The Next Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys Will Be ...

Garrett Top.

Unless of course, Jason Garrett pulls a Cliff Lee and spurns the metroplex. Make no mistake, the Dallas Cowboys' interim head coach is suddenly a hot commodity as other NFL teams' permanent head coach. In the wake of a 5-3 second half he has some real leverage now.

How's that? Because Garrett will be a head coach in the NFL in 2011. Unless something nutty happens, it'll be in Dallas. Unless I'm reading it totally wrong, it'll happen in the next 7-10 days.

As predicted, Garrett's positive influence goes beyond his winning record. But it's a good place to start when making his case isn't it?

The Cowboys physically and psychologically quit on Wade Phillips November 7 in Green Bay. Garrett took over a 1-7 team with no compass, no quarterback and no clue. The results? Under Phillips in eight games the Cowboys were outscored 161-232. The last half under Garrett their combined score was 233-204. The three losses under their interim boss? Three points to the Saints. Three points to the Eagles. One point to the Cardinals.

But I'd be stumping for Red Bull even at 4-4, maybe even 3-5. Because his improvements go way beyond the surface.

He instilled a dress code. Players jogged between drills at Valley Ranch. On Wednesdays the team practiced in pads. Clocks were installed in the locker room as to keep players on time. "Atta Boy" T-shirts were handed out as post-game praise. Simply put, Garrett looked, sounded and acted not like a doting grandpa, but a real, live head coach.

"I would absolutely love to be this team's coach," Garrett said after Sunday's 14-13 season finale victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Was it a perfect 8-game audition? Of course not. The Cowboys still made silly, fundamental mistakes (losing, for example, on Christmas night in part because Marion Barber took off his helmet in celebration and David Buehler missed an extra point). And it's not fair to forget that Garrett had a big hand in the team's 1-7 start, arguably the worst eight-game stretch in franchise history.

But in the big scheme Garrett demanded accountability. He took major steps toward changing culture. He won games. And won over players.

"He's the man," linebacker and team captain Bradie James said in the locker room after yesterday's win. "He changed the atmosphere and he deserves the job. He'll help us win football games."

Added quarterback Tony Romo, "I think he's been great here. It's easy to look at wins and losses, but it's bigger than that. It's about coming in and putting your stamp on the team and getting things done a certain way. There were things he wanted to see done, and he's done a really good job with that."

Sounds like Garrett should be hired by sundown.

Garrett, who in the past has talked to the Falcons, Ravens, Broncos, Lions and Rams about their coaching vacancies, has one year left on his $3.5 million-per-season contract as offensive coordinator. After Sunday's game, however, the interim tag was technically removed and he is a head-coaching free agent.

Jones will interview - if he hasn't already - receivers coach Ray Sherman to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule that mandates a team seriously consider a minority candidate. After that there won't be many interviews, unlike 2007 when the owner brought in 10 candidates before settling on Phillips.

Jones has a fondness for big-name coaches like Bill Cowher and good relationships with Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Panthers coach John Fox. But the owner also recognizes that first-time coaches such as Sean Payton (Saints), John Harbaugh (Ravens) and Mike Smith (Falcons) are having success these days.

Garrett showed Jerry in a short time all he needed to see: That the Cowboys aren't nearly as bad as they appeared. Maybe Jerry's on the rebound, vulnerable to the first passing positivity. Or maybe he's finally found the right man for the job.

Asked Sunday in Philly if the new coach would have input into hiring/firing assistants, Jones tipped his hand.

"That is certainly something that Jason needs to have input in," Jones said.


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