Jerry Jones cautious on Jason Garrett

Updated: December 10, 2010, 5:48 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones intends to "explore all possibilities" while conducting a coaching search this offseason.

Jason Garrett has a 3-1 record as the Cowboys' interim coach since taking over a 1-7 team. He will be seriously considered as a candidate for the full-time job, but Jones has been cautious recently with his praise of Garrett, repeatedly reminding reporters that Garrett also played a role in the Cowboys' extremely disappointing first half of the season.

"Rather than sound like I'm not promoting Jason, but what I'm really trying to say is we are very disappointed as to why we're even having the conversation to begin with," Jones said Friday. "It's called our record. I don't want anybody to confuse the positive from me with not understanding how much we need to be responsible for what we've done so far this year.

"On the other hand, Jason's doing very well. I want to be real careful about, from my standpoint, overdoing any things [to indicate] that he's got all the answers. I don't want to do that either. He's already been put in a tough situation, to have his coaching debut coming under these circumstances. I don't want to add to that."

Jones acknowledged that he couldn't make a commitment to Garrett at this point anyway. The NFL's Rooney Rule requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed before a head coach is hired.

There are also several former head coaches with Super Bowl rings who are available, such as Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Brian Billick. Cowher told USA Today that he would be "open to listen to all opportunities" after the season. Two other head coaches who have taken their teams to a Super Bowl -- Carolina's John Fox and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher -- could also be available after the season.

Jones indicated that he would at least want to consider coaches of that caliber for the Cowboys' vacancy.

"I explore all possibilities," Jones said. "I always do. I look for what-ifs, and things where individuals where in the case of a coach, they haven't expressed the direction of where they are going with their careers. I work through that."

Jones said he considers significant NFL head-coaching experience to be important for candidates. Jones said that was not the case when he first bought the Cowboys. The first two coaches he hired, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, were accomplished college coaches with no NFL experience who combined to win three Super Bowls.

However, Jones said he now "has a little problem with going to school with the Cowboys."

That isn't necessarily a negative for Garrett, who has been the Cowboys' offensive coordinator since 2007 and turned down opportunities to become the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons. It just increases the value of this eight-game audition for Garrett as the interim coach.

"It takes it beyond a resume because it's so first-hand," Jones said. "What we're doing, I get to look and analyze every little aspect of what we're doing. That's a real advantage.

"Of course, it's been an advantage to have Jason on this staff for the last three and a half years. I've been able to analyze every aspect of his activity. So all of that is a real advantage, and I'm not saying an advantage to him. I'm just saying that's an advantage in understanding and helping make a decision."

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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