IRVING, Texas -- Twenty-six years ago today, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys and fired Tom Landry.
Among Jones’ biggest regrets is how poorly he handled the dismissal of the iconic coach. Last year Jones said he should have taken former owner Bum Bright up on his offer to fire Landry, who was coming off three straight losing seasons.
Ever since that day Jones has been searching for his Landry.
While no coach will last 29 years in one spot again, like Landry did, Jason Garrett has the chance to become Landry-like for Jones.
When the Cowboys announced Garrett’s five-year extension worth $30 million last month, Jones said he naively believed Jimmy Johnson would have a 10-year contract, like Landry, and everything would work out because that’s how it happened with Landry.
Clearly that didn’t happen and Johnson left after five seasons. Since Johnson, Jones has had Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Garrett as head coach.
Switzer and Parcells lasted four full seasons. Phillips was fired midway through his fourth season. Campo lasted three straight 5-11 seasons. Gailey lasted two seasons but made the playoffs both times.
Garrett is starting his fifth full season as the Cowboys’ head coach. He was the interim coach for eight games in 2010 after Phillips’ firing.
He has posted a 41-31 record as coach, finally breaking that 8-8 hurdle in 2014 with a 12-4 record and an NFC East title.
Speaking from the NFL scouting combine last week, Jones was not asked a question about Garrett until the 75th minute of a 90-minute session.
“What’s to ask?” Jones laughed.
Last year there was plenty to ask. The three straight 8-8 finishes were an indictment on the Cowboys' personnel but also on Garrett. His team missed out on the playoffs with three straight Week 17 losses from 2011-13. Garrett’s job security was raised to Jones at just about every offseason event he attended.
Jones maintained belief in Garrett and consistently said Garrett had a long-term future with the Cowboys even if few believed Jones’ words because his actions -- or lack thereof on a contract -- said otherwise.
But in 2014 Garrett flourished. Freed from overseeing every detail of the offense with the hiring of Scott Linehan, a trusted confidante, Garrett was able to be a walkaround head coach.
“My biggest responsibility here was to assess that for the future and quantify it for the future,” Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine. “This was not a reward. You can say the contract is a reward. You wouldn't have gotten it if you had not done good. For me, this was an assessment of this guy can coach. This guy has soaked it up.”
Jones paid for Garrett to learn on the job, so to speak. The payoff for Jones’ patience came in 2014. For Garrett, the chance to step away from the offense worked out well.
“I think when you’re a head coach and you’re calling the defensive signals or you’re calling the plays on offense, you still want to be the head coach of the whole football team,” Garrett said. “I made a concerted effort when I became the head coach, when I was calling plays, to do that. I tried to sit in meetings on the defensive side, be with the special-teams group. But there’s a logistical aspect to it too. When you’re the offensive coordinator and playcaller, you have to prepare for that. I just think as much as anything else, once we got Scott Linehan in here to handle that role, I could really, truly spend my time equally between and among those three different units.
“I think that’s an important thing. It’s not only the time during the week. It’s time during the game. It’s the emotions, addressing the different weaknesses that you might have on the football team, try to shore those up. I just think it allowed me to do that better.”
It’s what Jones hoped would happen in 2013 when he forced Bill Callahan to be the playcaller, but that did not work out well because Callahan was not as familiar with the Cowboys' passing game. Linehan’s background with Garrett, having worked together with the Miami Dolphins, and their similar offensive systems made Garrett more comfortable.
Now Garrett spends more time with the defense, trying to learn more about the whys and hows of Rod Marinelli’s scheme. He does the same thing with special teams.
“He is not the same guy he was when he joined us as offensive coordinator and certainly not the same guy he was when he was playing quarterback for the Cowboys,” Jones said. “This guy has evolved. He has shown abilities to operate with duress. He has shown ability to be reasonable when needed, unreasonable when needed. He will confront any areas that need to be confronted. Will he do it with skill? Yes. Does he set it up so when he needs correct he can? Has he built a proper deal to correct staff or players? Is he good with communicating any need he has with the league, with the organization, all of those things? I gave him $6 million a year for five years.”