IRVING, Texas– After three straight 8-8 seasons as head coach of the Jason Garrett, appeared to have a major breakthrough in Year 4 with the team last year.
A 12-4 record, an NFC East title and a Wild Card playoff win under his belt, Garrett and the Cowboys were not only ready to advance this team in 2015, but they were legitimate Super Bowl contenders as well.
At least that's what we thought.
Now, Garrett finds himself right back at .500, following a 4-12 record – the worst regular-season mark since 1989, which has him sitting at an even 40-40 after five seasons as the head coach.
So now what?
To no surprise, Garrett didn't speak about any wholesale changes or philosophy modifications. But he did admit this season was a major surprise considering what transpired 12 months earlier.
"Coming into this year, we felt like we'd built the kind of team that had a chance to contend year in and year out," Garrett said Monday, the first day of the offseason. "We felt like we took the necessary steps going into last year to build a team that all we could be proud of. Obviously we took a step back. We all need to have a real resolve and a determination about us to right the ship and get it going in the right direction again and be the type of team that we all think we can be."
But in the case of "it's never as bad as it seems," Garrett said he won't put a blanket over this season and try to forget it happened. In fact, he said going through the process of evaluation is something coaches do, regardless of the previous season.
"We evaluate everything," Garrett said. "We're going to go back and look at every decision we made from every different angle and there will be a number of them that we say if we had to do it again, we would've done this and would've done that.
"Again, I did the same thing last year. Just because we won games doesn't necessarily mean you did everything right. And just because you lost doesn't mean that everything was wrong. You have to look at the process and evaluate it as honestly and objectively as you can, regardless of what the results are. There's a number of things we will look back on and say we should've done differently."
On Monday, the players had their exit-interviews with their position coaches and then Garrett, who said Dez Bryant was excused to tend to a family matter.
But when asked about a specific message he said to his team, Garrett said they varied from player to player.
"A number of different messages. (But) principally, that we owned what happened. It's our responsibility. It's a collective responsibility," Garrett said. "It starts with me. Every coach, every player, every staff member connected with our football team. There are no excuses, there are no explanations. There's no way we're going to grow and get better if we live in that world. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror, we have to strive to get better each and every day. We have to start in 2016 today to get better."
Obviously, losing Tony Romo for 12 games and the fact he only finished two of them is a big enough reason for the Cowboys' failures in 2014. Not having a healthy Dez Bryant for the majority of the season was a major factor as well.
But again, Garrett refused to walk that line.
"You can't live in the excuses world. We have to be a football team that is strong enough to handle the adversity of the season," Garrett said. "Injuries are a part of an NFL season and the team's that handle injury and other adversity the right way are the ones that are still playing right now. It's just the nature of it. Every year I've been in football, both as a player and as a coach, injuries and adversity have occurred. Somehow, someway you've got to overcome them. We didn't do that this year. We didn't do that in any aspect of our organization. We have to do a better job of that in the coming year."
A year that officially began on Monday.