Other tests to come for Jason Garrett
Cowboys headed in right direction, but that's what they thought with Wade Phillips
The most anticlimactic coaching search in the history of the Dallas Cowboys came to a close Thursday. Jerry Jones has satisfied the league's Rooney Rule, and officially hired Jason Garrett as the club's first Princeton-educated head coach.
A few weeks ago, Jones vowed to conduct a thorough search, but that was before Garrett closed the books on a 5-3 record as interim coach. And the first man Garrett should thank is Wade Phillips. He's the one who oversaw the 1-7 start and watched his players completely quit on him.
Garrett inherited an incredible mess, but his demanding tone and prolonged eye contact with players struck a cord.
I'm not sure Jones had a win total in mind for Garrett, but it's probably fair to say he didn't anticipate it being over .500. One of the tricky things about celebrating the dawn of the Red Jesus era is that he played a sizable role in creating the need for a coaching change. I believe Garrett has the potential to be a solid head coach, but let's not act like he did anything to truly deserve the job at midseason.
He's basically passed his first test, but there will be many others. We're waiting to see if Garrett will be undermined by an owner who leaves his fingerprints on everything in the organization. I'd like to know whether Garrett suggested for Jones to fly in Dolphins assistant head coach and former Cowboys assistant Todd Bowles for an interview Wednesday.
Bowles was one of Bill Parcells' favorites, and there are players at Valley Ranch who still swear by him. Garrett and Bowles worked together on the '07 staff, but I would think the Cowboys interim coach has more loyalty to Paul Pasqualoni after what they've gone through together this season.
If Jones is calling the shots on the hiring of assistant coaches, we already have a problem. There's a theory that Jones will give Garrett more latitude than he did Phillips because they've known each other for so many years. But there's a major difference between affection and respect. Jones loves a lot of his former players, but that doesn't mean he's going to give any of them the keys to the organization -- unless Deion Sanders asks.
When a team that had Super Bowl aspirations goes 6-10, it seems like grounds for a major shakeup on the coaching staff. But other than Phillips being sacked, everyone's still standing at Valley Ranch. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck's one of my favorite guys on the staff, but he should bear some responsibility for how poorly the offensive line played throughout much of the season.
Dave Campo's as likable as they come, but the secondary was awful. I think the majority of the blame should go to the players, but you'd still expect for some coaches to be dismissed. It will be interesting to see how Garrett evaluates his coaching staff. And if I were him, I'd be in the market for an offensive coordinator.
Garrett can continue calling plays, but it wouldn't hurt for him to have a veteran assistant helping him out. Garrett had his best season as an offensive coordinator when Tony Sparano was the assistant head coach/offensive line in '07. Right now, Sparano's twisting in the wind with the Dolphins, the same staff that Bowles has served on for the past three seasons.
And don't forget that Oakland head coach Tom Cable just got fired after leading the Raiders to an 8-8 record (6-0 in the AFC West). Cable was a highly respected offensive line coach before taking over the Raiders and actually making them watchable. Some of the changes will happen naturally because there's a good chance Phillips will try to hire a couple assistants to join him in Houston, where's he's just been named defensive coordinator.
But Garrett needs to have major input in these decisions. Phillips didn't have a say in who Jones hired on offense and that led to an awkward arrangement between he and Garrett. It will be interesting to see how this Garrett hire plays with the Cowboys' fan base. I think fans will be cautiously optimistic about Garrett's future, and that seems appropriate given the circumstances.
Following the '07 season, Garrett was one of the hottest names in the business. But now he's simply a safe choice for an owner who's not interested in starting over. On Wednesday, there was more excitement in North Texas regarding the signing of free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre than the prospect of Garrett as head coach.
The Cowboys appear to be headed in the right direction with Garrett, but then, we thought the same thing about Phillips.
Matt Mosley covers the NFC East for ESPN.com and the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.