On so many counts, Jason Garrett has the best coaching job in the NFL.
And probably the worst.
You get a nice salary, a high job profile, and you only have to polish the five Lombardi trophies once a week.
However, you do have to deal with Jerry Jones, who both owns a helicopter and manages like one.
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Far be it for me to diminish the Dallas Cowboys contributions of Owner Jones, who somehow appears headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he did fire Tom Landry and chase away Jimmy Johnson, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, good men and football coaches all.
Yet Garrett has survived 6 1/2 seasons, a shelf life once believed to be impossible by Jones’ alpine-sized expectations.
Maybe, as Jerry daffily suggested last week, Garrett has done it by balancing a plate of green peas or holding all the JELL-O in his two hands. Or maybe Jones, at age 74, simply doesn’t have the zest for meddling that he once had.
Whatever. Garrett can only be judged the way his predecessors were judged – i.e., his won-lost record, and whether the owner perceives the coach’s arrow as pointing up.
Garrett, by those standards, has succeeded abundantly. He may have his own trophy – for NFL Coach of the Year – to polish at the season’s end.
Yes, he displays an almost robotic public persona. He is as quotable as that plate of peas. And at times over the 6 1/2 seasons, Garrett has been uncomfortably silent, while Jerry was bending the ropes to let some miscreant in.
But if you haven’t noticed the difference this season, you haven’t been paying attention.
Yes, good players make for good coaches, and Garrett has been blessed by the return of Sean Lee and the additions of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott.
But he has learned his job, and it’s not just Xs and Os. There’s no Greg Hardy or Rolando McClain on this roster. Time and again this season, Garrett has made the right calls.
Including the toughest, but most important call: Not giving quarterback Tony Romo his job back.
That single move alone changed the course of the NFL regular season. And here the Cowboys are, one victory over the Green Bay Packers away from playing for the NFC championship after 21 years.
The robot thing, I’m convinced, is by sly design. Garrett went to Princeton. His mentor, his 86-year-old father Jim, was a friendly, but fiery football man that I first met 40 years ago, when he was on Hank Stram’s Saints staff. Jim Garrett was anything but detached and mechanical on the sideline.
What the media can’t tell you is how Jason Garrett acts in his natural habitat. Time and again, his players have attested to Garrett’s strengths as a leader and motivator.
His advice to the Cowboys when dealing with the media has been a simple mantra:
“Be respectful. Be brief. Be Boring. Be humble,” he tells them.
Anything else is just “noise,” Garrett said. And there’s no time during game week for noise.
Johnson motivated his Cowboys Super Bowl teams with an in-your-face intensity and energy – players dearly didn’t want to disappoint him.
Parcells was wise and crafty – players were motivated to please him because of his high credentials.
But in Garrett’s case, the motivations are kept within their four walls. He gives his players unwavering loyalty – they feel they owe him their best in return.
The Cowboys have done that. Their 13-3 record reflects it.
In this, his sixth full season, they have played the way a son of Jim Garrett would expect them to.
Jason Garrett scoured the roster. He pleased the owner. He kept Romo on the bench, because he wanted to keep the Cowboys’ magic going.
No other NFL head coach this season has done better.