ARLINGTON, Texas – Eight and Eight.
Eight and Eight.
Eight and Eight.
Three full seasons of Jason Garrett as coach of the Dallas Cowboys has produced three 8-8 seasons, zero playoff appearances and countless gut-punch endings – the latest a 24-22 loss here Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles with the NFC East title on the line.
Virtually anywhere in the NFL, there'd be an overhaul. New coach. New general manager. New something. In Dallas, the league's most popular and arguably passionately followed team?
"No, I'm not addressing that at all," owner Jerry Jones said. "I have spoken at a little bit of a more appropriate time here three or four weeks ago, which I said, at the time, that I was with Jason, and I thought that his future and what he was going to be doing with us was good.
"But this isn't the time, despite how it feels or looks, to speak to anything about our coaches."
Jones didn't have to say much. It's overwhelmingly likely Garrett will be back. There was nothing in Jones' message, nothing ever in his message that Garrett won't be back. Jones believes Garrett is the coach to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title.
Based on scant evidence that this is some coaching genius in hiding (Garrett's 29-27 overall in 3½ seasons), Jones is either clairvoyant or crazy. Not that it matters. He owns the team. The apoplectic radio callers don't.
As for firing the general manager who delivers Garrett the players to coach, well, he isn't getting fired, either. Jones does that job himself, even though he admitted last year, that based on performance, he deserved to be fired. Except, he's the boss, so deal with it.
"It's unbelievable, unthinkable really for me to be sitting here three years in a row and this game putting us at .500 and this game eliminating us from the playoffs," Jones said, accurately reflecting the mood of Cowboy fans everywhere.
"I had thought some of the changes we made this year would put us in better overall shape, our defense."
Last year Jones kept Garrett, but ran off Rob Ryan, the team's defensive coordinator. Ryan wound up in New Orleans, which is going to the playoffs. This year, Garrett is likely safe, but the Cowboys may fire defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who replaced Ryan.
"It's extremely disappointing," Jones said.
Among other things, Jerry Jones needs to hire a real GM and give him real power. That much is obvious. Jones' theory is that he knows the franchise better than anyone, and whatever decision a GM made would still have to get his approval, so why not just cut out the middle man?
The problem is the middle man might consider a path that Jones hasn't. One of the reasons Garrett is believed to be safe is that Jones says he's invested a great deal into him. As such, there is little suggestion that he's looked around for a better option.
Yet there on the other sideline Sunday was Chip Kelly, rookie coach of the Eagles who Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie boldly tracked and recruited to replace longtime coach Andy Reid last season. The move wasn't easy, but Philly went from 4-12 to 10-6 and hosting New Orleans Saturday in the playoffs.
Business owners always get the final say on their businesses. That's how it works. Yet owning a professional sports franchise is unique. It's the rare business where the owner has made his money, and holds an expertise, in a different industry. If you start at a small, family Arkansas five-and-dime and turn it into Walmart, the basic principles of operating a shop are still there. Not so – or rarely so – in the NFL. It's often just a toy of the mega-rich.
Jones, 71, made his money in oil. He did play football at the University of Arkansas in the 1960s. That offers some experience, except football has changed dramatically since the University of Arkansas in the 1960s.
The proof, really, is in the record. Not to mention the reaction to said record that has a franchise standing around, too scared or unprepared to make a move as the 8-8 seasons pile up.
"You keep banging away," Garrett said. "You just keep banging away."
But what if the job calls for something other than a hammer?
"There are a lot of great stories in people of all walks of life who are close and just keep fighting and battling," Garrett said. "You just have to be persistent. You have to keep battling and somehow, someway, we'll break through."
Somehow and someway.
After another 8-8 season, that's the plan for Jerry Jones' Cowboys.
Or the prayer.