Just so you know: Not all 8-8 seasons are alike.
Never mind that the past three 8-8 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys are part of a four-year string of playoff-less finishes, the longest of the Jerry Jones era.
They are indeed “fungible” as the Cowboys owner is fond of saying. (Fungible, roughly, means that which is exchangeable in fulfilling an obligation.)
So when considering coach Jason Garrett’s job status heading into the 2014 season, Jones declined to repeat last year’s preseason anthem of this not being an Armageddon year.
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During the state-of-the-team news conference to open training camp Wednesday, Jones said “this is not a make-or-break situation” for Garrett.
He made the statement even though Garrett heads into the final year of his contract with three consecutive 8-8 seasons and a 29-27 overall record through 56 games.
Jones said the most recent 8-8 season was not like the first 8-8 and sees Garrett as a young coach on the way up.
“This is not a make-or-break year,” Jones said. “We both know where our expectations are and when it’s looking good and when it’s looking dire. And I don’t expect it to be the latter.”
Still, Jones said when evaluating Garrett after 2014, the final record won’t be the only factor, just as it wasn’t the only factor in keeping him after the previous three seasons.
“It’s just not necessarily the factor,” Jones said. “The things that make the record will be the primary consideration, but not the record. That’s been the case. Did the record of 8-8, 8-8, 8-8? Was that the factor? No. Principally, it was other things that I’m proud of that creates quite an asset for us. In my mind, he is more of an asset after this last 8-8 season than he was before the first 8-8 season we had three years ago.”
Jones said what makes Garrett more of an asset is the experience he has gained the past three years, the learning curve of a young coach on the come and the continuity of being in his eighth season with the Cowboys.
“I know where he is,” Jones said. “I know how he has evolved, if you will, and by the way I think all of us are either going or coming as far as that era is concerned. So I think, I know from where he’s been in the past, so I’m excited.”
Garrett acknowledges he has improved as a coach in all areas, including practice, staff meetings, game planning and personnel.
“We have so much to focus on as coaches to try to build this football team the way we want to build it, so that’s where our focus is,” Garrett said. “That’s been my focus since Day One.”
Rather than focus on what might happen if the Cowboys don’t improve from their 8-8 past, Jones and Garrett are optimistic about breaking through, primarily because the Cowboys have gone from one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest.
Jones and Garrett pointed to 47 new faces on the roster at the start of training camp, including many on a younger and revamped defense that is without departed former Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.
“We’re not going to have those marquee players we’ve had in the past. Some of the pickups in free agency are talented guys. We’re better on the back end, in the secondary,” Garrett said. “It’s a combination of young guys, guys champing at the bit and coaching.”
Said Jones: “We’ve never had more new faces, yet have the optimism that I have for those new faces. I’m very optimistic that we have a team that can come together. That makes me optimistic about our chances to compete and compete right now. It’s not about next year. The decisions we’ve made are that.”
And if they don’t compete right now? Can he stomach another season out of the playoffs under Garrett?
“Well, I’m not anticipating doing that,” Jones deadpanned. “You say, can you stomach it? I don’t want to have to stomach it. Let’s put it like that. You’re talking about something that I don’t want to spend a lot of time on, and that’s what happens after the season’s over on any basis.”