By Matthew Postins
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett sounded like a main resigned to giving up play-calling duties on Wednesday. In fact, he made it sound as if it was part of his coaching evolution.
In an hour-long press conference that saw Garrett spend the first half-hour spinning stories about his time as a backup quarterback in Tampa Bay and about his new assistant coaches, he revealed that he hasn’t given up play-calling duties for the 2013 season. Yet.
But it sounds as if it’s inevitable.
Garrett called the past five weeks a “restructuring” of his offensive coaching staff, one that saw the Cowboys turn over three offensive position coaches since the end of the 2012 season. He also alluded to the redistribution of play-calling duties for the upcoming season, admitting that the staff is assessing how to give offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Callahan more responsibility next season.
“The mechanics aren’t set yet but the changes are taking us in that direction,” Garrett said. “Callahan has been with us for a year now and his comfort level with our system has grown.”
Garrett did make two things clear. First, the decision of whether to give up play-calling will be his. Second, the decision will come at some point during the offseason.
Garrett spoke for a half-hour without taking a question, and in doing so refuted, to some degree, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones’ statement that he “insisted” that Garrett remain the play-caller since Garrett took over as head coach.
Garrett said the question of play-calling came up two minutes after he accepted the interim head coaching job in the wake of the firing of Wade Phillips in 2010. He said that at that time it was determined as a group that Garrett would remain the play-caller for that game so the offense could retain continuity.
The offense did so well that night, Garrett said, that he remained the play-caller the rest of the season and instead delegated as many of his offensive responsibilities as he could.
After the 2010 season, after the Cowboys were among the league leaders in yardage and points, all despite starting backup Jon Kitna for 10 games, the Cowboys determined that Garrett would continue to call plays and shed more offensive duties. After the 2011 season, after quarterback Tony Romo had one of his best seasons, the Cowboys determined that Garrett would call plays because “it’s hard to get a quarterback in this league to play well.”
Garrett did not address what was talked about after this season. But speculation was rampant after the season that the Cowboys would pursue having Garrett shed his play-calling duties.
“This (play calling) has been a two-and-a-half-year conversation,” Garrett said.
Garrett pointed out on Wednesday that some of the best offensive teams in the NFL feature head coaches as play-callers, including the New Orleans Saints (Sean Payton), the Green Bay Packers (Mike McCarthy) and the San Diego Chargers (former coach Norv Turner).
“The last six years the best offenses have (head) coaches calling the plays,” Garrett said. “Statistically we’re all in there together.”
At the same time, Garrett paved the way to put Callahan in the driver’s seat.
Garrett’s praise of the former Oakland Raiders head coach was effusive throughout the press conference, pointing out that Callahan served as running game coordinator last season and was intimately involved in helping the offensive staff build the game plan. Garrett also said the Cowboys were searching for more ways to provide Callahan with chances to coach the whole offense.
To that end, the Cowboys hired Frank Pollack, a former player under Callahan at Northern Arizona, to serve as Callahan’s assistant offensive line coach.
Expanding Callahan’s influence, to some degree, meant the end of John Garrett’s tenure in Dallas. Jason Garrett’s brother was the tight ends coach and passing game coordinator last season, but left for Tampa Bay last month. Jason Garrett sounded as if he didn’t want to expose his brother by handing him the reins of the offense.
“As we restructured I would never put (John) in a position where he could call plays on our staff,” Garrett said. “We had that discussion. We wanted him to grow and the best way to get there was to leave here.”
Garrett did not come out and say that Callahan would be his choice to call plays. But he did admit that the “staff is set.” There are no other offensive assistants on staff that have experience calling plays in the NFL.
Callahan is perceived as being a West Coast offense disciple, but Garrett said Wednesday that he wouldn’t be on the offensive staff if Callahan didn’t share his values.
“The big thing is the transition,” Garrett said. “He’s been here for a year and he’s brought a lot of stuff with him and he has a comfort level now. You want to put players in successful situations and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
At times on Wednesday Garrett spoke like a head coach who was keenly aware of what had been said about his situation the past month. Garrett rarely spoke during a January in which six assistant coaches were either fired or allowed to depart, while Jones held court at the Senior Bowl and the Super Bowl regarding the team’s changes. The perception became that Jones was driving the bus when it came to coaching decisions.
Garrett defended Jones and defended the process since the offseason began, saying that coaching and personnel issues have always been a collective process and that there was communication throughout the hiring and firing processes. He stopped short of saying who made the hiring and firing decisions, however.
And he clearly felt the media was making a bigger deal out of which coach would call plays next season than anyone in the organization.
“Play caller is important, but it’s a collective process,” Garrett said. “We game plan together. We don’t all sit in our offices and I come up with the game plan. We never operate that way. It’s stupid to operate that way. We’ve done it this way and it’s the way we’ll continue to do it.”
Ratliff’s arrest: Garrett said the team was “disappointed” in defensive tackle Jay Ratliff’s DUI arrest last month. He said the Cowboys will allow the legal implications to play out and they expect the NFL to be involved.
Romo involved: Garrett didn’t talk about any contract extension talk, but he did say the team was in contact with Romo this offseason regarding the coaching changes on offense.
Keeping Spencer: Garrett said he sees unrestricted free agent linebacker Anthony Spencer as a defensive end in the 4-3 scheme. Spencer played end at Purdue.
Massaging the salary cap: Garrett said the team is discussing personnel now and those discussions could impact how the Cowboys approach shedding more than $20 million in salary before March 12.