There's a reason so many of the NFL's coaching vacancies got filled this week. Next week is Senior Bowl, and it's time to get down to serious business. Coaches from every team will head to Mobile, Ala., to begin an offseason of evaluations. Some of the new ones will hire assistants while there. It is time to move past the speculative phase of the NFL offseason and into the reality of staff and roster construction for 2013.
Which is why it's time for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to stop with the "people are going to be uncomfortable around here" phase of his offseason. Jones has made his point. He's fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and running backs coach Skip Peete. He's seen special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis leave to take the same job with the Bears. He has made behind-the-scenes noise about bringing in an offensive playcaller to take some responsibility away from head coach Jason Garrett, and there have been reports that he's trying to get Garrett to fire his own brother, who's the team's tight ends coach.
This is all, in the context of mid-January, perfectly acceptable behavior. The Cowboys have been 8-8 for each of the past two seasons, and changing things on the coaching staff is a fine idea if the idea is to improve and do better in key areas next year and beyond. And if Jones' management style is to make people uncomfortable in order to deliver the message that the status quo is unacceptable, good for him. He wouldn't be the first.
But it's time for Jones to stop, because it's time for the Cowboys (like all of the other teams) to set themselves to the business of preparing for the 2013 season. And for that to happen as effectively as possible, the people in charge need to know there's a plan and a vision in place and that it's coherent and directed. If Jones wants to bring in a playcaller because he doesn't think Garrett can handle it (and he certainly has evidence to support this position), then he should do it. Don't just let everybody keep speculating about it. If Jones, who is the team's general manager as well as its owner, has an idea about the way the organization should be run, he should implement it, and once he did so, it wouldn't hurt to stand up in public and explain it to his fans and customers.
The way Jones is operating lends itself to speculation that crazy ol' Jerry is up to his crazy ol' impatient tricks again, making changes out of anger, or in an effort to project the kind of anger he thinks his team's disappointed fans want to see from him. It appears as though he's ignoring all of the positive feelings that developed around the team during its first 14 games and overreacting to the final two. If that's what he's doing, then he's reached the point in the offseason at which the responsible thing to do is to stop and let the people he's paying to run the team do their jobs without looking over their shoulders. If that's not what he's doing, then his job as a leader is to step forward and explain the rationale behind all of the commotion that has taken hold of the Cowboys in the past couple of weeks.
Jones has done what he said he would do -- make things uncomfortable around the Cowboys and communicate his belief that changes are necessary to break the team out of its 8-8 rut. Again, no problem with that. But for a couple of years now, Jones has insisted that he believes in Garrett and wants to put him in the best possible position to be a great NFL head coach. Allowing reports and speculation about a reduction in Garrett's power is not the way to do that. Jones risks weakening Garrett's stature among his coaches and his players. If he truly does believe in him, then he needs to start showing support again -- making it clear he's sticking with Garrett and his plan and vision, presenting the changes as necessary and having been made with Garrett's input. If he doesn't truly believe in him, well the time to do something about that was a couple of weeks ago, when everybody was firing coaches and he'd have had his pick of candidates.
For better or for worse, Garrett appears to be Jones' guy for 2013. At some point, whether it's still true or not, Jones likely will profess his faith that Garrett is the right man for the job. But if he keeps acting the way he's been acting for the past couple of weeks, that proclamation will sound more hollow than ever. Leaders get to a point where they have to trust in their people and trust in their plan. Jones is at that point now, and it's time for him to act that way.