Jones denies it, but Garrett sounds like coach in Dallas to stay

Jason Garrett stood before the Dallas Cowboys on Monday and issued their marching orders for the offseason. He encouraged them to watch the playoffs and be frustrated over not being a part of it. He talked about things they can do to become a playoff team next season.

Speaking to reporters, Garrett said he'll be at the Senior Bowl later this month to check out potential draft picks and that "going forward, we will continue to implement the changes in regards to the offseason and how we do training camp and some of those things."

In every way, he sounded like a guy who plans to remain in charge.

Garrett has acted like a permanent coach since becoming the Cowboys' interim leader two months ago. So the image he projected Monday was no surprise.

If anything, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones allowing Garrett to fill those roles Monday was the latest indication that he will return.

"It's probably not the day to talk about that, to be honest with you," Garrett said. "Today is really a day to start the evaluations of our players and, in due time, we'll have some conversations about that."

Garrett has built a strong case by taking a 1-7 team and going 5-3, with the losses by seven total points. He already might have the job if not for a league rule requiring Jones to interview a minority candidate.

Jones is expected to meet with receivers coach Ray Sherman, who is black. Jones has talked about meeting with outside candidates, too. Jones also said he plans to keep the pool small and wants to decide soon.

NFL Network insider Michael Lombardi said Sunday, citing a team source, that the Cowboysalready had removed Garrett's interim tag and made him the full-time coach, although Jones denied that. But when asked Sunday about the new coach's involvement on hiring assistant coaches, Jones might have revealed his intentions by replying, "That is certainly something that Jason needs to have input in."

Garrett said he and Jones don't have any meetings scheduled. Don't read anything into that because Jones already has said he doesn't need to interview Garrett.

"The last eight games spoke for themselves," said linebacker Bradie James, a defensive captain. "That's why he was able to address us today. If they wouldn't have went the right way, he wouldn't have been up there. It would've just been Jerry."

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Other teams with vacancies could seek permission to interview Garrett. Technically, when the season ended Sunday, his status reverted to assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. He's under contract for those jobs for one more season.

Asked if he would even talk to other teams, Garrett said, "We'll just let that whole situation unfold."

While Garrett danced around most aspects about his future, he offered morsels of insight. Such as his belief that being both offensive coordinator and head coach -- as he has done since early November -- is "an efficient way to do it."

Garrett avoided a direct answer about whether or not he and Jones have discussed removal of the interim tag by saying, "A large, large majority of our conversations have been what we're doing each and every day." Thus, a small, small minority of their conversations were about that.

"We've always had the feel that he's our head coach since he's taken over," said third-string quarterback Stephen McGee, who led the Cowboys to a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in his first career start. "He got everybody to buy in from the very beginning. ... I think everybody that's played for him believes in him and would love to play for him."

Jones spoke to the team Monday, too, and brought up his favorite subject: the Super Bowl.

Failing to make this one extends Dallas' drought to 15 consecutive seasons, the longest in franchise history. This failure hurts more because this year's game will be played in Cowboys Stadium.

"I encourage every teammate to watch it and let your stomach boil a little bit," tight end Jason Witten said. "That's what it's about, the playoffs and seeing those teams celebrate and go for the ultimate prize."

Jones was counting on the Cowboys becoming the first team to play in a Super Bowl at home. It seemed realistic coming off a division title and a playoff win.

But the season spun out of control early, forcing him to fire coach Wade Phillips after eight games. When Jones promoted Garrett, all the owner asked was that the coach make the team competitive again. Garrett did that from the start, taking Dallas to New York and beating the then-NFC East-leading Giants.

"What I told them today was I was very proud of them, of how they played the last eight weeks," Garrett said. "To continue to play hard -- win some hard-fought games, lose some hard-fought games, but continue to go about it the right way -- it was impressive to me as a coach and really as a fan of football."

Garrett must feel good about having drawn that out of his players. He can't celebrate that quite yet, though, not until Jones said it was good enough to cement the job.

"It's probably not the time for me to evaluate my performance," Garrett said. "... Publicly."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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