Owner Jerry Jones will never admit it.But the Dallas Cowboys have been in a rebuilding mode ever since they fired Wade Phillips and hired Jason Garrett midway through the 2010 season.Garrett has hinted as much in each of the past two seasons even while shepherding the Cowboys to within one game of making the playoffs with losses in the final games of each regular season.The facts are that only 17 players who were on the team in 2010 remain with the Cowboys today.The team is decidedly younger and filled with with the right kind of guys who play the right kind of way with passion and emotion and enthusiasm.The results have not always shown it, but the Cowboys are seemingly headed in the right direction under Garrett.There is no doubt Jones believes this to be the case. And there is no doubt Jones truly wants it to work with Garrett and have him be the team’s next Tom Landry.“To the extent that the kinds of things that Jason is about, he has a grit. He has a will. You can’t discourage him,” Jones said. “He does thrive on tough situations, so that with the added experience that he’s gotten over the last six years since he’s been back coaching with the Cowboys, that gives me a lot of confidence in his ability to manage through, coach through the challenges we’re sure to have. I have a lot of faith in Jason Garrett.”That being said, there might be no coach in the NFL on a hotter seat heading into the 2013 season than Garrett.The Cowboys have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons for the first time since they went 5-11 three straight times under Dave Campo from 2000-2002.A fourth season without making the playoffs would be the longest stretch out of the postseason since the end of the Landry days and the start of the Jimmy Johnson era, which began when Jones bought the team in 1989. The Cowboys were home for the holidays from 1986-90 before winning three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.Jones has fired six coaches in his career, including Landry after 29 years.And considering what Jim Harbaugh, Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll are doing in San Francisco, Washington and Seattle — with playoff success in fewer years on the job — patience with Garrett has grown thin, and the time for rebuilding is done.The Cowboys, a mediocre 21-19 under Garrett, need to make the playoffs this season and possibly win a game or two for him to return in 2014.While he appreciates Jones opening training camp with a show a support by declaring that this would be no Armageddon year for Garrett, the red-headed coach, who grew up in the business as the son of a former coach and scout before spending 12 years in the NFL as a backup quarterback, knows the time has run out.“You have to get it done from minute one,” Garrett said. “There is a sense of urgency every day I wake up. There has been for a long time. That is the nature of this league. I felt it as a player, as an assistant coach and as a head coach. That is what we try to convey to our team. The time is now.”Don’t confuse the fact that the Cowboys are in a must-win mode for Garrett to keep his job with the notion that the retooling process that he started in 2010 is complete.Holes remain, especially along the offensive line, that will challenge the Cowboys in 2013.But no team has a perfect situation, and enough progress has been made to pay dividends now.Garrett said the Cowboys have tried to retool while also trying to stay competitive with decisions based on a long-term philosophy of how he wanted to build the team for now and in the future.“I think it is always a work in progress,” Garrett said. “Every decision you make impacts how your plan is coming together. Most of those decisions have to do with people. … I think we have made good decisions. Every decision you make in regards to personnel is critical. It reflects what you think about football, what you think your program should be. We haven’t been perfect. Nobody is. But that is the direction we have tried to take the last couple of years, and we feel good about it.”Nobody, however, feels good about mediocrity, which is why Jones’ truest feelings about Garrett’s future came out last February at the NFL’s scouting combine after he gutted the coaching staff and ushered in an uncomfortable off-season following the second consecutive 8-8, playoff-less campaign.“There’s a lot of resolve here but not a lot of patience. Jason senses that,” Jones said at the time.Time has a way of taking the edge off emotions. Another season out of the playoffs would bring them back to the surface.Everyone, including Garrett, knows that.
Clarence E. Hill Jr. 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr