ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 24: Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys on the field as Kyle Orton #18 walks past during a preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 24, 2013 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
In Texas, the old saying to identify a fraud goes “Big hat; No cattle.”
At Valley Ranch these days, the slogan to validate a leader is “No hat; More command.”
In case you haven’t noticed, Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett this preseason has stopped wearing his trademark headgear –hat or visor – on the sideline. But, if you were paying attention last Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, he’s wielding more control than ever.
In the wake of the Cowboys’ embarrassing, six-turnover loss to the Raiders the week before, starting running back DeMarco Murray fumbled on the team’s fifth offensive snap. He was promptly benched, replaced by Phillip Tanner and didn’t return to the field until the second half.
“It can’t happen,” Garrett explained of the fumble. “I don’t care who you are, we can’t have it. DeMarco’s a man. He understands what his role is on this football team. We just felt that was the right thing to do, and he responded exactly how we thought he’d respond. He came back and played hard really well and took care of the rock.”
Message sent. And received.
One of the main reasons Garrett has his job is because predecessor Wade Phillips lost control and lacked authority. Garrett promised discipline and accountability. It’s finally sinking in. At least temporarily.
The head coach yanked Dez Bryant off punt returns last year against the Giants and demoted Doug Free to a part-timer forced to share snaps with backup right tackle Jermey Parnell. But this preseason it’s as though the hat had been handcuffs on Garrett’s power. He’s openly criticized players, lambasting rookie B.W. Webb and even ripping Tony Romo for taking a sack to took Dallas out of field-goal position against the Bengals.
It’s refreshing as it is surprising. Given an off-season in which owner Jerry Jones stripped the head coach of play-calling authority, it would’ve been understandable had Garrett shown up a meeker coach with a hatless head shrunken in confidence and visibly diluted control over his team.
But, alas, the walk-around coach is a bee-boppin’ leader. At last week’s Silver ‘n Blue practice he sprinted to various drills with energy and enthusiasm, often even imploring the crowd to make noise. Jason Garrett? From conservative to cheerleader?
The Cowboys may again ultimately be a sloppy 8-8 team. But it won’t be for a lack of effort and a commitment to change by their head coach. And, at least for message on one night, it worked.
An embarrassed, determined Murray returned for the second half’s first drive and promptly broke four tackles and dove into the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown catch.
“I wasn’t mad at anyone,” Murray explained Monday at Valley Ranch. “I wasn’t pouting on the sidelines. I wasn’t anything. I was waiting for my opportunity to get back in the game. Once my number was called, I was ready to play. He’s a smart coach, great coach. I’m always going to be behind him. Whatever is best for the team, I’m all for it.”
Jimmy Johnson famously cut backup running back Curvin Richards after a couple fumbles in the Cowboys’ 1992 regular-season finale. Total authority. Zero tolerance.
I’m not saying the benching of Murray in August will be Garrett’s signature move as the feared leader of the Cowboys. But – hat or not – it’s a step in the right direction.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his fiancee, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.