- Associated Press - Monday, December 27, 2010

IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has had nearly two months to get a head start on hiring his next coach. He says he’s put it to good use.

Although Jones says Monday he hasn’t contacted anyone _ even informally _ he has been refining his list of candidates. Without giving away any names, he said it will include fewer than the 10 prospects he hired last time.

“I doubt that we will have that kind of extensive interviewing,” he said.

Interim coach Jason Garrett seems to be near the top of the list, especially since Jones said Dallas’ loss to Arizona on Saturday night did not hurt his chances.

“A game like the other night gives you two perspectives,” Jones said. “You can take a look at the last five or six ballgames and you can be critical of it, or you can take a look at it and have some positive things to look at it, too.

“I’m looking at it from the positive. … I’m not negative about that game as it relates to future decisions with our coaches.”

The Cowboys are 4-3 since Garrett replaced Wade Phillips. They were 1-7 when the change was made, and had been crushed the past two games.

The losses under Garrett have been by a combined seven points. There’s no shame in losing by a field goal to NFC East champion Philadelphia and to Super Bowl champion New Orleans among the teams that narrowly beat them. However, losing to Arizona _ and making all sorts of Phillips-era mistakes _ left Jones saying afterward he was “mad as hell.”

Having a few days to cool off, Jones apparently prefers to remember Dallas overcoming deficits of 14-0 and 21-3 to lead in the final minutes, with third-string quarterback Stephen McGee rallying the club in his NFL debut.

“I like the way our team hung in there, coming back in an adverse situation,” Jones said.

Jones was vague about his timetable, stressing how much the ongoing labor negotiations will be a factor. That, too, could be interpreted as being pro-Garrett.

If a lockout hits in early March, a new coach would have less time to dig in, whereas Garrett already has a half-season head start.

“If you’re putting in new systems, that’s going to be tough with a shortened offseason,” Jones said.

Jones can’t give Garrett the job yet anyway because of the Rooney Rule, which requires him to interview at least one minority candidate. Receivers coach Ray Sherman is likely to be among those Jones interviews, although he said such a decision wouldn’t be made to fill a quota.

“It’s just too logical for me if we’ve got qualified people on our staff to interview them,” Jones said.

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