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Spagnola: Sometimes Common Sense Must Step In Front Of The Firing Line

IRVING, Texas– Jason Garrett is the eighth head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the eighth guy to occupy that same office out here at The Ranch.

         Over the past 31 years, I've been here with all eight, arriving in Landry's 25th season, coined on the front cover of that year's media guide as Dallas Cowboys Silver Season, with a 25 in the middle of the star logo.

         That means during this time there has been seven new head coaches to move into that office and seven head coaches to depart that office. And for some reason, this picture of Landry, after 29 seasons, cleaning out his desk after all those years is cemented into my memory. Even more so over the years every time walking in there.

         But that seven teams currently are looking for new head coaches, and this after seven teams ousted their head coaches after the 2014 season, made me think of this:

         Tom Landry would never have become Tom Landry in this day and age. The Dallas Cowboys might never have become the Dallas Cowboys they have been known for all these years. Not if Cowboys original owner Clint Murchison Jr. had a quick trigger finger.

         Landry would have been fired after the franchise's first four seasons. No way today any owner puts up with four consecutive years of 0-11-1, 4-9-1, 5-8-1 and 4-10, even if the poor head coach inherited an expansion franchise without the benefit of the NFL Draft that first season. That guy is way gone, maybe even after the first three years. Heck, only took Tampa Bay two seasons of 2-14 and then 6-10 while starting a rookie quarterback to oust Lovie Smith.

         Now, the fans haven't changed. Nor has the media. They were all calling for accountability – and Landry's head – for those losing seasons by 1963. They had tired of this Texan, in his first job as an NFL head coach. Patience had worn thin.

         So with his head coach under fire and entering the final year of his initial five-year contract, Murchison called a press conference in February of 1964 and … tweaked everyone's noses, handing Landry an unprecedented 10-year contract extension.

         Even at that, the Cowboys got off to a woeful start in '64, going 1-4-1, before winning three straight, only to lose four of the last five and come limping in at 5-8-1 that season. And get this: The Cowboys began the 1965 season 2-5, losing five straight after winning the first two.

         Man, long gone, right? Landry would never have made it in this day and age to Game 8 that year.

         Well, the rest is history. The Cowboys, after pulling together for a 7-7 record that year, ran off an NFL historic streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-1985, along with qualifying for the playoffs in 18 of those years – 1974 and 1984 the lone exceptions.

         You know the rest of the story of that first NFL expansion franchise.

         But there never would have been a Tom Landry without the patience of Murchison and Tex Schramm. Never. Ever.

         There is virtue in stability. There is something to be said for continuity. Sometimes looking past the record to the whys and how comes is ultimately important. Look at the players. Do they respond to the head coach? Do they play hard? Were they in all but two games they played during the season?

         And that brings us to Jason Garrett and today's Dallas Cowboys. For the first time since he took over a 1-7 team in 2010, there is a blip on the radar. A 4-12 season has followed 12-4, which in turned followed three consecutive 8-8 seasons of actually building this franchise back up from the ruins of that 1-7 start he somehow turned into 6-10 that year.

         So those calling for his head come as no surprise. I mean, that's what you're supposed to do when frustration runneth over. That's what the media is supposed to do, opening that book of Natural Reactions, even if a year ago Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was being lauded for handing Garrett, who had coached out his contract, a shiny new five-year deal. Why, he was voted GM of the year.

         Strange, isn't it? How everyone, Jones and Garrett, and to some extent offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, lauded for his guidance in 2014 that led to the Cowboys averaging 29.2 points a game, along with defensive quarterback Rod Marinelli, credited with "Marinelli Magic" for turning the worst NFL defense in 2013 to an average group in 2014, all grew stupid in less than a year.

         You'se guys need to stifle.

         Good thing cooler heads prevail down the breezeway, then around the hallway out here at The Ranch.

           They have taken a pragmatic view of this atrocious season, not an emotional one, which would lead to getting rid of this guy and getting rid of that guy, throwing the whole thing out the window after building and building and building the previous four seasons.

         "You see the best of people. The best of people come out when there is adversity, and certainly he was faced with it; there is nothing fun about being a part of a 4-12 football team," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said of Garrett's 2015 season. "He did keep the team motivated. I felt like week in, week out we were right there, having a chance to win each and every game. Even toward the end, when it was pretty obvious we weren't going to have a successful season, I thought we battled. Even a game like Green Bay that looks like it got away there at the end."

         Yep, something most who subscribe to this season being abject failure forget. Take Green Bay, at Green Bay, in the cold and rain. You know, the Packers, the 10-6 team in the playoffs this weekend. With 8:15 left in the game, the Packers, leading only 14-7, were facing a third-and-9 at the Dallas 48. The Cowboys defense shut down the Packers receivers at the snap. The front got pressure on Aaron Rodgers.[embeddedad0]

         They just didn't contain him, Rodgers, avoiding Tyrone Crawford's diving tackle attempt, runs out for 11 yards and a crushing first down just when it appeared the Cowboys would get a stop and the ball back. Well, they didn't, that play the impetus to the Packers' eventual clinching touchdown with just 4:44 left to play. Look, not bad for a team on its third starting quarterback, the 28-7 final when the Packers then scored a garbage-time TD making it look a lot worse than it really was.

         "You never saw any give-up in the football team," Jones said. "I give Jason credit, our coaching staff credit. I credit our players for continuing to work, and this will pay off for them. Any time you go through tough times, adversity, it hardens you.

         "I think we'll be a better overall team for it in the future."

         Oh yes, the future, one without an overhaul. One without a completely new coaching staff. One without a new offensive and defensive system, the side effects of bringing in a new head coach – stability overruling overreaction.

         These head coaches are coaches, not miracle workers, and having to play with four quarterbacks in one season and mostly without your Pro Bowl receiver is a recipe for disaster. As it was the last time – and only other time – the Cowboys played with four starting quarterbacks in one season, that being the 5-11 year of 2001. Go ask poor Dave Campo about that. Go ask Chan Gailey what life was like in 1999 when losing Michael Irvin for the season, and his career, the team finishing 8-8 after getting off to a 3-0 start with him.

         Certainly these are not times for the Cowboys to bury their heads in the sand. They must improve, must get better, must get healthy, must score big-time with that fourth pick in the draft. But these, too, are times for common sense, not panic.

         "I thought Coach Garrett was incredible," Romo said. "I think when he looks back he'll see. … He's not going to look that way right now because he's going to try to evaluate and find answers, and he's going to exhaust himself to make sure that this doesn't happen again. But he was really incredible in getting our football team to play consistently at a very, very high level as far as effort, energy, just week to week. He really has the pulse of the team, and it was a great thing to watch.

"As you lose that many games in a row, it can be very difficult to continue to get great effort by a lot of proud professionals. I think that Coach Garrett just did an incredible job of allowing us to have a chance as the weeks went on through his ability to just motivate, connect and really drive the team in that direction."

Jerry and Stephen Jones did, too, maybe taking a page out of the Cowboys glorious past, realizing how the franchise finally got this whole thing off the ground.

         So here's to betting somewhere Coach Landry is smiling.

         Murchison, too, probably winking at ya'll.

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