Tablet Sports

Gil LeBreton: Disobedient Cowboys run right into trouble

Since a campfire and a chorus of Kumbaya wasn’t in the cards, the Dallas Cowboys decided to bond this week over a good, healthy jog.

Except, in somewhat Cowboy-typical fashion, the head coach had just told them, more or less, not to do that.

And when they did run — all in the name, they say, of teamwork and conditioning — guard Ron Leary strained a hamstring, which caused him to be placed Thursday on the physically unable to perform list.

You can’t make this stuff up. For Jerry Jones’ Cowboys, everyday realities have often seemed stranger than fiction.

Like the “haircut” (wink, wink) that Michael Irvin once gave Everett McIver. And like the time Owner Jones paid $120,000 to turn a parking lot at the Alamodome into a temporary sod practice field, but Emmitt Smith nixed the idea on the first day.

This one, at least, seemed to start out harmlessly enough.

As head coach Jason Garrett explained Wednesday, “The conditioning test is an age-old issue in the NFL. The way they’re typically set up is you might be on a plane, you might have a long drive, and you come to training camp on Day 1, and you do this conditioning test.

“I expressed to our leadership group at minicamp that I was uncomfortable with how training camp starts, to do a conditioning test and then go aggressively into practice the first few days. I feel like it’s a recipe for disaster.

“We’ve had some issues in the past year. So I just told our players that we’re not going to do that.”

But Garrett’s band of troublemakers couldn’t help themselves.

As tight end Jason Witten explained, “I just felt like we needed to run. It was important to us.”

Leary contended Thursday that his injury was “nothing serious, just minor.” But for a guy fighting for a starting job, a few doctor-mandated days away from the practice field can’t possibly help.

To his credit, Garrett acted like it was no big deal.

“I know guys work out a lot together,” he said. “A lot of our players live in Dallas. They lift together. They run together. They throw together. I think this is probably just an extension of that. Guys are trying to get ready to play football.”

Garrett seemed surprised, in fact, that the media was even asking about the unscheduled run at all.

But it scratches an old Cowboys wound, the notion that, except for the Bill Parcells years, the inmates have ruled the asylum. Who, indeed, is in charge here, except for Jones when he writes out the checks?

“I think there’s more being made out of this than it probably should have,” team leader Witten suggested.

“Nobody has got more respect for coach Garrett than I and the leaders on this team do. He’s just a heckuva football coach, and we’re lucky to have him as a head coach. I think we all know we’re on the same page. We would never go against him.”

This, however, is also the same team that once thought the best way to prepare for a playoff game was a weekend in Cabo. And that, sure, it would be OK to let Josh Brent stand on the sideline, just a week after his drunken driving had killed a teammate.

Coaches are coaches for a reason. Players should listen to them. Or somebody could get hurt.

Oops. You say Ron Leary won’t practice until next week?

“As a player, everyone always complained about it,” Garrett said of the camp-opening conditioning test. “It’s just something that, given the foundation we laid in the off-season, the maturity of our team, the leadership on our team, I just really entrusted them and had a conversation with them and shared with them what my concerns were, and how we were going to handle it.”

It was only running, tight end Witten repeated. No one hoisted a Jolly Roger or anything.

Let me make a suggestion, though, before anyone heads off to Tahiti on next Monday’s day off.

Listen to the head coach. He’s trying to establish some order and accountability here. It’s a process.

Don’t turn a simple order into ... well ... a haircut.