At the NFL combine in March, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters that he wanted another Super Bowl more than he wanted another billion dollars. “There is absolutely nothing, short of the health and goodwill of the people I care about, there’s nothing that means more to me than if I could get a Super Bowl,” Jones said.
For the past decade, Jones believed that head coach Jason Garrett would be the man to deliver him that Super Bowl. After Jones took what felt like another decade to contemplate Garrett’s fate, the Cowboys owner has finally made his decision. Garrett’s contract as Cowboys coach is set to expire on January 14, and the team informed him on Sunday he will not be re-signed to a new one, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer. Glazer reported earlier on Sunday that Garrett was still asking Jones to consider keeping him as the head coach, so perhaps Garrett thinks this breakup is more like turning keys on a submarine.
The decision ends Garrett’s nine-year tenure with the Cowboys, which will go down as one of the most frustrating periods in the franchise’s 59-year history. Garrett finishes with a record of 85-67. He went 2-3 in the playoffs, and never advanced to an NFC championship game despite having multiple Super Bowl–caliber rosters. This year, Dallas had the healthiest and most talented team in the NFC East, but went 8-8 and failed to qualify for the postseason after losing a matchup against Philadelphia in Week 16 that ultimately decided the division. That’s par for the course for Garrett’s career: In each of his first three seasons in charge, the Cowboys went 8-8 and lost a de facto NFC East title game in the final two weeks of the season. It’s fitting that Garrett went out the way he came in.
When Dallas did make the playoffs under Garrett’s watch, the trips didn’t last long. He registered two double-digit-win seasons: the 12-4 season in 2014, and the 13-3 campaign in 2016 that earned the Cowboys the NFC’s no. 1 seed. Both of those seasons ended with heartbreaking losses to the Packers, one of which turned on the infamous Dez Bryant catch that wasn’t.
Garrett’s lack of playoff success infuriated Cowboys fans, especially considering how much talent the team routinely accumulated. The coach presided over at least parts of the careers of Bryant, Tony Romo, Dak Prescott, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, and Ezekiel Elliott, plus offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. Except for Romo and Prescott, all of those players have been named first-team All-Pro. Yet for seven of Garrett’s nine seasons at the helm, the whole of Dallas’s team was less than the sum of its parts. Garrett’s offensive play-calling got stale enough that he gave up the duty after 2013. Five years later, the Cowboys offense remained repetitive and predictable. It took the team trading a first-rounder for receiver Amari Cooper in October 2018 to inject life into that unit, and even when the offense finally began to hum the Cowboys struggled to beat teams with winning records.
This year, the Cowboys seemed poised to make a Super Bowl run. With Prescott entering the final season of his ludicrously cheap rookie contract, Dallas was able to pay big for premier talent elsewhere: It boasted the league’s most expensive offensive line and highest-paid running back, and gave shiny new deals to defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and linebacker Jaylon Smith. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore took over play-calling responsibilities and modernized the Cowboys offense, and the division was downtrodden elsewhere; Philadelphia was beset by injuries, and New York and Washington were in the doldrums. Instead of dominating, though, Dallas wilted when it mattered most. That’s a feature of the Garrett era, not a bug.
No matter how many times Garrett’s teams underperformed in the past, Jones stood by him. He defended Garrett after the Cowboys went 8-8 and lost the division to the Giants in the final week of the 2011 season. He defended Garrett after the Cowboys went 8-8 and lost the division to Washington in the final week of 2012. He defended Garrett after the Cowboys went 8-8 and lost the division to the Eagles in the final week of 2013. In 2014, the final year of Garrett’s first contract, the Cowboys went 12-4 and lost in the divisional round. Jones, believing the team had turned the corner, signed Garrett to a new deal worth $30 million over five years. In the first year of that contract, Dallas dipped to 4-12. “Change isn’t always the right answer,” Jones said after that season. “We’re not big believers in it.”
Jones’s almost unwavering belief in Garrett was strange considering the coach’s lack of a track record. The son of longtime Cowboys scout Jim Garrett, Jason was signed as Dallas’s third-string quarterback in 1992. The arrangement came about because Jim asked then-Cowboys offensive coordinator Norv Turner to give his son a tryout. “I said, ‘Norv, I hate to do this to you, but could you ever look at Jason?’” the late Jim Garrett told the official Cowboys website in a video last year.
The Cowboys signed Jason and he spent eight seasons with the team, going from the practice squad to third-string quarterback to backup for Troy Aikman. Garrett later served stints on the Giants, Buccaneers, and Dolphins and retired after the 2004 season. He became the Dolphins quarterbacks coach in 2005, working with Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington, and was brought back to Dallas to run the offense in 2007; the move looked brilliant when the Cowboys finished second in points per game. Garrett began to get head-coaching interviews in the winter of 2008, so Jones made him the highest-paid assistant in football, with a roughly $3 million salary. When Wade Phillips was fired midseason in 2010, Garrett was promoted to interim head coach, and then given the full-time job in January 2010. He remained in that role until 2020, though his tenure truly ended when he went peak Friday Night Lights by playing a football game with his family on the field at AT&T Stadium after Dallas was eliminated in Week 17.
RT tracksmackdawn: RT dmn_cowboys: Hours after the #DallasCowboys win over the Redskins, Jason Garrett took to the field at AT&T Stadium for possibly the last time as head coach to throw around the football with his family and friends.— Gameday Media Inc (@GamedayMediaInc) December 30, 2019
: SmileyPoo… pic.twitter.com/Psyn4lhx22
Jason Garrett still out here playing QB for both teams pic.twitter.com/lLEMZLvHCB— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 30, 2019
There are plenty of candidates to become the Cowboys’ next coach. They’ve reportedly already interviewed former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. At the college level, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Baylor’s Matt Rhule, and former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer have all been rumored to be on Dallas’s radar. Coaching the most popular team in America and the most valuable sports franchise in the world is tantalizing enough to intrigue anybody this side of Bill Belichick. But whoever Jones chooses will not be in charge. Jerry is in charge.
“You can’t look at three playoff wins over the last 25 years and surmise that all the problems over that time have to do with coaching,” former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said in December. “I think you have to look at the top and say how are we doing it from the top? I think businesses do that. I think anyone worth their salt evaluate it from the top down.”
After Aikman made those comments, a Dallas radio host asked Jones, point blank, why he was still the best person to be the Cowboys GM. “I have always thought that when you can cut out the person between the decision-maker and the people doing the recommending, that you can make quicker, more succinct, and more responsive decisions,” Jones said. “The very first press conference I was ever involved in [in 1989], I explained to everyone how I was going to run the Dallas Cowboys. Since I owned them. The very first one. I said I would be involved in everything from this to jocks and socks, whatever. And I‘m not trying to be cute. There has never been any doubt in anybody’s mind how I run the Dallas Cowboys, and how I ran the Cowboys from the day I got here. Nobody can exchange a player, nobody can do anything unless I have approved it tacitly or otherwise.”
Jones says he would give up anything for another Super Bowl, but when he hires his next head coach, we’ll see whether he’s willing to give up any control. If not, he may have to be happy with another billion dollars.