I will now—fear duct-taped and history ignored—utter the scariest four words in the history of Dallas Cowboys football:
I trust Jerry Jones.
It was a surreal scene out at Cowboys Stadium last week. Not only with a head coach announced and anointed in Arlington for the first time. But also with the Cowboys forced to scoot things along at a brisk pace because of Cotton Bowl practices, of all things. And mostly because Jones, pinch me, ceded majority-bordering-on-final say to a head coach for the first time since Jimmy Johnson.
"This is not a hedge. It is not a hedge in any way," Jones said after naming Jason Garrett as the eighth head coach in franchise history and his seventh in 22 years as owner. "It's real simple on two points. Regarding the staff and regarding the players. And what you heard me say is, one, he will have the final say on the staff and, two, there will not be a player on the team that he has not agreed to."
Sorry to encourage those end-of-days fanatics already enthusiastically chortling about birds falling out of the sky in Arkansas, but the ominous, unprecedented, Apocalyptic signs include the Rangers in the World Series, TCU in the Rose Bowl and now Jones shockingly loosening his grip on the Cowboys' reins.
Jones loves nothing more than credit. And control. Except for, that is, championships. He's tried a hard-ass coach in Bill Parcells. He's tried one who's softer than dryer lint in Wade Phillips. Now, he's indeed found one smack-dab in the middle.
If you offer someone a batch of fresh-baked cookies and they take only enough to ensure they're well-fed while also leaving some for you—voila –give him a four-year contract.
"I do not want sole decision-making power over everything," Garrett said at the press conference. "There's a reason you have staffs. There's a reason you have personnel departments. You communicate. You talk. You have people you can trust and rely on and have a back and forth on a variety of topics, and you come to a conclusion together."
In the beginning, of course, there was Jimmy and Jerry. After three Super Bowls in four years, their messy divorce—prompted by a mutual yearning for credit—provided us this: Jones created a dictatorship in which he would never allow another Johnson to rise and share power.
That birthed pushovers like Dave Campo and pushbacks such as Parcells. It also led to awkward management relationships in which Chan Gailey didn't want to draft Randy Moss, Parcells wanted to release Larry Allen, and nobody—other than Jones—wanted to take on high-profile, high-risk players like Terrell Owens. Part of Phillips' demise was his nature to kowtow to Jones. Remember when Pacman Jones engaged in the scuffle down at the Joule in 2008? It was Phillips who, after some uncomfortable questioning, finally pleaded "Why don't you guys wait and get the truth from Jerry?" And then, further emasculating his power as head coach, Phillips was muzzled from talking to the media after the '08 finale.
I firmly believe Phillips operated under pressure—if not direct orders—to continue starting Roy Williams and Marion Barber this season despite their ineffective play. Here's hoping—and believing—that Garrett will allow Jones to orchestrate marketing and training camp site logistics and open practices while maintaining a grip on assistant coaches, roster make-up, playing-time decisions and, well, football philosophy.
"Our training camp will be physical," Garrett said. "And challenging."
Having gone 5-3 against considerable odds, Garrett is the easy choice. But because he's one of the few who can work with Jones, he's also the right choice.
"I think our lines of communication have always been open," Garrett said of his relationship with Jones. "I've always been honest with him and he's always been honest with me."
When Garrett took over the Cowboys, they had bottomed out both physically and psychologically. Without quarterback Tony Romo, mostly without receiver Dez Bryant and with nary a sniff of the playoffs, the first interim coach in franchise history somehow motivated the team. Players began running between drills and wearing pads at practice. He instilled discipline and installed clocks in the locker room to promote accountability.
Deeper than the team's 5-3 record, Garrett got the Cowboys to play harder, and better. The three losses under his guidance: three points to the New Orleans Saints, three points to the Philadelphia Eagles and one point to the Arizona Cardinals.
"He's won us all over," said linebacker and team captain Bradie James. "We were sorta skeptical when he took over. But he's really changed things around here. For the better."
Garrett will be back next season, coaching a disciplined, winning team on the field and boring us to death with coach-speak—last week he uttered "football" 16 times in 21 minutes—in his press conferences. Williams and Barber and clueless safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh won't be back. The Cowboys, regardless of the looming lockout, will select No. 9 in the April draft and play a third-place schedule in 2011.
Jones will return, but will—fingers crossed—be a different version.
Humbled by years of bawdy braggadocio and "Super Bowl-or-Bust" busts, Jones is already showing signs of altering his ego. Weird, but it's refreshing to hear the owner shrug when asked how he's so sure Garrett will lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.
"I'm not sure," Jones said on Cowboys flagship radio station KRLD-FM 105.3 The Fan last Friday. "I'm sorry, but I made the best decision for the Dallas Cowboys with the options we had. But if you're asking me if I'm sure we're going to win a Super Bowl, I'm not. I'm not sure."
For the first time in a long time we're being sold hope. Not hype.
As anyone who watched three road teams win last weekend while the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints lost to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks can attest, there are no NFL certainties.
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In 2007 after interviewing 10 coaching candidates, Jones wept at Valley Ranch during what he called a monumental hiring of Phillips. Last week, he named Garrett in a subdued ceremony soaked in the suckiness of a 6-10 disappointment. To his credit, Jones wasn't trying to mask this year's implosion in next year's expectations.
"Look, you have the right to question anything," he said. "I've gone from the white car to the black one. I've gone from going in the front door to the one in the back. There's no joy here, let me make that as clear as possible. I'm excited about having Jason here. But there's no joy about this season here at all."
These days, Jones—thinning hair and weathered skin and dampened spirit—is hardly a Goldilocks. But as for his three latest coaches, Parcells' fit was too snug, Phillips' was way too loose and, unless we're all wrong, Garrett will be juuuust right.
Naive, gullible or just plain desperate, I believe Jones will for a change allow a Cowboys head coach to succeed or fail on his own. If that's the by-product of this horrible season, maybe it wasn't a total disaster after all.