IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - Jason Garrett has never been a head coach before at any level. Yet the new leader of the Dallas Cowboys sure seemed ready for the challenge, judging by the confidence he displayed at his introductory news conference.
“Wade is no longer the coach. I am the coach and what we’re going to do going forward (is) get ready to have a great meeting, a great walkthrough and a great practice on Wednesday and give ourselves a chance to beat the Giants on Sunday,” Garrett said.
Coach Wade Phillips was fired Monday and Garrett was promoted from offensive coordinator to interim coach in hopes of salvaging a season headed toward becoming the worst in franchise history. Dallas is 1-7, its worst start since 1989 and a huge collapse for a team that won its division and a playoff game last season. The Cowboys were considered preseason favorites to make the Super Bowl, which happens to be coming to their new home stadium.
Owner-general manager Jerry Jones steadfastly supported Phillips throughout the team’s tailspin, even saying late last week that he wouldn’t make a coaching change this season. He said Monday he’d been “in denial” about how bad the club really is.
Jones decided enough was enough following a 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. It was the Cowboys‘ fifth straight loss and the third in a row that wasn’t even close. The defense has been mostly to blame, and that was Phillips‘ specialty. Defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni was promoted to replace Phillips as defensive coordinator.
“I told (players) they should not think this an admission of defeat or finality in this season,” Jones said. “We have eight games left and we have one goal _ to win.”
This is the first time Dallas has made an in-season coaching change. Garrett also becomes the first former Cowboys player to take over the job previously held by the likes of Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells.
“There’ll be some changes that I think will be tangible that people in our organization will notice right from the start,” Garrett said. “I think over time those changes will be implemented into our football team. They won’t be drastic changes. I just think the personality of the leader will come through a little bit.”
Jones was clearly unhappy and uncomfortable during the news conference announcing the change. He spoke slower than usual, with longer pauses, and fiddled with his glasses.
He called Phillips “somebody we thought so much of” and “a good friend, as well.” He wouldn’t provide details of his conversation with Phillips, and became emotional as he described breaking the news to the team. He said the focus of that speech was accountability.
“I spoke of the realization that it’s not just about yourself,” Jones said. “It impacts others.”
However, Garrett was No. 2 on the coaching depth chart and Jones has always thought highly of him. He’s been viewed as the team’s coach-in-waiting since he was hired _ days before Phillips came aboard, in fact. He’s among the highest-paid assistants in the league at $3 million.
“I do believe Jason has the temperament, he has the disposition to affect a culture change,” Jones said. “I think this is important. We know all men’s styles are different. His style is one that I feel can be very effective.”
Garrett was a backup quarterback behind Troy Aikman from 1993-99. He was the quarterbacks coach in Miami in 2005-06 before rejoining the club in 2007.
He’s had the title of assistant head coach since 2008, when he withdrew from other interviews to remain in Dallas. His father, Jim, spent 22 years in the organization, working for every coach but Phillips. Two of Jason’s brothers are on his staff: tight ends coach John and Judd, the director of pro scouting.
“I think he’s very consistent, very to the routine. I like him as a coach,” receiver Miles Austin said. “Hopefully it changes things for the better.”
Even if Jones wanted to make Garrett the permanent coach right now, he couldn’t because of the Rooney Rule, which requires interviewing minority candidates. Still, Garrett gets a chance to make a case for himself starting Sunday.
“I want to see the kind of effort (involved) in playing to win _ extraordinary effort, that you might not expect to see on a team that’s 1-7 right now,” Jones said. “That kind of action goes beyond a resume.”
The 63-year-old Phillips went 34-22 over 3 1/2 seasons, plus 1-2 in the postseason. Dallas won the NFC East twice on his watch. He has another year at more than $3 million left on his contract.
His career record as a coach with Dallas, Denver and Buffalo is 79-57, with only one losing record in eight full seasons. He made the playoffs five times, but won only one playoff game. Counting a 3-4 mark over two stints as an interim coach, Phillips has 82 regular-season wins, matching his father, former Houston and New Orleans coach Bum Phillips.
Wade Phillips released a statement thanking the fans and the Jones family “for all of the support” and thanking assistant coaches and players “for their loyalty and dedication.”
“I told the team today that I have been proud to be a part of their family and that will never change,” Phillips said. “I am disappointed in the results of this season to this point, but I am also very proud of what our team and our players accomplished in the previous three years. In good times and difficult times, our players stuck together and never lost hold of their belief in each other and the strong team bond that they have shared.”
This leadership handoff wasn’t very smooth.
Jones told Phillips around 1:45 p.m., shortly before players arrived at team headquarters. The story was first reported about that time by KTVT of Dallas-Fort Worth, so many players found out through the media.
About 2:15 p.m., Phillips walked through the hallway near team headquarters and said nothing was going on, that he was just going to check on injured players; he indeed went to the training room. Players finally heard it officially from Jerry and Stephen Jones around 3 p.m.
“It feels terrible that it has gotten to that point at the midpoint of the season,” quarterback Jon Kitna said. “We have a chance to do something about it going forward. But it doesn’t change magically overnight. … I’ve said it since I got here _ this is the most talented team I’ve been around. But talent isn’t the only ingredient.”
Defensive players took it even more personally because they worked closest with Phillips.
Jay Ratliff went from a backup defensive lineman under Parcells to Pro Bowl nose tackle under Phillips, so he was especially upset.
“We fought like hell for him,” Ratliff said. “Things just didn’t go our way.”