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Who could be on Jerry Jones’ list to replace Garrett as coach of the Dallas Cowboys?
Written by: Greg Lehr
Although the decision process took longer than expected, Jerry Jones has reportedly determined that Jason Garrett will not return as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2020. It's fitting that Garrett will be forced to move on from Dallas following a disappointing 8-8 season, a running joke (fair or unfair) dating back to Garrett's three consecutive 8-8 regular seasons in his first full three years as head coach. Over his 9.5 years at the helm in Dallas, Garrett owned an 85-67 (.559 win %) overall record, including 2-3 in the playoffs.
Perspective around Garrett would have been much different with a bit more playoff success (a popular theme in Dallas these days). Back in November, NFL Network reporter Jane Slater shined a light on the fact that Garrett was one of seven NFL head coaches who had been with their current team since 2011, yet Garrett was the only one not to have reached a Super Bowl (via @NFLResearch). It’s reasonable to think perspective surrounding Garrett (and heck, Tony Romo too) would be different had Dez Bryant’s infamous no-catch been upheld as a catch in the 2014 NFC Divisional matchup in Green Bay. Or how about 2016, when Dallas was the top seed in the conference with a 13-3 record, despite playing behind rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. It was enough for Garrett to be named NFL Coach of the Year, a deserving honor considering the circumstances, yet Dallas lost again to the Packers when Aaron Rodgers found Jared Cook along the sideline for 35 yards on a 3rd-and-20 (later named the 2017 ESPY Play of the Year), leading to a Mason Crosby 51-yard game-winning field goal on the very next play.
Those two plays, in particular, exemplify how excruciatingly close Jason Garrett was to two separate NFC Championship Game appearances, with legitimate shots at the Super Bowl both times, only to come up short. As cruel as it may seem, that’s life in the NFL. If we're being honest, Garrett lasted longer than most Cowboys' fans thought (and/or wanted). However, the time has come for change, and Jerry and Stephen Jones both know it. This Dallas Cowboys team is built to win now, in the primes of a (still) excellent offensive line, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence, and more. As the aforementioned stars continue to collect more money with new deals, Dallas will have tough decisions to make going forward in order to remain competitive and capitalize on their championship window. This makes their next head coach hire all that more important.
Here are five names that could be on the Jones' radar to try to get this team over the hump in the coming years.
1. Lincoln Riley - The current Oklahoma Sooners' coach may just be the hottest name among Cowboys' media and fans speculation this week after Brock Vandagriff, the top quarterback recruit in the 2021 class, recently decommitted from OU. Just a few weeks ago, Vandagriff said Riley was the primary reason for choosing OU and that he would probably change his decision if Riley were to leave. Of course, this is all very speculative considering we're talking about a high school quarterback potentially having a better scoop on the situation than the OU staff or any sources inside the Cowboys' organization (there have been no leaks up to this point from either side). Riley is seen as a premier offensive mind for football today and going forward. He has a 36-6 record in three years at Oklahoma, although he is 0-3 in bowl games during that stretch.
2. Urban Meyer - Back around Thanksgiving, when the Cowboys were losing handily in back to back weeks against the Bills and Bears, reports started surfacing regarding the Jones' growing interest in the former Ohio St head coach. Like other college coaches on this list, Meyer has no experience at the NFL level, but his overall success at each program he has led cannot be ignored. Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio St each enjoyed some of their most successful and memorable seasons with Meyer at the helm. The retired college coach owns a career record of 187-32 (.854 Win %), including 12-3 in bowl games and three national championships.
3. Matt Rhule - Who is Matt Rhule and why is he all of a sudden such a hot name around NFL head coaching vacancies? Since 2013, Rhule has completely turned around two collegiate programs. At Temple, Rhule's 2-10 squad in 2013 improved each of the next three seasons, winning 10 games in both 2015 and 2016. He then accepted the challenge of taking over a Baylor program in total disarray in the wake of the scandals occurring under Art Briles’ watch. Baylor was experiencing one of its darkest times as a program and went 1-11 in Rhule's first season, only to quickly improve to 7-6 in 2018 and then explode back into the College Football Playoff conversation in 2019 while going 11-3.
4. Greg Roman - One of the most popular head-coaching candidates among current NFL assistants, the Ravens' offensive coordinator has received a lot of well-deserved attention for his work with Lamar Jackson and Co. this season. The Ravens ranked second in total offense throughout the year, primarily due to their success on the ground, where they ranked first at 206 rush YPG, a full 60(!!) yards more than the next best team (49ers). Dak is certainly not Lamar when it comes to overall athleticism and ability in the open field, but he offers above-average mobility and showed the capability to air it out when called upon (finished second in passing yards). Dallas' offensive line proved they can still be dominant, and the thunder/lightning combination of Zeke/Tony Pollard is begging to be utilized in more creative ways.
5. Dan Mullen - The obvious link here is that Mullen was Dak Prescott's coach at Mississippi St and the two could potentially reunite should Mullen be offered the Dallas job and decide to leave the University of Florida. Under Mullen, Prescott had a 63% completion percentage while throwing for 70 TD and 23 INT. Their best year together came in Prescott's junior season (2015) when the team rose to number one in the country during their 10-3 season, though it eventually ended in an Orange Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Of course, the NFL is a whole new ballgame compared to what these two accomplished at Mississippi St, but they do have a track record of success together. Mullen certainly wouldn't be considered the "sexy" hire, but should not be dismissed, leaving him as a dark horse candidate as the next Cowboys' coach.