Mike Smith and Jason Garrett get votes of confidence, but are they deserved?
There were eight new head coaches in the NFL in 2013, and that 25 percent replacement rate isn’t at all unusual in what can be a churn-and-burn league at that position. But if two team owners are to be believed, their head coaches will not leave holes for openings in 2014, despite disappointing seasons in both cases.
The Atlanta Falcons are 2-8 coming into their Thursday night game against the 8-2 New Orleans Saints, and that’s an unusual position for a franchise that has won at least nine games every season since 2009. Head coach Mike Smith is a major reason for that turnaround, and that’s why owner Arthur Blank won’t take one out-of-place season as reason enough to make a change.
“We love our head coach and we love our general manager,” Blank said after the Falcons lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. “We’ll candidly look at everybody honestly, critically and see what we have to do. It should be nobody that escapes that critique. That’s their job and I have confidence that they’ll do it. They are doing it and they will do it.”
General manager Thomas Dimitroff is one of the more respected executives in the league, and he earned that when he and Smith came to Atlanta in 2008 and repaired what had been a totally broken franchise following the embarrassment Bobby Petrino brought the year before. Dimitroff has had issues with personnel, especially when it’s come to establishing above-average offensive and defensive lines, but a 56-24 record in those first five years will allow Blank to move past this one-year slump with both men — especially since it’s been determined by injuries to a great degree.
“They’ve earned it over the last five years,” Blank concluded. “This is a tough business. We’ve had a lot of injuries and there have been a lot of issues on top of the injuries and that is pretty obvious. The guys are proven leaders and proven by success. Their records speak for themselves. They’ll do the work that has to be done with my full support. We’ll get back to what we have to do. Right now, we have six more games that we have to play this year and we plan on competing hard in those games, winning if not all, as many as we can.”
When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, two things have defined that franchise over the last 17 years — relative mediocrity, and owner Jerry Jones. The Cowboys are 5-5 this season, and that record should come as no surprise — after all, since the start of the 1997 season, this team is 133-133 in the regular season, and they’ve won exactly one playoff game in that time period. Not ideal for the flashy Jones, who clearly believes that he and son Stephen have what it takes to build a Super Bowl contender.
Jason Garrett has been in charge of that expensive mess since Nov., 2010, when Jones fired Wade Phillips and Garrett became the interim head coach. He’s established a 26-24 record, which at least puts him one game up on his team’s recent history. And that was enough for Jones to announce Thursday that not only will he avoid making any changes in-season — but that Garrett will be the team’s head coach in 2014.
“We’re positioned to get in the playoffs,” Jones said. “We see logically how to get in the playoffs. We have that, for all practical purposes, in our control. Now that’s a pretty good spot to be in after 10 games. A lot of this story is to be played out, but it does not have a bearing on whether or not he will be our coach next year. It has no bearing on that.”
Of course, Jones gave Phillips votes of confidence before that firing, insisting that he would not make a change in-season. Even if Jones changes his mind in the offseason, his own insistence on controlling the everyday operations in Valley Ranch would most likely keep any sort of splashy names away from the building as Garrett’s replacement. A bloated upcoming salary cap situation, mixed with a questionable scouting acumen, probably isn’t going to be tempting enough to bring Jon Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth, for example.
“I’m disappointed that we don’t have a better record, but he has got us in position to win the division and has got a team here that I firmly believe has the ability to be one of the better-playing teams at the end,” Jones said of Garrett, perhaps realizing that if he wants to buy all the groceries, chefs at Garrett’s level are going to be the best he can get.