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Winning is the Only Culture Change That Matters

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    It wasn't more than a few hours after the Cowboys fired Wade Phillips last year that someone wrote or said something about how Jason Garrett would change the way the Cowboys conduct business.

    A good deal of that had to do with Phillips' rather lax style and the natural need to shake things up on a team that was moving in the wrong direction at a rapid pace. Almost anyone would have elicited the same kind of response because they weren't Phillips. 

    But Garrett really made the impression stick. The Cowboys practiced differently, interacted with the media differently and spoke openly about his desire to alter the culture around the team. The on-field results mirrored the off-field changes. The Cowboys played a more intelligent and dilligent game of football under Garrett and went 5-3 as a result.

    That confirmed the initial reaction to Garrett's arrival and started a cottage industry of discussion about Garrett shifting the foundation of the Cowboys in a positive way. Headlines like "Cowboys' Jason Garrett Wants to Build a Culture, Not a Cult" appear all the time as the Cowboys actually are going about their business in a different fashion in Garrett's first full year. 

    These things are all good steps, but they ultimately don't mean a thing unless Garrett can replicate that 5-3 record over just about every eight-game stretch in his tenure. Coaches who don't win don't change cultures and mint a new organizational ethos, they get fired and replaced by someone who gets to bask in the glow of people saying they'll get the team back to the things that matter.

    Remember, no one was talking about the need to change the Cowboys' culture when they went 13-3 under Phillips or when they won their first playoff game in eons. As long as you develop a culture that includes big wins, no one talks about the rest of the things that you're doing unless you win enough that it becomes a way for a coach to maximize his name. 

    John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, Joe Paterno, Phil Jackson and all the other coaches venerated for the cultures that they built are venerated because they win. Obviously their methods and beliefs can't be excised from all those victories, but you can't argue that it is all about those methods and beliefs. Talent, front office/recruiting and good luck, among other things, all play a healthy role.

    These would all be the same men with the same lessons to teach if their attempts to change cultures led to middling success and short tenures as they did for so many others, you just wouldn't read books about their styles of leadership. The same is true of Garrett, at least until he wins.


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