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Spagnola: Maybe Perceptions Aren't Truly Reality


IRVING, Texas – Perception is a cruel disease, a cancerous assumption that takes on a life of its own.

         As the former longtime director of operations Bruce Mays used to preach to me for all those many years here at The Ranch, once a perception is out there, well, that might as well be reality. Hard to prove otherwise.

         Sort of like the way it's frustratingly difficult to put something back in the box once you've taken it out.

         And on Jan. 3 of this year, just four days after the Dallas Cowboys' 2012 season came to a crashing and crushing halt with a 28-18 loss to the Washington Redskins in the Game 16, winner-takes-the East contest at FedEx Field, relegating these Cowboys to yet another disappointing 8-8 finish, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones opened the barn door.

         Understandably frustrated after two consecutive 8-8 seasons, meaning his club would miss the playoffs a third straight year, he uttered this now infamous statement on his weekly radio segment:

         "I can assure our fans this, that it's going to be very uncomfortable from my standpoint. It's going to be *very *uncomfortable for the next few weeks and months at Valley Ranch."

         If that wasn't enough, he went on to say:

         "I can tell you change is necessary at 8-8 – we're going to have to have changes."

         The horses were running wild.

         That put a noose around everyone's neck out here, including that of his head coach, Jason Garrett, the running-rampant perception being the whole lot of them were going to get fired, including Garrett. Mike Holmgren was on his way to becoming the Cowboys next head coach. Then Sean Payton. Then Jon Gruden. Name me an out-of-work head coach, and he was on his way to The Ranch.

         So now when Jones says in his recent interview for the Dallas Cowboys Year End Special, that airs this weekend in many of the Dallas Cowboys Television Network markets, "I saw things about our head coach that really give me a lot of promise about not only 2013 but for years to come. Now I'm excited about Jason Garrett, and so I think that we can take those kinds of positives, and Jason Garrett is certainly one of them from my evaluation … ," few believe him.

         Same with the staff shakeup. No matter if Garrett thought change was needed at defensive coordinator, automatically it was Jerry firing Rob Ryan, and it was Jerry certainly shaking up the offensive staff as if enthusiastically making a dirty martini.

         So when he says of trying to take the positives from last year and improve on that "it did entail quite a position staff change, and rest assured that Jason Garrett, our head coach, "made those changes," of course he likely gets a collective, yeah, yeah, sure response.

         Perception, remember.

         Now then, the Cowboys hire Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator, and he entices Rod Marinelli to join him as defensive line coach. They bring in Rich Bisaccia as the special teams coach, and will take their time filling coaching positions at running back, tight end and wide receiver.

         Immediately those are Jerry hires.

         But did anyone take the time to consider Garrett had a working relationship with all three of those guys at Tampa Bay in 2004? Remember, his contract with the Giants expired that offseason, and when he wasn't re-signed as the backup the Bucs signed him. Garrett spent the entire spring, summer and training camp with the Bucs before he was released.

         Yet he returned for three weeks that season after Chris Simms was injured before getting released again and then hooking up with former Cowboys assistant Jim Bates at Miami after Jay Fiedler went down. Kiffin and Marinelli were at Tampa Bay that 2004 season. So, too, Bisaccia, who likely also was given a good recommendation by someone close to Garrett, Norv Turner, after his past two seasons in San Diego with the Cowboys former offensive coordinator.

         As for Garrett's position on the defensive side, during the TV special he said concerning being around Kiffin for that season: "I learned so much from him, and to have an opportunity to have him on staff here is a great opportunity for the Cowboys. …

"(Marinelli) and Monte were really joined at the hip in their time at Tampa. … When you pair Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli up on the defensive side of the ball you have an impressive duo."

         And as Jones said in the interview that isn't scheduled to show locally until next Saturday on CBS-11, "(Jason) basically sat down and said, 'Here's the kind of coach I want.' He did the evaluation, he basically said, 'Jerry, here's who I want to get.'"

         Jones also pointed out changing assistant coaches before their contracts expire becomes "an expensive proposition," but that the cost of honoring the final years on those contracts became "trite" in terms of "making some of the changes that our head coach wanted regarding his staff."

         Remember, Jones didn't build a billion-dollar stadium by throwing money around foolishly on change for change sake.

         Funny thing about the perception of these staff changes seems to be this: When Jones uttered his "uncomfortable" proclamation, the general reaction seemed to be, yeah, that's right, we're tired of being 8-8. *But when the Cowboys did shake things up, it was like, *what the heck is Jerry doing? Can you have it both ways?

And then let's get to the elephant in the room: Who will be calling plays? Jones certainly hinted at the Senior Bowl there could be a change; that Garrett would become more of a walk-around head coach instead of the head coach/offensive coordinator/play-caller, exactly what many of the fans had been calling for most of this past year. Now, Jones never dismissed the notion more so than he announced an impending change, which he didn't.

But then when leaving open the possibility, the immediate reaction was, *Jerry is undermining his head coach. *Again, which way you want it?

And to that, when asked about a potential change in play-caller on a coinciding interview now posted on, Jones said, "Let me say this, I must say this, it has never been an issue with Jason Garrett – never. That was his GM, that was me that by having him come in here as play-caller and doing that for the very first time, being the play-caller for the last six years it was me that said I prefer it that the head coach is doing the offensive play-calling, to the extent that (if) he – he – decides he would like to do it another way is not a takeaway.

"It will be in his judgment as head coach of the football team the best way to win a game. It doesn't have anything to do with a lack of confidence in our head coach's part to how well he can call the plays."

And it shouldn't if you take time to look at the numbers over the six years Garrett has served as either offensive coordinator or head coach, calling the plays from both positions. Because over the last six seasons the Cowboys offense ranks fourth in the NFL in total yards. Only the Saints, Patriots and Texans rank higher.

When it comes to total points over the past six seasons, the Cowboys' 24.1-point average ranks seventh, a tenth of a point from sixth and one point from fifth. Passing offense? Fourth behind the Saints, Patriots and Packers. Now the disconnect is rushing offense, where the Cowboys rank 22nd, 108.6 a game, a number that plummeted further after this season's franchise low 79 yards a game.

As Garrett says, "You look at that stuff and say, 'Boy a lot of that stuff is good and we want to build on that stuff and continue down that track with our football team.' But having said that, this is an opportunity to add some people, to add some influence to our offense to hopefully, if there is a tweak for us that can help us get a little bit better and help us break through as a football team."

All of which brings us back to Jerry Jones when I sarcastically asked after hearing all this, "So you're not cutting the legs out from underneath (Garrett)?"

As you can see watching the video, he didn't exactly smile before going on to say, "You know, I'm defensive and I guess I am sitting here defensive about that, but it's just not in any way the way that it is. Jason is putting together, as he should be, a staff and philosophy on every phase of the team and allocating his time relative to allocating the time of his staff in helping us win a football game now and in the future – now being '13 and in the future.

"I'm excited, boy we got a good man in Jason Garrett putting this together for us … so one of the things I'm happiest about is who we got putting this together in Jason Garrett."

Makes you wonder now, doesn't it? That quite possibly there truly is a disconnect between perception and reality.

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