On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys fans witnessed the latest ignominy of the Jason Garrett era. The team suffered its third consecutive loss, forcing a reckoning in its identity from “probable playoff team and Super Bowl hopeful” to “just one game better than the hapless New York Giants.” And while the previous two losses happened against good teams, Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the previously winless New York Jets means that Dallas has no excuses left.
Football is a team sport, and there’s plenty of blame to go around in this loss—but if you’re looking for a key target, head coach Jason Garrett is your guy. Here’s a video of Cowboys defenders refusing to high five him on the sidelines after holding the Jets to a field goal:
Still, Jason Garrett will likely keep his job. Last week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told listeners on Dallas’s 105.3 The Fan radio station, “Don’t bet any money [on] that happening, you’ll lose it.” Even following the loss to the Jets, Jones’s response was to defend Garrett. “It’s not just him,” he told ESPN. “This is across the board. That had a lot of input out there tonight to get in that spot.”
Standing by Jason Garrett in the face of fans clamoring for the coach’s head has become something of an avocation for Jones in the coach’s nine—holy crap, has it really been nine?—seasons as the team’s head coach. Here’s a brief history of fans calling on Garrett to be fired—a subject that’s inspired endless hours of chatter on sports talk radio, a cottage industry of takes, cost gamblers a small fortune, resulted in countless tweets from famous and anonymous fans alike, and led to seven pages worth of Change.org petitions signed by thousands of fans.
Garrett ascended to his current rank in the middle of the 2010 season, after Jones fired Wade Phillips midway through the season. In Garrett’s first three full seasons, he exemplified mediocrity—the team went 8-8 each year—and by 2013, the “Fire Garrett” calls began in earnest. In November of that year, Jones issued his first public declaration that Garrett’s job was safe, and that he’d be returning as head coach for the following season.
That declaration did little to quell speculation that there must be a better head coach out there somewhere, though, after the Cowboys blew a 24-point halftime—against a Green Bay Packers team led by a quarterback who hadn’t even been on the roster a few weeks earlier. According to our archives, that was the first time Texas Monthly asked whether the Cowboys should fire Jason Garrett. As the team slid to yet another 8-8 season, reporters grew increasingly skeptical of the faith Jones declared in Garrett.
Source says current expectation is Jerry Jones will fire HC Jason Garrett and coaching staff unless the Cowboys win NFC East, make playoffs.— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) December 22, 2013
The Cowboys didn’t win the NFC East, nor did they make the playoffs. But Jones was a man of his word, and for a moment, it looked like a good thing that he was. The following year, the calls to fire Garrett quieted (although not entirely) thanks to the team’s success—the Cowboys went 12-4, won the division, won their first playoff game, and Jones looked like a genius for standing by his man.
That lasted just one season, and the “Fire Garrett” chants returned the following year. In 2015, Tony Romo got hurt, the Cowboys went 4-12, and people loudly called for replacing Garrett. NFL personality Terry Bradshaw declared during a pre-game broadcast: “If there is one thing I would change in Dallas, it’s that they need a head coach that people fear a little bit, someone they are scared of getting on the wrong side of.”
Bradshaw was hardly alone in that. Impassioned cries for a new coach flooded fan blogs, Metroplex newspaper columns dedicated to exploring the “fantasy” among fans for Garrett to be replaced, and fans debated whether firing the coach would be worth the $24 million cost of eating his newly-awarded contract.
2016 was a good year to be a Cowboys fan, though. Romo got hurt again, but Dak Prescott emerged as the QB of the future, and the season seemed blessed from on high—the team went 13-3 that year, and even the types of people who printed and sold “Keep Calm and Fire that Ginger” t-shirts calmed down about Garrett. This might have been the happiest year of Jason Garrett’s life: He won NFL Coach of the Year honors, USA Today declared him “a dominant NFL coach,” fan blogs opined about how he won them over, and he was used as a case study for why firing coaches in the middle of a season is a bad idea. His success even led to Jerry Jones being called “an elite GM.”
For most of his coaching career, Googling his own name would have been a mistake for Jason Garrett—but for a brief window in 2016, it would have brought him a nice dopamine hit.
But, of course, it wouldn’t last. Following his best season as an NFL head coach, Garrett’s Cowboys went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Here’s a representative Dallas Morning News headline: “Jason Garrett has to go! Why Cowboys should fire coach.” The same USA Today writer who declared Garrett “dominant” the year before explained that the coach “should have been fired in 2013,” and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist who explained the firing him in 2015 was a mere fantasy explained that, after failing to live up to expectations following his Coach of the Year season, “Jerry can dismiss Garrett guilt-free.”
You probably get the picture at this point. 2018 was a brief bounceback season—a 10-6 record was good enough to win the NFC East and get to the playoffs, where he once more led the team to the Divisional Round, and they lost. But even during the division-winning season, fans and sports pundits were exasperated with Garrett.
The big question surrounding Garrett in good times is whether he’s achieving the baseline level of success for anybody coaching a team with the talent on both sides of the ball. When the Cowboys play well, it’s because a roster that good couldn’t not play well—when they play poorly, the argument goes, it’s because they’re poorly coached. Even as the team found success on the field, SB Nation explored in depth what continued to go wrong for Garrett’s Boys midway through the 2018 season, writing that “Jason Garrett isn’t capable of leading the Cowboys out of the abyss. It’s time to fire him.” It was a sentiment that a lot of Cowboys fans could agree with.
And in 2019, even Jerry Jones implicitly—if not explicitly—acknowledged that Jason Garrett might not have another nine years in him as the Cowboys head coach. Entering the final year of his contract—which for coaches, unlike players, are fully guaranteed—Jones declined to offer his coach an extension, which makes firing him easier (and cheaper) than it’s ever been before.
And yet. The team is now 3-3. Sam Darnold, the mono-afflicted quarterback of the now 1-5 New York Jets, outdueled Dak Prescott, and players who Garrett once coached are outspoken in directing the blame toward their former boss.
That was low key cold blooded lol https://t.co/CRnxYB15qz— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) October 14, 2019
It remains to be seen if the Cowboys will stick with Garrett for the rest of 2019. The team takes on its hated rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, next week. If they win the game and claim sole ownership of the NFC East, Cowboys fans should probably get used to seeing Garrett on the sidelines for at least the next couple months. If they fall to Philly—at home, in primetime, on national television—it’ll be awfully hard to justify entering bye week without making any changes.
But fans expecting that change should nonetheless be aware. They’ve been here before, hoping the team will move on from Jason Garrett, and they’ve been disappointed for damn near a decade now.