowboys’ 10 pass plays of more than 20 yards on the season to lead the team. DeAndre Hopkins had nine catches for 151 yards for the Texans on Sunday, including the 49-yarder that set up the winning field goal. The Cowboys’ receivers combined for six catches for 80 yards.
Garrett has coached a team that will follow one of his mantras and “fight,” but the Cowboys haven’t been able to follow another of his mantras and “finish.”