MOBILE, Ala. -- Jerry Jones wanted uncomfortable. He openly spoke about an offseason with everyone being on edge.
Wish granted. This is what it feels like.
NFL personnel people pulling friends aside and wondering, "What's going on with the Dallas Cowboys?" The team's owner speaking with reporters for 30 minutes to address the issue of who will take over as offensive play caller, only to leave those listening with merely an indication of the team's direction. Jones and head coach Jason Garrett both embracing a reality neither has supported in the past.
Yup. These are the Dallas Cowboys of 2013. Awkward, a little odd, with some hope mixed in. The objective is to restart the process that has led them to nothing but mediocrity. The reality is, these circumstances are setting Garrett up for a make-or-break season, which of course is better than not having the opportunity to return in the first place.
"We've got a lot of things about our team -- the problem is a deal called 8-8," Jones said while sitting on the NFL Network set following a Senior Bowl practice Tuesday. "When you're 8-8 and the rules say, 'We want everybody to be equal,' you've got to break out of the ditch that we're in at 8-8. That's promoting some of the changes we're making. To step this thing up."
Harrison: What's next, 'Boys?
Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan likely will call plays, taking over the role from Garrett. Soon-to-be 73-year-old Monte Kiffin, back in the NFL after a lackluster stint in the college game, will be the team's defensive coordinator. Former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is the defensive line coach. Jason Garrett's brother, John, was re-routed to Tampa Bay to become the Buccaneers' receivers coach. There will be more tinkering.
NFL people raised their eyebrows about the move to hire the master of the Tampa 2. Could be genius. Could be ... not. For his part, Kiffin laughed about his age.
"I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think I could do it," Kiffin said. "I'm excited. I know before the game, they don't say, 'How tall are you, how much do you weigh, how old are you?' They don't as a player. It's, 'Let's go play.' So, 'Let's go coach.' "
As Kiffin slowly morphs the defense, installing the 4-3 scheme for which he believes the personnel is better suited, Garrett will watch the offensive adjustments from not quite as close. In his new role, Garrett will be free to focus on in-game situations, time management and other head-coaching duties he had no choice but to short-change while simultaneously serving as offensive play caller. Jones says Garrett encouraged this shift. Perhaps that's true. But on Tuesday, while speaking with local reporters before Jones had officially announced the news, Garrett simultaneously supported a move away from calling plays while pointing out that there's nothing that says a coach can't call plays and master in-game situations. Um, OK then.
"I've been on teams where it's worked a lot of different ways," Garrett told reporters. "This idea that there's no way you can call plays and handle the game situations ... We've come back in a lot of games and handled game situations really well, and sometimes we haven't handled them as well."
The Cowboys love Garrett as a leader. The brass was especially pleased with his delicate and masterful handling of the off-the-field drama that followed the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown and the related DWI incarceration of defensive tackle Josh Brent. And it was noted that Garrett somehow managed to sidestep a PR disaster when Brent appeared on the sidelines for a game after the incident by making sure it wouldn't happen again while also refusing to treat Brent as an outcast. The doors of the facility were always open to Brent. Players noticed. Everyone did.
In an unfortunate coincidence, Garrett and the Cowboys suddenly found themselves facing another drunk-driving issue: Starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff was arrested and charged with DWI early Tuesday after his pickup truck struck an 18-wheeler. The coach's handling of this situation will be closely monitored.
But the fight the Cowboys showed in 2012 when they were down in games -- which happened frequently -- demanded attention. Oh, and Garrett also helped the 'Boys overcome a slow start to win five of their first six in the second half of the season, putting them in position to ... lose their final two games and come up short for the playoffs.
Now, it seems, he has one more year to make it happen. Is it playoffs or bust? It might not be so simple. What if the Cowboys start out slow and look anemic, as they did this past season? Could Garrett withstand a limp out of the gate?
What if they make the playoffs and lose? Does he have enough job security to handle that?
The Cowboys believe in Garrett. They have since they sunk millions into him as an offensive play caller. They've believed in the process. It took them to the brink of the playoffs, but no further.
And now? They have stripped away the foundation and rebuilt. New defense. New offensive play caller. A new focus for the head coach. And a new view of the timetable facing Garrett going into his third full season at the helm.
Only time will tell if the new approach yields different results.