Former head coaches offer perspective for Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. – Sometimes being a head coach can be a lonely position.

There are so many issues that come up on a daily, if not hourly, basis. They could be player related, personnel related, coaching staff related, management related. It’s part of the reason Bill Parcells liked to say, “I’m just trying to keep my own house from burning down.”

Jason Garrett enters his third full season as the Cowboys’ head coach with an overhauled coaching staff. Only four -- Wes Phillips, Wade Wilson, Chris Boniol and Keith O’Quinn -- remain from when he took over in the middle of the 2010 season.

Of the six new coaches on his staff in 2013, three have head coaching experience: Derek Dooley, Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin. Bill Callahan, who is the fourth former head coach on Garrett’s staff, joined the Cowboys last year.

“I definitely believe that when you sat in that chair you have a better appreciation of what a head coach goes through,” said Dooley, who headed up Louisiana Tech (2007-09) and Tennessee (2010-12) before coming in as Garrett’s wide receivers coach. “For an assistant coach, when you’re face with all these tough decisions as a head coach, we say, ‘I would’ve done this or that,’ and maybe you don’t have the perspective he does and maybe you don’t realize the four other things that affect it that might be why he made that decision. If you experience being a head coach and you can put your ego aside, you become really a better assistant. You can serve the head coach in a better capacity because you understand the challenges he’s facing and understand what decisions are made and the way they are made.”

Considering that Garrett may be on the hot seat after consecutive 8-8 seasons, surrounding himself with former head coaches might not be viewed as the wise thing to do. If owner and general manager Jerry Jones ever wanted to make an in-season change, he would have plenty of in-house candidates.

But Garrett feels secure in his position.

“I rely on all those guys all the time,” Garrett said. “We’re having constant conversations about how to do things, is this the right way, what do you think about that? And all the guys give great insight.”

Marinelli was Detroit’s head coach from 2006-08. Kiffin was the head coach at North Carolina State from 1980-82. Callahan was Oakland’s head coach in 2002-03 and Nebraska's from 2004-07.

“You see the big picture at times,” Marinelli said. “I think that’s one of the benefits. You usually climb because you’re good at doing certain things as a position coach or a coordinator. I think it’s important that you bring that expertise to the table every day.”

Garrett’s decision to give up play-calling duties to Callahan was not easy. He enjoyed doing it. He was good at it. On game day, though, the hope is that he will now be freed up to better handle time management and other issues that will arise. Without play-calling duties during practice, Garrett can roam the field more to study every player and every group.

He can also interact with more players.

“There’s nobody that does a better job of all the coaches I’ve been with than Jason does spending time and getting prepared for a team meeting or talking to players one on one,” Callahan said. “He’s the best at it.”