Mac Engel

Cowboys coach Garrett must prevent 2015 from becoming ’08

Greg Hardy, at a team golf event Wednesday, has ability but also the potential to spoil locker room chemistry.
Greg Hardy, at a team golf event Wednesday, has ability but also the potential to spoil locker room chemistry. Star-Telegram

The parallels run deep, right down to the Dale Hansen rant.

For those of you who forgot, it was the spring of 2008 when the Dallas Cowboys were coming off a brilliant season, a “bye-week playoff win” and were in the midst of adding the highest-profile troublemaker another team wanted to dump.

The addition of cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones prompted Hansen, the venerable WFAA sportscaster, to call out Cowboys owner Jerry Jones with the fun line: “Somebody give Jones a Super Bowl trophy before somebody gets hurt.”

That team was loaded with talent, and head cases. With the likes of Terrell Owens, Pacman, Tank Johnson and Jay Ratliff, the locker room was eventually shattered by paranoid, selfish players who were enabled by a head coach (Wade Phillips) they liked but did not respect. As a result the team was a flop, and missed the playoffs.

Now, it’s the spring of 2015. The team is coming off a brilliant season with a real playoff win, is loaded with talent and just added the NFL’s biggest collection of problems, prompting Dale to go on another epic Jerry rant.

From Greg Hardy to Randy Gregory to the fears of Dez Bryant/Orlando Scandrick and their respective contracts down to the curious talent that is Rolando McClain, this team has all of the makings of lunacy run amok. And with Jerry, rule out nothing.

The best way this team stays together is if Jason Garrett is as good as his rhetoric, and his boss backs him up. Teams take on the personality of their head coaches, which should mean the ’15 Cowboys should avoid the problems that turned that ’08 team into a national joke.

“It’s hard to find it. I think we found a great culture last year,” Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said Wednesday. “I think we had a great locker room, and obviously we had that in the ’90s, and we have something to build on [now], and we don’t want to lose that.”

One of the biggest reasons the ’14 Cowboys were so good, other than that offensive line, is that the roster was comprised primarily of professionals who took their jobs seriously, and they liked each other. That was a team that personified “care.” It had holes, yet it overachieved its way to the final minutes of the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

(Have I mentioned that Dez caught that ball?)

Chemistry and a locker room are the things that analytics have yet to quantify, and last season for the Cowboys, they were worth multiple wins. If this team can maintain its level of professionalism and don’t do as so many teams do and “get dumb,” the Cowboys should be fine.

I asked Jerry on Wednesday at the Cowboys’ annual corporate golf tournament where he thought the leadership originates in a locker room: coach or players?

“I think it starts with the head coach,” he said.

Agreed. In 2008, the team was led by Uncle Wade Phillips, a man who was simply too nice for the position of head coach. Garrett was Uncle Wade’s offensive coordinator.

“He’s got to be himself, completely himself, but he has to be very genuine in his expectation and his communication. It’s Jason’s best skill,” Jerry said. “He genuinely cares, but he genuinely knows that his players know that he means business and there are no favorites. All of that starts at the top.”

With the expected annual turnover of an NFL team to be around 33 percent each year, locker room chemistry is a dice roll. Stability helps, as does a good quarterback.

The Cowboys have had good locker rooms before, including those loaded with a cast of “characters.” They are characters when you win. They are headaches and lunatics when you lose.

With guys such Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Tyron Smith, Barry Church, Sean Lee, Jeremy Mincey and a handful of others, this locker room should be able to withstand and monitor fringe guys. Greg Hardy should not be a problem. But even the strongest locker room can only be as solid as the head coach.

If Coach Process has a problem, and wants to dump a guy, Jerry has to let him do it. Garrett has cultivated a locker room that respects his voice, even though it knows there is a bigger voice than the coach — who has been known to pull rank when the mood strikes. How Garrett manages “up” and “down” at his job may be his most impressive feat yet.

Many parallels exist for the Cowboys between ’15 and ’08, including the highly entertaining Hansen rants, but this locker room should be able to keep them as characters rather than letting them become headaches.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog

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