As Bill Callahan and Wade Wilson sent in plays during Sunday’s blue-and-white scrimmage, Jason Garrett stood on the field and watched. He occasionally said something to the offense, but he had as many words for the defense.
The Cowboys have a new head coach this season. His name is the same, but his role has changed.
Garrett, in his third full season as a head coach, is relinquishing the play-calling duties. He already sees the benefits of more time with the defense.
“If you probably look at the exact minutes I spend on the practice field, I probably have been over with the defense a little bit more,” Garret said. “I always have tried to be on every part of the practice field throughout every practice, and typically in the past, it’s been the individual periods that I was over with the defense. Then, as it got to more of the team periods, I was more involved with the offense.
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“Obviously, Bill and Wade are handling a lot of those play-calling duties I had in the past. I actually am throwing some more of the drills on defense and really what that allows you to do as a coach is just to get some up-close evaluation of the guys in your huddle, and the guys you are going against. It’s a combination of you are trying to execute a ball play, but I think when you are around players in a real close setting, you get a feel for what they are all about, the look in their eye, how they are responding to things, if they look confused, if they are on top of it.”
The Cowboys hired Garrett in 2007, and he served as offensive coordinator for 3 1/2 seasons before adding the title of head coach. Even after he hired Callahan as offensive coordinator before the 2012 season, Garrett continued to call plays.
“It’s been a real good thing for me in terms of providing a different perspective in my evaluation of the guys,” he said.
The Cowboys finished sixth in total offense last season. They have never finished lower than 13th with Garrett as play-caller and have ranked as high as second (in 2009).
They are hoping for similar statistics, but more wins with Callahan as the play-caller this season.
“To the extent that Jason, with his skills, can have better knowledge over on the other side of the ball, we’ll benefit from that,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “And I see that. That’s what I see as our benefit, is that he’ll have and is and will have more attention to the whole picture, and certainly I think that’ll pay off for us in game-planning, game management, all of those areas.”
Callahan last called plays in an NFL game in 2003, though he held that role at Nebraska, too, when he was head coach from 2004-07. He was the play-caller for the Oakland Raiders during their 2002 Super Bowl season.
Callahan will sit in the coaches’ booth and relay the call to Wilson, the quarterbacks coach, on the sideline. Wilson then will give the call to quarterback Tony Romo. The Cowboys have worked on the mechanics during training camp, using a 40-second clock to simulate the process, and they’ll continue to perfect it during the five preseason games.
To speed up the process, Romo is wearing a wristband with a list of plays to “create more speed in terms of tempo and in terms of getting the play in quicker and faster,” Callahan said.
It has turned Garrett into a “walk-around” head coach. Jones believes that will make Garrett, whose game and clock management sometimes have been questioned, better at his job.
“What it will do without a question is it empowers, it will lift the input from some key guys on this staff,” Jones said. “They’re now doing some of the heavy lifting. When you’ve got people like Callahan, of that caliber, then that should improve things. You’ve got that, and then you’ve got the obvious, and that is [Garrett] can have more time to look at the entire picture. We’re getting that, and it should be there. If anybody has the capacity to look at the whole picture, he does.”