Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is a firm believer in history, and its uncanny ability to repeat itself.
There are two coaches in the Dallas Cowboys illustrious history that standout; two coaches who built dynasties with the same team that have produced a record 8 Super Bowl appearances, tied with the Pittsburgh SteelersÂ—the late Tom Landry, winner of two Super Bowls and five appearances; and Jimmy Johnson, winner of two Lombardi trophies. Barry Switzer, who coached from 1994-1997, winning the last Super Bowl in 1995. Both Landry and Johnson reached the pinnacle of professional football more than once, yet arrived there from different directions.
Perhaps a sign of the times, Jerry Jones, after purchasing the team from a disenchanted H.R. "Bum" Bright, unceremoniously retired Tom LandryÂ— the only head coach the Dallas Cowboys had for a record 29 years, a record some agree may never be brokenÂ—choosing rather to put the future of his new team into the hands of Jimmy Johnson. Johnson, a successful coach at the collegiate level, but unproven at the professional level, took the reins of a team that finished in much the same way it started, under the leadership of Landry, with a record of 3-13 in 1988.
It wasn't just losing that weighed heavily on Bum Bright; the Savings and Loan crisis of the 80s and 90s was, in fact, what spurred the FSLIC to actually push Bright and the Cowboys right into Jerry Jones' waiting arms. And for the bargain price of around 140 million dollars, Jones became the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
Hiring Johnson as head coach was a given for Jones; not only were the two old friends from their college days, Jones also knew absolutely nothing about football. Their first draft together bought them quarterback Troy Aikman (UCLA), the first pick in 1989 draft. A slew of future draft picks from the notorious Herschel Walker trade followed. Johnson, despite going 1-15 his first year as head coach, wasted no time in putting his mark on the team. His no-nonsense approach to coaching and discipline quickly began to chip away at the losing mentality that had permeated its way into the once proud, once feared franchise.
During this time, Jerry Jones got a crash course in owning and managing an NFL franchise. Under Johnson, success came easy. Easy enough, that Jones wasn't going to stand by and let Johnson, friends or not, take all the credit. The two parted ways after the 1993 season. Perhaps as vindication, Jones brought in another successful college coach, Barry Switzer, who took basically the same team Johnson built to a third Super Bowl in 3 years. In spite of Switzers' success, he became just another rider on Jones' coaching carousel, being the third of 8 coaches to be fired.
It's no surprise that Jerry Jones, in spite of his "good" intentions, gets most of the blame for the sub-standard play of the Cowboys over the past 15 years. Even the veteran, Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells, could only stand so much meddling from Jones. When Jones brought in the eccentric, egomaniac Terrell Owens, trumping his coach, Parcells knew his time was limited. In an obvious slap in the face to Wade Phillips, successor to Parcells, Jones brought in Jason Garrett, not too far removed from his own playing days, as offensive coordinator, and future head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Jones went as far as paying Garrett equal to Phillips. It was no coincidence that the Cowboys began to decline at all levels of play under Phillips. The pressure of coaching the Cowboys, the standards set by Jerry Jones, as well as the fans were just too much for the mild-mannered Phillips. After a disastrous 1-7 start to the 2010 season, Phillips, like Landry, perhaps just as unceremoniously, was fired by Jones.
Enter Jason Garrett. Under Johnson, the Dallas Cowboys, like Rome, weren't built in day. Garrett is already seeing a similar pattern develop, saying, "We're trying to build our football team for 2012, but we're also trying to build a football program," Garrett said. "To put a program in place that's going to have sustained winning for years to come. 'Build' is an important word for us. It's something we've talked about a lot this offseason. I think the values that I have are shared by the people in our organization. We've done it a lot of different ways with the Cowboys through the years, but I would argue that the football character of the Super Bowl teams in the '90s was outstanding. They loved to play football. They worked hard at it. There was great spirit to them. They loved it and they worked hard at it and they understood what 'team' was."
History has always had a love-hate relationship with the Dallas Cowboys. If it has its way, Garrett's tenure with the Cowboys may be one of the shortest, in spite of Jones' wishful thinking that Garrett may be the last coach under him. Jones has been a staunch supporter of every coach he has employed from the beginning, yet, including Garrett, the Cowboys have had nine head coaches.
In Garrett's favor, he has the history of eight prior head coaches to draw from. Also in his favor and to a greater extent having actually played for him, Garrett has chosen to follow in Jimmy Johnson's footsteps. Johnson didn't coddle his players. Jerry Jones does. Jason Garrett is the coach. Perhaps Garrett believes that he won't be the coach of the Cowboys forever, regardless of Jones' prior claim.
It would behoove Jason Garrett to take the reins from Jerry Jones in the style of his former coach, and make the Cowboys his own. Ultimately, it will not only benefit Garrett and the legacy he wishes to leave, but the players, who, for the last 15 years have had only one true head coach in Jerry Jones.