Tex Schramm was an innovator. When you think of instant replay, the use computer technology in scouting, the 30-second clock, wind-direction stripes on the goal post uprights, the referee's microphone, overtime, moving goalposts from the front of the end zone to the back, and the NFL Scouting Combine think a warm thought for Tex. He invented or helped develop all those things. Schramm was the GM of the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team (Not me, the NY Times) from 1969 to 1989. In that time the Cowboys had one coach, Tom Landry. Landry invented the modern 4-3 defense, the middle linebacker, the flex defense, the modern shotgun formation, screen pass, line shifting, and the use of gadget plays. When you see Collin Kaepernick drop back into the pistol, pour one out for Tom.
Time was the Cowboys were the envy and scourge of the NFL. Five Super Bowl Titles, eight Super Bowl Appearances, 30 playoff appearances. From 1966 to 1985 the Cowboys posted a winning record in each of their 19 seasons and secured 17 playoff appearances. Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, fired Landry, brought in Jimmy Johnson and together they brought the franchise back. Two Super Bowls later, Jerry and Jimmy broke up. Like Van Halen, they couldn't coexist and they went they're separate ways. Like Van Halen, when David Lee Roth left, things were OK for the Cowboys for a while but not the same. Since 1996 the Cowboys have all of one playoff victory to show for their trouble. The Super Bowl has come and gone once again with the Cowboys no closer to playing in it. It's been more than a decade since anyone considered them legitimate contenders. They are the most overhyped 8-8 team in existence. Let's diagnose the problems in no particular order.
Bad Coaching Hires
Barry Switzer. Jerry replaced Jimmy Johnson with Barry Switzer. You turned over the keys to a perennial Super Bowl contender to that guy. That's like buying an Aston Martin and flipping the keys to...Barry Switzer. Never a good sign when you hire a coach that no one else even considered hiring. Worse still, when that coach wins a Super Bowl and still no one else considered hiring him. How about Dave Campo? Not exactly burning up the rumor wire. We can except Chan Gailey because he was hired by the Bills. That doesn't count. Bill Parcells was a great sound bite and should be given the Congressional Medal of Amazing for getting to the playoffs with Quincy Carter at quarterback, in the end he won four more games than he lost and couldn't muster a playoff victory.
Dave Campo is an interesting case study. He had all the pedigree required of a Cowboys coach. By that I mean he had a pedigree as a Cowboys coach. He was the defensive backs coach during the Johnson era. He then took over as the Defensive Coordinator during the Switzer era. That's three Super Bowl rings folks. Surely he was ready to coach the pokes. Not so much. He went 15-33. He's the Defensive Coordinator at Kansas now. They allowed 36 points a game last year.
Jerry took over personnel decisions and hired a carload of head coaches who have all had to fall in line with the players Jerry wanted. The Cowboys drafted 12 players in 2009. None have been the primary starter at their position. For every DeMarcus Ware there are 5 Shante Carvers or Bobby Carpenters.
Here are the highlights...
James Marten was taken in the 3rd round out of Boston College, he never saw a regular season game for the Cowboys. The 3rd through 5th rounds are really where one builds a team. You're stealing if you get a couple of starters beyond the 2nd round. You're blind if saw James Marten play collegiately, watched him at the combine, worked him out, and cut him after four weeks of practice.
Sherman Williams was going to take the load off Emmit Smith's shoulders. The Cowboys spent a 2nd rounder on him in 1995. He had more fumbles (6) than touchdowns (4). Dwayne Goodrich was the Cowboys first pick in the 2000 draft. Granted he was a second rounder, but still, the Cowboys waited around and sprung their pick on Goodrich. He started once in three seasons. Once. In an unrelated note, Goodrich served time for negligent homicide after he hit two pedestrians and fled the scene.
The Cowboys drafted Bobby Carpenter with the 18th pick in the 2006 draft. He ended his career with the Cowboys having made three starts in four seasons. Carpenter was famously annihilated by Marc Columbo during the 2008 series of Hard Knocks on HBO. Cowboys coaches were baffled at times by how it seemed Carpenter didn't like the football part of football. The Cowboys could have had Antonio Cromartie, Tamba Hali, Maurice Jones Drew, DeMeco Ryans, Nick Mangold, or Mathias Kiwanuka with that pick. Or any of 100 players who liked football.
Name a owner who hires and fires assistant coaches for the head coach. Jerry Jones does. This offseason he promised that things will get uncomfortable at Valley Ranch. He then fired Rob Ryan and took away Jason Garrett's play calling duties. "But how do we somehow create us an opportunity to kind of break out of this cycle -- drive across the water, if you will?" Jones said. "That's the challenge that I have right now." Right, but is Bill Callahan going to be the guy that drives the Cowboys across the water? In a time of unprecedented offensive innovation the Cowboys are looking for some nostalgia. Callahan of course made a Super Bowl with Oakland and then, after tanking, was named the worst coaching hire of the decade by Sports Illustrated after his tenure at Nebraska.
Did Jason Garrett even hire Rob Ryan? I guess maybe that's why he wasn't able to fire him. The answer, not just a change in scheme defensively, but a change in demographic. 72 year old Monte Kiffin arrives. What did Garrett have to do with that hire? Probably nothing. When you work for Jerry you do what you're told. I wonder why Sean Payton didn't take the Cowboys job? You think he had this weird notion that he should be able to dictate the way his team plays? That's cray cray.
If you're thinking you've seen this movie before, you're right, it happened in Oakland, err Los Angeles, err Oakland. Al Davis was a trailblazer of the AFL. He helped revolutionize the game and helped form the modern NFL. He won titles with the Raiders, embraced the verticle passing game and developed a just win baby persona that lives on. He also had unfettered control over personel and coaching decisions. That's how you get the combination of Lane Kiffin and JaMarcus Russell. That's also how you hire 6 straight coaches who don't finish their tenure with above an .500 record. Only two of those coaches won more than 39% of their games.
In the end Al Davis was a legend, a hall of famer not doubt, he was also unable to let go. The innovation of the earlier years turned into stagnation and disarray in the later years. Jerry Jones can always point to the three Super Bowl titles and numerous Hall of Fame caliber players. But what can he point to now? His giant stadium? Certainly, it's amazing to behold. It's also filled with visiting fans on most nights. Autonomy? Yes, the buck stops with Jerry. He's carved out that spot. He also must take the lion share of blame. Mediocrity? Without a doubt. It's said there is no worse place in sports than .500. To good to improve via high draft selections, to bad to make a run at anything meaningful. What hope is there? An aging nucleus of Witten, Romo, and Ware is spliced together with promising but fragile contributors like Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter, and DeMarco Murray.
For Jones success came so easy, three titles in seven seasons. So has the curse of average. Sadly for Cowboy fans history dictates that this will get worse before it gets better.