Spagnola: Beware Change For Change’s Sake

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FRISCO, Texas – Let me see if I got this straight.

Just because Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has intimated Jason Garrett will head into the 2019 season on the final year of his contract, likely meaning no contract extension, that his head coach is in a win-or-else situation.

Win what or else?

Does he need to win Super Bowl LIV or lose his job?

Does he need to advance to the franchise’s first NFC title game in 24 years or else?

Does he need to win 10, 11 or 12 games, or else?

Does he need to repeat the team’s 2018 output, 10 wins, a fourth NFC East title in six years and at least one playoff victory or else?

What?

While the mob seems to be setting the bar for Garrett heading into his ninth full season as Cowboys head coach, not heard a peep coming from the office upstairs and all the way down the hallway here at The Star. Haven’t heard what the ultimatum is, if indeed there is an ultimatum.

Oh, and I get it. We live in a world of instant gratification, our microwave society where we don’t want to wait for nothing, a way of thinking that should be blamed on the Pop Tart age when introduced in 1964. Suddenly there was an alternative to a warm-cooked breakfast. Takes too long. Just pop this deal in the toaster, wait but a couple of minutes, and breakfast tasting like cardboard became yours.

The fact the Cowboys haven’t been to an NFC title game or Super Bowl or won a Super Bowl since the 1995 season seems to land at Garrett’s feet. That the Cowboys haven’t won at least two playoff games in a season since 1995 seems to land at Garrett’s feet, the likes of Switzer, Campo, Parcells and Phillips ducking the slingshots.

Never mind Garrett was the NFL’s 2016 Coach of the Year. Never mind compiling three consecutive winnings season for the first time since the Cowboys put five together from 2005-09. Never mind the three division titles in the past five years is the best string since 1992-96.

Oh, and suddenly it doesn’t mean anything that the Cowboys’ 32 victories over the past three seasons ranks fourth in the NFL over that period, only New England (38), Kansas City (34) and Pittsburgh (33) with more. That’s right, Garrett’s 32 more than anyone else in the NFC East (Philadelphia 29), more than New Orleans (31), Seattle (29) and Minnesota (29).

In fact, the Cowboys have only endured one losing season during Garrett’s reign from 2011 through 2018, posting four-and-a-half winning seasons, the half in 2010 when as the interim head coach he led a 1-7 team to a 5-3 record in the second half.

Again, I get it. The Joneses get it. Everyone out here gets it. They want better, which is one of the reasons the Cowboys made the bold move to trade for Amari Cooper and fire offensive line coach Paul Alexander, the club making that dramatic turnaround from 3-5 at the halfway point to 7-1 over the final eight.

But sometimes, you better be careful when you wish for more.

How ’bout this one: Former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips led the Buffalo Bills to records of 10-6, 11-6 and 8-8. But those 29 wins were not good enough for the Bills’ tastes. So Wade got fired after the 2000 season. Know what’s happened since, over the next 18 seasons? Try 13 losings seasons, two 8-8 seasons and three 9-7 seasons.

At the hands of seven, count ’em, seven head coaches.

Or this one in Detroit: Jim Caldwell led the Lions to three winning seasons over his four years as head coach (2014-17, going 11-5, 7-9, 9-7 and 9-7. Wasn’t good enough. Got fired, the Lions hiring Matt Patricia this season. And what happened?

Oops, the Lions regressed to 6-10.

Or look to the Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians led the Cards to seasons of 10-6, 11-5, 13-3, 7-8-1 and 8-8. Not good enough. Fired. Hired Steve Wilks for this season. Ha, Cards go 3-13, Wilks already fired.

Now I get this, too. When you are struggling badly it’s time to make a change. There have been eight new head coaches hired for the 2019 season. But each one of them is taking over a team coming off a losing season.

Much is made of Sean McVey raising the Rams from the dead. And believe me they were dead, struggling through 14 losing seasons over six head coaches.

Same with Doug Pederson. The Eagles had only two winning season in the previous six with three different head coaches, Andy Reid’s last two, Chip Kelly’s three seasons and Pederson’s first.

Also, there is something to be said for continuity. How about some of these teams chasing their tales.

The Cleveland Browns, the ones employing Paul Brown for 29 seasons as head coach, just hired their 11th head coach this century, Romeo Crennel (four seasons) and former Cowboys assistant coach Butch Davis (four seasons), each managing to produce the only winnings season in the past 19 years.

Lord, ever since Marty Schottenheimer’s last year in 1988, only Bill Belichick lasted as many as five seasons (one winning), with nine coaches lasting no more than two years.

Sometimes change isn’t good.

As for the Cowboys, Garrett is just the franchise’s fourth head coach this century: Dave Campo (three seasons), Bill Parcells (four), Phillips (three and a half) and now Garrett (eight and a half).

By comparison, since the turn of the century, Washington is on its eighth head coach; Detroit eighth and third in the last five years; Oakland the seventh since 2008, Jack Del Rio’s 48 games the longest stretch; San Francisco ninth since Steve Mariucci’s final season in 2002; Buffalo 10th since Marv Levy’s final season in 1997; Jets moving on to their seventh since 2000 and 13th since 1989; Cardinals ninth since Gene Stallings’ final season in 1989; Tennessee fifth since 2010; Tampa Bay on to its fifth since 2011; and San Diego’s third in eight years.

And where has all that rush to change got them?

Not a thing.

Now back to Garrett, what’s the bar?

Have a fourth consecutive winning season, becoming the first and only Cowboys head coach to do so since Tom Landry’s 20 straight from 1966-85?

Win the division again, for his fourth title in six years, the most during that period of time since Landry won seven straight division titles from 1976-82, that last year just a strike-shortened nine-game regular season?

Reach the NFC title game, none of the previous five head coaches having achieved since Barry Switzer did so twice in 1994-95. And become just the fourth all-time, with Jimmy Johnson (1992-93) and Landry’s last streak from 1980-82?

And Super Bowl? Come on, let’s remember, not since Switzer in 1995, Johnson 1992-93 and Landry 1977-78, meaning he didn’t even qualify for one over his past 11 seasons, have Super Bowls been any sort of barometer for losing your job. But going 6-10, just being a bad fit, three consecutive 5-11 seasons shrouded in cap hell, quitting and losing your team at 1-7 certainly have been reasons.

Yep, a pretty high standard considering none in the past 23 seasons and five over the past 43 seasons.

And let’s stop with the “pressure is on Garrett or else” stuff. The pressure is on every season. And if he indeed isn’t extended, that doesn’t mean he’s going to be coaching for his head coaching life, like harder than ever. Because if that’s the case, then he was cheating all those other years.

Nonsense, same as pointing out, well, last time in the last year of a contract, 2014, Garrett turned three consecutive 8-8 seasons into 12-4, an NFC East title and the team’s first playoff victory since 1996. Is anyone paying attention out there?

Why, from 2013 to 2014, the Cowboys went from the worst defense in the NFL to 19th, and from the worst organized defense I’ve ever seen trending toward acceptable. And the talent level improved greatly, including under the first year of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, DeMarco Murray rushing for a single-season franchise record 1,845 yards, Dez Bryant having his most productive year of his career with 88 catches, 1,320 yards, 16 touchdowns, and Tony Romo throwing 34 touchdown passes with only nine interceptions.

So whaddaya say?

Just keep it real.

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