ARLINGTON, Texas -- After the Dallas Cowboys committed six turnovers in a preseason loss to the Arizona Cardinals, coach Jason Garrett spent even more time than usual emphasizing the importance of avoiding turnovers. When DeMarco Murray fumbled on the Cowboys' fifth play in Saturday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Garrett wanted to make sure every player received his message, even though Dallas recovered the fumble.
So he told Murray to take a seat until the third quarter.
Murray responded the way a consummate professional should -- with a strong, determined performance, culminating with him breaking four tackles on a 7-yard touchdown catch.
If you think about it, Garrett began holding players more and more publicly accountable the past few months. It's a definite shift in philosophy.
After all, we're talking about a coach who wrapped his arm around Tony Romo's waist and seemingly whispered sweet nothings in his ear after an interception return for a touchdown gave the New York Giants a 23-0 first-quarter lead last October.
Although Garrett benched Dez Bryant as a punt returner in that game, Garrett has been a coach who has preferred to publicly shield his players -- even when we could all see they had screwed up. Remember how Garrett refused to strongly criticize Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree for failing to hustle back to the huddle in the Cowboys' last-second loss to Baltimore last season?
Now, he's ripping Romo for holding onto the ball too long and taking a sack that knocked the Cowboys out of field goal range against Cincinnati. He benched Murray, and he's held rookies such as J.J. Wilcox and B.W. Webb publicly accountable when they've had poor preseason games.
More than once in training camp, Garrett pulled a player from a drill for making a mental mistake or committing a pre-snap penalty. We saw him yell at receivers for using sloppy technique getting off the line of scrimmage and yank the entire offense for a series after someone made a mental mistake.
Last November, we all knew Doug Free was playing poorly. Garrett honestly answered questions about Free's performance and criticized the right tackle with the four-year, $32 million contract for not being physical enough.
When the poor play continued, Garrett made the veteran split time with unheralded Jermey Parnell the rest of the season.
The reality is Garrett is evolving. He's growing more confident and secure in his ability to lead this team.
Now, he's probably never going to admit it publicly, which is fine. He doesn't have to. We can all see it.
See, you have to earn the right to publicly discipline players without them rebelling. It's really no different from earning the right to discipline your kids.
You do it by loving them. And providing for them. And taking care of them when they're sick.
You break them down. You build them up.
During the process, trust builds and children learn you have only their best interests at heart. Once that happens, you have them.
Coaches, in a sense, aren't any different.
They must earn the right to publicly discipline their players by providing consistent leadership and an atmosphere that demands excellence. Occasionally, coaches need to admit when they screw up, and, from time to time, they must subjugate their ego for the team.
Look at how Garrett handled his own public butt-kicking with dignity.
There's no other way to describe Jerry Jones telling Garrett to give up the play calling and become a walk-around head coach. Garrett's identity was wrapped up in calling plays and the offense's success, whether he realized it or not.
These days, his identity is wrapped up in making the entire team better.
He'll tell you he's always strived to coach the entire football team. And he did try. He just wasn't that good at it.
Having Bill Callahan call the plays while Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli run the defense gives Garrett the best opportunity to succeed.
Sure, it's only a preseason game, but who knows if Garrett would have benched Murray for the rest of the first half if he had committed the same mistake last season. Maybe he'd have been too wrapped up in talking to Romo and making adjustments for the next series.
No one expects him to bench Romo if he throws an interception or two in the opener against the Giants. And no one really expects him to bench Murray for one fumble during the season.
But if Murray can get benched, so can almost anyone else.
A precedent of accountability has been set. Let's hope it continues.