IRVING, Texas -- His 29-27 record indicates that Jason Garrett is an average NFL head coach.
But a poll of 30 league insiders, conducted by ESPN.com ‘s Mike Sando, isn’t nearly as kind to the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach. Only Cleveland’s Mike Pettine and Oakland’s Dennis Allen ranked lower than Garrett.
30. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys (3.67 average)
It was tough for voters to give Garrett a high grade based on on-field results, but there was also a pervasive feeling that any coach would struggle to succeed in Dallas given owner Jerry Jones' leadership style and decision-making. Multiple voters thought Jones was the one responsible for the disastrous change from Rob Ryan to Monte Kiffin at defensive coordinator, for example. "Tough place, tough everything," said a longtime executive with a background in multiple organizations. "Garrett is a smart guy, but he doesn't reach everybody."
A current GM gave Garrett a 3. "His circumstances are way more difficult than people realize," this GM said. "Some people think they have underachieved. I think they may have overachieved under the circumstances. They have been very good offensively."
A former GM said he could envision Garrett getting fired, landing somewhere as a coordinator and then succeeding as a head coach for a different organization down the line. "He could emerge as a really good head coach who has been tested by fire," this former GM said.
Garrett should garner no sympathy because he works for a dysfunctional franchise. He chose to stay with the Cowboys, turning down offers to become the head coach for the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons when he was Dallas’ offensive coordinator.
It’s not as if Garrett was blindsided by Jerry’s ways. His father, Jim, lived it as a longtime scout for the Cowboys. Garrett saw it up close as a backup quarterback during the franchise’s ‘90s glory days, when Jerry and head coach Jimmy Johnson divorced because they both wanted credit for the back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Garrett also benefited from Jerry’s unique management style. Remember, he was hired as the offensive coordinator before the Cowboys completed their search for a head coach and essentially appointed as the head coach in waiting before Wade Phillips’ job security became shaky.
There’s no question that Garrett knew exactly what he was getting into with Jerry. Maybe it’s a credit to Garrett that the Cowboys have managed to be mediocre despite the obstacles that come with the owner/general manager.
Then again, the Cowboys would have been good enough to make the playoffs at least twice during Garrett’s three full seasons if not for his game-management gaffes. That should be the primary criticism of him as a head coach.
Even with those issues and a lack of a playoff appearance, No. 30 out of 32 seems to be too low for a head coach who has been stuck in the middle of the pack.