The shots of overall befuddlement, a total lack of answers and general malaise showed the Cowboys last week, in front of a national television audience, to be a team bottoming out.
Is it possible that this was just the tip of the iceberg? Is there a way things at already chaotic Valley Ranch could further disintegrate?
Stick around, folks. We're about to find out.
The decision by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to elevate Jason Garrett to the corner office, from his post as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, represents the ultimate chemistry experiment by a man who made a fortune of rolling the dice in the oil industry.
Many of the facts coming out of Valley Ranch on Monday were muddied by conflicting innuendo, but this much was clear: Garrett is not a popular man in the locker room he's now charged with commanding. And yes, considering all that's happened, that might be just what these Cowboys need.
But that kind of arrangement only works if the players respect their coach. Bill Parcells wasn't exactly regarded like a Homecoming King among the guys wearing the pads at the team's suburban campus. He didn't need to be, of course, because players knew his way worked and that he was well within his rights to fire them.
So no, Garrett doesn't need to win popularity contests with his 53-man roster. But he has to have the power to back demands for the accountability he so often referenced on Monday. And more importantly, he has to provide results and show those players he's capable of making them better, since part of his problem to this point has been the inconsistency of the offense since Tony Sparano (his line coach and the team's assistant head coach in 2007) bolted for Miami nearly three years ago.
"We're going to try (and) restore that tradition that this organization had for so long," Garrett said in his introductory news conference. "It has to be clear as to what you expect from everyone in your organization and hold them accountable to those expectations. We'll do that on a daily basis."
Creating parameters and guidelines is one thing. Whether or not Garrett can enforce them will be the key.
As one club official said, Garrett's job will be to change a culture that "treated guys as grown men, even if they weren't. He'll change that." Which works fine, so long as the players buy in. "And they're going to ask," the source said, "what have you done?"
So what exactly has Garrett done?
The Cowboys did set a club record for total yardage last year, finishing second in the league in that category, but came up just 14th in points scored. That, a year after the wheels came off the offense with the Terrell Owens saga, which Garrett was smack in the center of.
"He's been a coordinator that's (produced) the highest three offensive production seasons of this franchise," Jones said. "Had we won like we want to win and expect to win? No. Have we won some? Yes. Have we lost some? Yes. I can tell you first-hand that he's got some qualities of organization, he's got some qualities of leadership."
Jones' references to the offense's production may be correct, but they're also a little misleading. Additionally, they come without the context of the environment. The final result showed that in the two playoff ousters in Garrett's time, the offense generated a grand total of 3 second-half points.
But as for the qualities of leadership and organization, Jones isn't fudging the facts.
The truth is that there are plenty of veteran NFL folks, both inside the Cowboys organization and elsewhere in the league, who think Jason Garrett will be a better head coach than he was a coordinator in his three-plus years running the offense in Dallas. That has merit, too.
Remember, this is a coach who is still just 44 years old and was in the thick of coaching searches in Baltimore, Atlanta and St. Louis the last three offseasons. The Ravens and Falcons are serious Super Bowl contenders this year, and the Rams are one of the league's top turnaround stories in 2010, so it's not like those clubs didn't have a clue when they were making their moves for Garrett.
In the end, Garrett winds up right back where most figured he'd eventually wind up all along, and that's as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
The circumstances are much different now than they were then.
Remember, Garrett cut his coaching teeth under Nick Saban in Miami, and he spent some of the final days of his playing career under Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, and both those guys were authoritative, totalitarian types, that demand the accountability that the new Dallas coach spoke of Monday. Trouble was, under Phillips, Garrett could hardly exert that style, which ran counter to the way his boss ran the show.
As a result, he can certainly impose his style on the players now, though it'll be more challenging. As one team official put it, "If you've been letting your kid stay up until midnight, and now you're going to change that to 10 p.m., how's the kid going to respond to it?"
It's easy to say, "Not well", and adapt as need be. Unfortunately, that kind of malleability is what created this mess in the first place.
Garrett's smart enough to know that, and he also saw how far popularity got Phillips as a coach with a locker room that pledged its love to him more often with words than actions.
The new Cowboys coach's task is daunting, to be sure, but it's not impossible. The first order of business for Garrett will be navigating his relationship with Jones, who's invested $3 million a year in his services and time in developing him to handle the role he's now assuming, and certainly would like to avoid paying yet another coach in January with a potential work stoppage weeks away.
After that, it's pretty simple.
Garrett can impose rules, accountability and an increasingly demanding environment all he wants. That much is expected of him.
Whether or not he can effectively enforce those guidelines may be another story altogether.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.