IRVING, Texas – Twenty years ago, the most asked question around The Ranch was this:
Who is going to make the play? That inspired by Jimmy Johnson.
These days the most asked question is this:
Who is going to call the play? That inspired by the hesitancy of Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, along with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, to definitively say so.
Oh, how the high and mighty out there are crying because they did not get a straight answer this week when Garrett, along with his coaching staff the next day, were made available to the media out here at The Ranch. How they are assuming Garrett has lost control of this team – that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. That he’s confused. That he’s indecisive. That’s he’s … insert derogatory adjective of your choice.
Funny, these perceptions, and didn’t we dwell on that very same subject here last Friday? You know, when Bill was here, the almighty and now Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach, he had coordinators, he had guys drawing up game plans, practice scripts, whatnot, but on game day, Bill would call the plays.
Even after a two-year apprenticeship as quarterbacks coach and then being named “passing-game coordinator,” Sean Payton sometimes called plays, but there was always Bill overriding not only Payton but Mike Zimmer, his defensive coordinator, too. That’s just the way it was, and that was fine by most.
But now, oh my gosh, you’d think there is a state emergency out here over this play-calling issue, and most of this hysteria caused by just how what Jones said at the Senior Bowl that fourth week in January was reported. Remember the initial headlines, all screaming Garrett was being stripped of his play-calling duties by the owner; that Bill Callahan was next up; that Jerry had cut the legs out from under his head coach.
Now, to be fair to those actually at the Senior Bowl, most were careful in their copy to qualify this potential change, with words like possible or likely or could be. Headline writers were more definitive than accurate. So were national writers not on the scene. Same with the TV reporters and talk-radio hosts not on the scene.
And unfortunately for most of you, you were at the mercy of these media outlets and entertainers being accurate. Further unfortunately, you guys were at the mercy of the same industry when accusations were being slung around of Jones backpedaling during recent interviews on shows produced for his own Dallas Cowboys Television Network broadcasts.
So it occurred to me, unless you had an opportunity to listen to every bit of Jones’ interview from Mobile, Ala., that started this rage, you had to rely on the bits and pieces – sound bites and transcribed quotes – from the messengers. That’s what shaped your opinion.
Too bad you weren’t there with us on that chilly Tuesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium to decide for yourself. Ah, but now you can if you choose to stay with me for the majority of this Jan. 22 transcription of the interview.
Have you made a decision as far as Jason being the play-caller?
Jones: Well, we have more work to do as far as where we’ll end up (and then went in to talking about being poised to hire a new special teams coordinator, the hiring of Monte Kiffin and the change to a 4-3 defense). The one thing I do want to point out here is that there is a tremendous – in my mind, without exaggerating – a foundation that we’ve put in place with Jason as head coach, and we put that in place, and although it might appear differently, we are building on all the pluses of that foundation whether it be personnel – so the direction that we’re going might be misinterpreted with the changes we’re making in different areas that we’re throwing out everything we’ve done in the last few years. That’s just not the case. We’re actually building on it; it’s a coordinated effort, obviously, over on the defensive side of the ball, Jason is not just a part of it, he’s a focal part in making this decision and obviously concurring on every step of the way.
Do you hurt this foundation if you decide Jason wouldn’t continue to be the play-caller?
Jones: We’re still getting into how we’re offensively going to function, and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves there. But make no mistake about it, when I hired Jason as a coach he was hired specifically for his shills, for his abilities to call the plays. When he became head coach it was at my insistence that he continued to call the plays and I felt philosophically if anybody could continue to do it he could do it, so it was not as Jason’s insistence. So it is not a step back for the Cowboys or a step back for him individually to change the way we are putting a game plan together or calling the plays on the offensive side of the ball.
As you know, there are differences of opinions that frankly can be a step in a better direction. So the big thing I want to say here is anything we do on the offensive side of the ball as it relates to Jason not specifically doing what he was doing, that’s not something that Jason has ever been on the table, pounding on the table to do. It was more me. And so if we make a change there, it will be more of a concession on my part to go forward with a little different procedure as to how we put the offense out there.
So why now would you want a walk-around head coach?
Jones: Because now I’m assessing the fact that after two and a half seasons of Jason as head coach, we need to do some things differently. We are not, and I know our fans are not – I’m not, Jason’s not – we’re not at all satisfied we’ve been 8-8 two seasons in a row. So given different circumstances we might have done better. What we are is what we are.
But the reason I’m doing it, basically saying, OK, let’s do it differently because I think with where we are right now basically gives us the chance to get to the playoffs and where we want to go immediately.
The question was, “how come?” and I think that we’ve got and are getting the coaches that will allow us in all phases of the game, will allow us to have Jason’s skills, if we go in that direction, to be more focused on every aspect of the team and in the case of being involved in the game, he’ll be able to make the decisions he’s been making, but he’ll be able to do it with more focus on the overall game and the circumstances with the game. The advantage of a walk-around head coach, as you say, one that doesn’t specifically spend every day making game plans, doing that, can spend their time looking at the overall picture, not only on game day but also during the game week.
Would you go outside the organization to bring in a play-caller or would that go to Bill Callahan?
Jones: I don’t want to sound trite, but we’ve left no thought un-thought, but we’ve been hard at it, and it’s not something we’ve just started to think about two weeks ago. It’s a product of looking at how we’ve done the last two years and certainly stimulated by the fact that we haven’t been in the playoffs the last two years, we’ve been 8-8. …
Would you be comfortable with Callahan calling the plays?
Jones: Just so we’re clear, Jason has never been uncomfortable, and I know I sound defensive, but it was at my insistence when Jason came in that he retain and stay being the coordinator … the busiest guy on the football team. He really has his nose to the grindstone. But when you do that plus the head coach, then that’s an all-day job.
Jason never pushed back on it, but to look at a different approach to what we’re doing on the offensive side of the ball has the given that’s it’s going to become different as to what he’s doing on the other parts of the ball, or the other parts of the team, which is what we are trying to gain with his input and supervision in those areas as well. There’s no way when we’re talking about doing something different on offense that it is a step back for Jason. It’s actually a step forward for Jason – in my mind.
When did you start thinking about having a different play-caller besides Jason?
Jones: Well I’ve always known since he became the head coach there was another way to do it and there are degrees of that as well, in other words, the specific duty of presenting and preparing a proposed game plan. When you start the week, the specific duty of implementing that game plan and then the specific duty of calling the plays, it wouldn’t be accurate to divorce Jason from that and so you are talking about degrees and maybe you can talk about allocation of responsibilities more than you are in the case of offensive or major philosophical changes. … It’s very likely that we’ll have with the way we’re structured some additional new philosophy in what we can do offensively, even though Bill Callahan has been here one year, we’ll have some new things … we are talking degrees more than anything the way I look at it. Rest assured this would not be being done if our head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t absolutely all in.
Do you expect there to be a transition period with all the changes on the staff?
Jones: Nothing we’re doing is about a two-year, three-year, four-year game plan. This is about building on what we’ve done the last few years, building on the players we’ve drafted, getting some more players in here – the draft, free agency – and then taking what we’re doing and moving right into success, that’s what this is all about.
What does this say about Jason’s commitment to the team, “OK, I’ll give up the play-calling duties, I’ll let Bill take over, I want this to work here.”
Jones: I’m, I’m being influenced by Jason’s judgment as to not what he’s not going to be doing but by what he is going to be doing. Now again, theoretically, if he’s not doing as much with the offense as he’s been doing that means he’d be doing more with the overall team, and he has never felt that that wouldn’t work good or possibly better. The insistence that he calls the plays as well as be the head coach is me, and so there is just no pushback when we sit down and talk about it being done differently.
He’s not giving up anything. This isn’t for the Gipper. He’s doing what he’s doing, which I’m being influenced by what he’s doing and I’m buying into what he wants to do, and that this is the best way for us to win football games.
So there you have it, Jones, word for word, with no interpretation by me or anyone else, other than leaving out some of the off-topic questions and answers from that half-hour interview held nearly a month ago, the one that started this cauldron of controversy and speculation boiling.
Now decide for yourself. You’ve got all the same information the group of reporters received that day from the Cowboys owner, the ones who relayed the news back to you. In fact, you now have even better information than those national and internet correspondents had since I can guarantee you they were not there, nor did any of them listen to this entire interview.
And as you now better understand, it wasn’t as if Jones came out with an announcement that there would be a change in just who called the plays. He answered questions. He qualified answers. At times, he was thinking out loud. But at no time did he throw his head coach under the bus that day, meaning that all the backtracking he’s now being accused of doing really doesn’t wash.
He said the same things then as he did over the past couple of weeks. That’s just me.
As for you, now you can make the call.