Cowboys' play-caller furor about Jerry Jones, not Jason Garrett

There Jason Garrett stood, at the podium, under fire. The question flew at him from all sides, with reporters revved up from the inactivity engendered by the Dallas Cowboys coach's epic, 30-minute opening statement.

More than 10 times Wednesday, Garrett was asked to explain the one gaping hole left in the Cowboys' plan for the 2013 season: Who will call the plays?

And each time, Garrett bobbed and weaved, mixing in a stiff arm to reporters more befitting of a former running back than a former quarterback. Each time, the answer sounded like this: "What we're trying to do is work through the mechanics of that here through the offseason." The questions never stopped, though.

When owner Jerry Jones said he wanted this offseason to be "uncomfortable," this wasn't what he had in mind. But after an hour, it was exactly that.

It all leads to this essential question moving forward: Why do we care?

What's the big deal about who calls the plays for the Cowboys? In what other organization does the magnifying glass fall on what is usually just a footnote? Why all the air time and newsprint?

To understand why is to understand the Jerry factor -- as in, owner Jerry Jones.

The debate over play calling really has little to do with Garrett, though he is the central figure. Garrett has always had a desire to call plays. And Jones has always supported this philosophy. But the debate rages on because it raises a question about the Cowboys owner: Has Jones gone against his own philosophy -- and forced Garrett to follow suit -- in a last-ditch effort to eke wins out of his head coach in what might be a make-or-break year? Is Jones asserting himself in a way few other owners would? And if that's the case, why won't anyone say it?

With the way the Cowboys have harped on the head coach being a play caller in the past, the decision to likely have someone else call plays weakens Garrett in the public eye. But does it weaken him in reality?

The truth is many, many other teams have head coaches who don't call plays. And everyone shrugs. When Sean Payton gave up play-calling duties for the New Orleans Saints following surgery in 2011, it wasn't a federal case when he would reassume the role. When Rob Chudzinski hired Norv Turner to be his offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns, he mentioned Turner would call plays. It was a one-day story, and everyone moved on.

Why has it lingered in Dallas? In other words, what's the difference?

That's what Garrett -- who will be entering his third full season as Cowboys coach -- wants to know. Asked if he believed the media was making too big a deal of it, he answered: "Yes."

"Play caller is important, but it's a collective process," a finally exasperated Garrett explained. "We game plan together. It's not like everyone sits in the office, and I come up with the game plan and say, 'OK, guys, here is what we are doing.' That's not how we operate. We never operated that way. I think it's stupid to operate that way."

Offensive coordinator (and likely new play caller) Bill Callahan expressed similar feelings: "I've got the utmost confidence in Coach Garrett and what he believes and how he wants to go about the process of going through play calling."

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, with Garrett serving as full-time coach for two of them. Both were 8-8 campaigns that included divisional losses in Week 17 win-and-in scenarios. In every year Garrett has served as offensive play caller, the Cowboys have finished in the top 15 in total offense. In four of five years, they've had top 10 offenses. Twice, they've finished in the top 10 in points.

Is offense the problem? It hasn't been. Simply put, winning has been more of a problem than gaining yards and scoring points. By contrast, Garrett is set to work with his third defensive coordinator.

Would the ongoing debate rage if quarterback Tony Romo had led the team on a game-winning touchdown drive instead of throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins?

"If we drive the ball and go score a touchdown against Washington, we win the division and host a playoff game," Garrett said. "That's just the reality of the situation. The other reality of it is we ended up 8-8 and didn't get the job done. We're working hard to get that job done."

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Now, the Cowboys are here. And so, it seems Jones is going against the advice Joe Gibbs once gave him -- that a coach should always call plays on one side of the ball because it shows the players their coach's value. Garrett has also held tight to play calling, believing his doing so gave the team the best chance to win. Given his success as a coordinator, that made sense. In fact, his play-calling ability was one reason the Cowboys identified him as the play caller even before they hired Wade Phillips in 2007.

Instead, Jones and Garrett are now embracing Jimmy Johnson's views, that Garrett should be what Jones called a "walk-around coach."

On the surface, it seems like Jones is going against prior beliefs. Or it's merely what's best for this team, as it will allow Garrett to focus on leading men and handling in-game issues. That's part of the debate.

In reality, only the 2013 season will tell us if we've all been wasting our time debating this issue.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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