NFL: Cowboys, Garrett better make most of last 8 games |

NFL: Cowboys, Garrett better make most of last 8 games

JAIME ARON AP Pro Football Writer

IRVING, Texas (AP) – Jason Garrett is in a hurry.

As interim coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and still the offensive coordinator, he has no time for chitchat, no time for anything but work. All those congratulatory calls, texts and e-mails piling up will have to wait.

“I’m not overly concerned about getting back with everybody,” he said during one of his brief news conferences this week. “I think they understand that I appreciate the support.”

Garrett can’t slow down because there is always something to do next. His world is an NFL assembly line of meetings, walkthroughs, practices and more meetings, all culminating in a game – and he has only has eight of them to show Jerry Jones he’s the right man to lead America’s Team.

Jones flipped over the team’s leadership structure this week, tossing out coach-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and promoting Garrett, a 44-year-old Princeton grad who’s never been a head coach at any level but has long been viewed as a great candidate.

With the playoffs a lost cause, Jones made this change to recalibrate the stakes for the second half of the season. How everyone performs from now on will go a long way toward deciding who remains with the organization and who doesn’t.

Since that includes the coach, it’s little wonder he’s moving so quickly. And how’s this for added pressure? Jones said Friday on KRLD-FM in Dallas that, even before he fired Phillips, Super Bowl-winning coaches were inquiring about the job. He didn’t name names.

Garrett has a lot of cleaning up to do if he wants to make a good impression. Dallas is 1-7 and could be playing its worst football since the 1960 expansion season, when Tom Landry’s cast of has-beens and never-weres went 0-11-1. The Cowboys have lost five straight, giving up 121 points over the last three games, at least 35 each time. The offense is sputtering behind a line that’s not blocking, runners who aren’t running and a 38-year-old, fill-in quarterback who hasn’t won since 2007.

The baffling part is that this team won the NFC East and a playoff game last year with virtually the same cast. They were widely thought to have a chance of playing in the Super Bowl, which happens to be coming to Cowboys Stadium. Instead, they’re contending for the first pick in the draft.

This roster was built to win now, which makes things tougher for Garrett. He can’t try a youth movement because there aren’t many youngsters to try.

Bad drafts have interrupted the cycle of having kids ready to replace the veterans in front of them. For instance, the Cowboys gave up on an eighth member of their 2009 draft class just this week, leaving only kicker David Buehler, linebackers Victor Butler and Brandon Williams, and quarterback Stephen McGee. All you need to know about McGee is that Dallas is sticking with Jon Kitna as the replacement for Tony Romo when the Cowboys play the New York Giants on Sunday.

Garrett isn’t big on sharing information, especially about the lineup. While he speaks politely and enthusiastically, he’s mastered the art of talking without really saying anything.

“There might be some subtle changes,” Garrett said. “There might be some that are more obvious to people. We’ll obviously continue to evaluate how we practice this week and certainly the game evaluations will be significant going forward.”

Garrett has been on the staff for 3 1/2 years, so he probably already has an idea who overachieved last year and who is underachieving this year. Perhaps he’s giving them all one last chance to snap out of it; once they reveal themselves, then he’ll start shaking things up.

Phillips refused to make an example out of anyone. He talked a lot about accountability, but with guys rarely getting benched, demoted or cut, it was just talk.

Jones essentially told the players they got Phillips fired by not responding. Garrett’s message to players was that he’s not going to let them let him down. He laid out expectations and the consequences for failing to fulfill those expectations.

“He got his point across,” Kitna said. “He’s really not asking us to do anything that ‘Wow, that’s revolutionary’ or we weren’t trying to do before. There was just a little more emphasis on the things he feels like are going to help us win.”

When Garrett says “it doesn’t matter where players come from, whether they’re Pro Bowl players, drafted players or undrafted free agents, we’re going to play the best guys,” one look at his bio shows he means it.

This is a guy who spent a year as a college assistant coach, then a season in the World League and another in the CFL before ever making an NFL roster, only to last for 12 seasons. He made himself a keeper despite being good enough to play in just 25 games. It only makes sense that he’s looking to trust guys with the instincts and passion he had.

Even guys with thick resumes and secure contracts consider themselves put on notice.

“Guys like myself or (co-captain Keith Brooking) or whoever else is supposedly supposed to be here … you have to show the younger guys never to give up,” linebacker DeMarcus Ware said.

Jones doesn’t expect Garrett to perform miracles this half-season. Wins would be great, but he’ll settle for improved effort.

The decision on whether to keep Garrett for 2011 and-or beyond probably won’t require a detailed breakdown of game films or statistical analysis. It should be apparent to everyone if the redheaded coach lights a fire under this club.

He’s already awakened something within cornerback Mike Jenkins.

Jenkins has gone from making the Pro Bowl last season to making all the highlight shows this week for a play that underscored why Phillips had to go. Against Green Bay last Sunday, Jenkins had a chance to tackle a running back a few yards from the end zone and didn’t even bother trying. He was allowed to stay in the game and wasn’t publicly chastised for it. Why wouldn’t he have a sense of entitlement – especially since he’s also kept his job despite repeatedly getting beaten and often drawing pass interference penalties when he fears getting beaten?

Yet when Jenkins got word Tuesday that he had to be at team headquarters by 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, he snapped to attention.

He brought a notebook and an open mind to Garrett’s first meeting.

“I thought he pointed out a lot of good things,” Jenkins said. “I took a lot of notes and took down a lot of key words that he used. I’m going to take it with me. … It’s a new day for me. It’s a new day for everybody.”