Commentary

Timing wasn't right for Garrett move

Jason Garrett opted for sense, not dollars, in staying with the Cowboys, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Originally Published: January 17, 2008
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Football is too often used as a reflection on life, but in assessing Jason Garrett's decision Thursday to remain as the offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys rather than fill the head coaching vacancies with either the Baltimore Ravens or the Atlanta Falcons, such comparisons might be appropriate.

Timing is everything, it seems.

And for Garrett -- who on Tuesday morning told his Baltimore suitors that he felt he still had "unfinished business" in Dallas -- the timing for a move simply wasn't right.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireNow that he's staying in Dallas, Jason Garrett appears to be set up as Wade Phillips' successor.

The cynics no doubt point will out, and justifiably so, that Garrett's arrival at such a critical career decision may have been precipitated by the bump in salary that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave him while elevating him to assistant head coach status. Fair enough, especially since it's believed Jones awarded his coordinator a salary somewhere between the offers Garrett received from the Ravens ($3 million per year) and the Falcons ($3.5 million).

If, indeed, Garrett does have a new contract in the $3 million range, well, good for him. And if Jones actually raised Garrett's salary to that level, well, Jones won't be too popular with his NFL owner brethren for paying him nearly twice as much as the next highest-paid assistant in the league. Heck, there are NFL head coaches who aren't making $3 million per in salary.

Still, the sales pitch that Jones rehearsed on Wednesday night, while he anxiously awaited Garrett's return from a second interview in Atlanta and while he plotted strategy for his sit-down session with the much-coveted coordinator, was based far more on timing than on tax bracket.

Essentially, Jones posited the facts, not the finances, at least as he saw them: Despite his anointing as the hottest commodity of this NFL firing-and-hiring cycle, Garrett has still been a coach in the league for just three seasons, only one of those years at the coordinator level. All the glowing pronouncements aside, including public endorsements from Dallas quarterbacks past (Troy Aikman) and present (Tony Romo), that's an incredibly brief apprenticeship.

Win a Super Bowl after next season, which Jones believes his team can do, and Garrett will be in even greater demand this time next year.

And Garrett, the Princeton-educated smart guy, a man savvy enough to have stuck around the league and to have drawn paychecks for a dozen seasons as a journeyman backup quarterback of modest talents, was wise enough to agree.

Just because he's from the Ivy League doesn't mean Garrett is moved by the color green. And so while he's going to bank a lot more greenbacks now, having parlayed his flirtations with the Ravens and Falcons into a hefty raise, the suspicion is that Garrett is staying in Dallas for reasons not necessarily driven by avarice.

There is, to be sure, some gamble in that gambit.

Garrett certainly assumes the role of heir apparent to Wade Phillips' head coach job. But if Phillips wins a Super Bowl next year, it won't be quite as apparent as to when the heir assumes the throne. Assuming anything when it comes to extrapolating whether an assistant coach in the NFL can retain his "hot" status from one hiring cycle to the next is always a tricky proposition.

There's little doubt that Jones counseled Garrett on Wednesday night that there will be more job openings down the road, some of them more attractive than the Atlanta and Baltimore positions, and that he will be a candidate again for most of them. Maybe so.

But has anyone heard of Ron Rivera -- who interviewed for five or six head coach positions the past two years and didn't land any of them -- being pursued for any vacancies this year? In a league where the coveted, flavor-of-the-month assistants come and go, there are no guarantees.

This much, though, is assured: If Garrett had believed the time or situation was right for him to be a head coach in the NFL, he could have been one on Tuesday or Wednesday, and likely with at least a little more money than Jones is going to pay him.

The fact that Thursday arrived and he was still a staffer in Dallas means the "unfinished business" to which he referred during his interview with Ravens officials meant more to him than money.

There are dollars and there is sense. And the decision to remain with the Cowboys for at least another year was based more on the latter of those two.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

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