By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Bruce Coslet is a quick learner. Really, he is. But not for the reasons you might think.
The lot of you are probably still high from Sunday--a meaningless two-point win over a Jacksonville team that's been nothing but average this season in record (one game below .500) and defensive ranking (18th out of 32). You might have to fight through the intoxication in order to follow this next bit.
It's late November. That 21-point explosion everyone is so thrilled over was just the second time all season that the Pokes have scored that many. And the more than 400 yards of offense? The first time they've done that since January 2000. So while you're reveling in their momentary production, try to see it in terms of an entire season. Or several entire seasons. Because while it was good for them to snap out of their funk, in a grand context it appears to be nothing but an aberration.
If you believe that game was a turning point, you're letting them fool you. More specifically, you're letting Coslet, the team's offensive coordinator, fool you. Before Sunday's suspect resurrection, Coslet's offense was so putrid that it was best left to the guys in bio-chem suits. He spent less time fixing the myriad problems than he did dancing the dance of self-preservation.
"Quite a bit [of the responsibility] falls on me; I'm the offensive coordinator," Coslet said before Sunday. "I'm not out there playing anymore; I can't make the plays, but I learned a long time ago that it's a team sport. The offense, the defense, the coaches, we're all out there together. They can't call the plays, and I can't make them; that's the way it goes."
He was doing what the 'Boys do best when things are tough. He was passing the blame. Then, on Sunday, he praised his quarterback and his running game and smiled. And, for some reason--perhaps because you've been starved for something positive--you swallowed it whole and forgave his earlier transgressions.
For most of the season the offense was south of Canadian cheese, and Coslet busied himself redirecting attention. Now, after putting up 21 points--and since when, in the NFL, is thatsuch a grand accomplishment?--he's puffing his chest and patting his players' backs. That's what they do out at Valley Ranch. General Jerry created that tactic: Deny and ignore what's repeatedly gone wrong and then trumpet the little that's gone right. I can almost hear Jones congratulating Coslet.
Eh, Bruce, yer comin' along nicely there.
Ignoring the self-delusion, and taking the season as a whole, it's hard to see where Coslet has excelled. The brilliant West Coast-style system we've heard so much about has produced a squad that's still 28th in total offense and last in scoring offense. That's factoring in Sunday's output.
Beyond that, he's made some curious decisions that smack of hubris. The way he's managed his wideouts is a perfect example. The Cowboys need big plays, or any plays for that matter, and rookie Antonio Bryant is one of the few who's shown that he can do that sort of thing (as evidenced by the outstanding game-winning touchdown catch against Carolina). And yet there have been key situations this season where Bryant was off pouting on the sideline instead of out on the field, like a few third-and-longs in the awful Detroit game and the overtime against Arizona. Both games were losses, by the way.
In part, Coslet's inflexibility probably has to do with Bryant's tantrums--those would wear on anyone--and part of it probably has to do with Coslet's ego. From what Bryant says, Coslet rotates his wideouts on a predetermined basis, practically ignoring how the game unfolds. "That's our system," Bryant says. "Me and Darnay [Scott] switch out. I could come in and score a touchdown, but if it's Darnay's time to come in, I'm coming out." You also want to remember that Scott is Coslet's pet (Coslet coached him in Cincinnati).
What the hell kind of logic is that, anyway? I don't profess to know as much about football as Coslet; I couldn't diagram a sound play or tell you who runs the best routes. But I do know Bryant has shown flashes of real talent--certainly more than Scott. This team can use all the playmakers it can get, no matter if they're pains-in-the-ass or if it's contrary to my preconceived genius.
All that was only meant to underscore the big picture. We didn't even get into the heavy messes he helped make with the quarterbacks and running backs, or the season-long scoring futility that borders on opprobrium.
And still, inexplicably, he has defenders.
"It's the first year in the system, and it takes time," says the general's son, Stephen, who also happens to be the chief operating officer, the executive vice president and the director of player personnel. "That's the challenge. It's not an excuse, but it takes time for the players to learn the system. It just does. You have to have faith. I think Bruce has a good feel for what our players can do. He's a good coach, and I think he knows what he's doing."