The Dallas Cowboys are floundering once again, and owner Jerry Jones is coming to a crossroads with Jason Garrett on his way out.
Jason Garrett needs a miracle.
Jerry Jones needs a plan.
With the Cowboys at 3-5, playoff hopes are dimming in big D. The schedule is brutal in the weeks ahead with Philadelphia twice, Washington, New Orleans and Atlanta. Garrett needs to win at least six, if not seven, to survive.
Assuming Garrett’s eighth campaign marks the end of his tenure, most Cowboys fans will rejoice and Jones will have to make one of the most difficult decisions of his career.
Does he hire someone powerful? Or does he get another puppet? Jones, 76, is running out of both time and patience. He has had seven head coaches since buying the team in 1989. Those coaches break down into either the power category or the puppets.
Jones has made the headline hire when he’s been backed into a corner. Few things in Texas have been more unpopular than the firing of Tom Landry, a move that Jones made 30 years ago upon purchasing the team from Bum Bryant. He immediately hired Jimmy Johnson to replace the legend, with Johnson coming off a national championship at the University of Miami.
Despite initial skepticism from fans used to seeing a fedora on the sidelines, Johnson was the perfect hire for Jones. He gave credibility to a franchise with little talent on the roster, and ultimately turned the team into world champions in 1992 and ’93, along with a third title after Johnson left.
The Jones-Johnson partnership couldn’t last any longer, with combustible egos and intractable differences creating a wedge.
A decade and three puppets (Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo) later, Jones needed another coach with gravitas. The result was Bill Parcells coming to Dallas in 2003, who bought Jones some sway in an August 2004 vote for a new, publicly-funded stadium. Parcells came to Dallas with full control, initially.
After getting the public to push a tax increase through to pay for AT&T Stadium, Parcells and Jones eventually soured. Jones, ever-present and involved, signed wide receiver Terrell Owens prior to the 2006 season. That ended up being Parcells’ final season in coaching (with Wade Phillips and Garrett following).
Now, with a stadium secured but fan interest waning, Jones faces his next crux.
Part of the issue facing both Jones and the Cowboys is the prospective market, a factor that may prove to be Garrett’s miracle. It’s not a great year to need a splashy hire, with John DeFilippo being the biggest name of NFL coordinators. Then there’s Lincoln Riley, who at 35 is viewed as the next Sean McVay, biding his time with the University of Oklahoma.
If Jones wants to go big and energize his fanbase, Riley is likely the hire. The native of Lubbock, Texas would bring a much-needed overhaul to the offense, helping to maximize the team’s two biggest stars in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Jones will likely have to outbid the Cleveland Browns for Riley, but he has the pockets to do so.
However, there are concerns about Riley. For starters, he’s never worked in the NFL at any level, and at such a young age, he doesn’t know many people within the league. Building a quality staff would be a challenge for Riley, far more than it would be for someone with a decade or two in the pro game.
Then there’s Jim Harbaugh, who behind closed doors hasn’t been shy about his desire to return to the NFL, sources tell FanSided. Harbaugh would be an enormous, expensive get, but unlike Riley, he would unquestionably want complete control in the way Johnson and Parcells had it.
All that said, what if Jones wants to stay with the status quo and continue running the show while a mannequin adorns Dallas’ sidelines?
DeFilippo could be a choice, although he’ll have other options and might not want to deal with the looming stature of Jones. The Cowboys could promote defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the top job, but fans might revolt at the idea of not completely cleaning house.
Ultimately, everything boils down to Jones’ feelings on his future. He’s an old man not getting any younger, with a stale team and a low Q rating. If Jones is ever going to make another power move, January will be his moment.
Otherwise, Jones will live with his two rings and the control he maintains, content in the belief that he can add a third with all on his own. It’s been a losing bet over the last two decades.