Are Jason Garrett's Tampa ties proof there aren't puppet strings?

IRVING, Texas – For a 5-11 football team, the 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers must have had one heck of a training camp.

Former fourth-string quarterback Jason Garrett talked about that camp for much of his 27-minute soliloquy that opened his Wednesday press conference at Valley Ranch. Garrett regaled reporters with anecdotes about defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s attention to detail, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s “gimpy swagger” and special teams coordinator Rich Bisacia’s something or another.

Frankly, by the time Garrett got around to discussing Bisaccia, he might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher. At that point, my focus was on wondering how a man could talk that long without taking a sip of water or saying anything interesting.

Oh, and there was still the eager anticipation of Garrett announcing the offensive play-caller next season … which he eventually promised would happen at some point before the preseason opener. It apparently takes eight days to decide to change defensive schemes but eight months to figure out who should call offensive plays.

But let’s get back to that glorious Bucs camp, which Garrett called his “football grad school.” Garrett, who was cut at the end of the preseason and returned to the roster for less than a month in midseason, clearly wanted to emphasize his ties to the most accomplished additions to the Cowboys’ coaching staff this offseason.

In other words, Garrett tried as hard as possible to convince people there are no puppet strings attached to him, never mind the appearance that he’s been twisting in them for the last six weeks.

Garrett took a much more subtle approach than screaming that these weren’t just Jerry hires that potentially set the stage for Tampa-exes Jon Gruden or Lovie Smith to replace him. Garrett called the coaching changes “collective decisions.”

“One of the great things about this organization since I’ve been here is the communication between me as the head coach and the ownership and the decision-makers is really strong, and it’s always been strong,” Garrett said. “We’ve had great back-and-forth about a lot of the decisions we’ve made. We made a lot of personnel decisions through the years. We’ve made a number of staff decisions through the years and these were no different.”

His older brother, John, the former tight ends coach and passing game coordinator, being forced out seemed a bit different. But Garrett explained that “we felt like the best opportunity for him to grow was not to be here.” He didn’t mention that it was also the only opportunity for John, who landed in Tampa Bay as the receivers coach, to remain employed.

To be fair, Garrett dug in enough to prevent Jerry from hiring a playcaller from outside the organization. However, his stubborn hesitance to officially hand over the play-calling responsibilities to Bill Callahan smacks of a head coach desperate to hold on to what little real authority he has left.

The one really firm answer Garrett gave was a “yes” when asked whether picking a playcaller would ultimately be his decision. That didn’t necessarily make it believable.

The perception remains that Jerry stripped Garrett of his authority during this uncomfortable offseason. The in-house videos Jerry shot last week, claiming all the offseason decisions were Garrett’s, didn’t change that. Nor did Garrett’s nearly hour-long meeting with the media, when he repeatedly danced around the one important issue expected to be resolved Wednesday.

“Well, Jerry Jones is the owner and GM of the team,” Garrett said. “As far I can tell, there’s an owner and GM in 31 other cities. I know since I’ve been here as the head coach, he and I have had a really good relationship. We talk about a lot of different issues regarding personnel, scheme, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we’ve been doing and what we’re doing now and where we wanna go. We’ve had very candid conversations, and this offseason has been no different.

“And I have great respect for him as a football person and the owner and GM of this football team and our relationship. The lines of communication are open and we make collective decisions here and decisions we feel are in the best interest of the Cowboys.”

There’s an owner and a GM for every NFL team. Preferably, they’re two different people. But there’s only one Jerry.

Garrett knew that when he turned down better jobs to stay here as Wade Phillips’ successor, benefiting from the Jerry-bred dysfunction. He’s dealing with the downside after a pair of mediocre seasons that have made him as expendable as a fourth-string quarterback in training camp.