Should Jerry Jones and the Cowboys become so frustrated with their 2019 season to the point of firing Jason Garrett, it would open up arguably the most desired coaching job in all of American sports for the first time in a decade.
Garrett, 53, has led Dallas since taking over for Wade Phillips halfway through 2010, with three playoff trips and two playoff wins on his resume. Dallas (6-5) is clinging to first place in a weak NFC East going into Thanksgiving’s home game vs. Buffalo (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS), looking for its third division title in five seasons.
But with Jones having Super Bowl expectations for his team, more struggles against winning teams may push him to make another big midseason coaching change. And if the Cowboys don’t fire Garrett, whose current contract expires after 2019, they could simply choose not to re-sign him to a new contract for 2020 and beyond.
The Cowboys, a marquee franchise with a talented roster built to win it all now, would have endless high-profile options with whom to best replace Garrett. And Jones is always willing to back up the Brinks truck for anyone he feels will get the job done.
Using futures odds, per BetOnline.ag, as a point of reference, Sporting News ranked the seemingly bottomless pool of potential candidates who could replace Garrett if he’s fired.
1. The big college names
It’s interesting Urban Meyer is the betting favorite above everyone else. He’s been outstanding as a Fox college football analyst, but there’s a strong feeling he will be in play for a potential USC opening, so extending that to the top NFL opening isn’t a stretch.
Meyer’s ability to deliver championships in short, combined with his organizational and motivational skills and special teams acumen, would be ideal for Jones to get his team over the Super Bowl hump, despite the lack of pro experience. He obviously knows offense well and has a direct connection with Ezekiel Elliott.
Lincoln Riley, the offensive wunderkind, makes a ton of sense, too, but the trick there is giving him enough incentive to leave a cushy spot at Oklahoma after replacing Bob Stoops, who may not want the stress of high-pressure NFL coaching as his return.
Jim Harbaugh is always in play for the best NFL gigs. Nick Saban will retire before ever giving the NFL another try after the Dolphins debacle. Dabo Swinney is a demigod at Clemson, and replacing Saban at Alabama is the only way he might consider leaving. Going Chip Kelly to replace Garrett doesn’t sound like an upgrade.
2. The big NFL names
Sean Payton is under contract with the Saints until 2022, so this is a longshot, unless Jones, as the Cowboys’ GM, can pull off a blockbuster trade for him. But there’s no doubt Jones once loved Payton as his offensive coordinator and thought he would be running his team one day. For Payton to get out of his situation, he would need to think Drew Brees is hanging it up soon, but that’s likely not happening, either.
Peyton Manning and Bill Cowher have less stressful things to do than coach in the Dallas fishbowl. Going Mike McCarthy feels like it would be a sub-lateral move away from Garrett.
3. Hot NFL assistants
Josh McDaniels would certainly be in play again for every coach-seeking team after it didn’t work out with the Colts last year. Jones, after losing to the Patriots, may want to tap into Bill Belchick’s top play-caller and think Dallas would work out better than Denver.
Robert Saleh looks ready to lead a team to big things with his energy after what he’s doing with the 49ers defense. The other three are probably not splashy enough for Jones.
4. Other college names
This has a very Big 12 “close proximity to Dallas” feel to it, doesn’t it? Tom Herman , Mike Gundy , Matt Rhule and Gary Patterson are currently head coaches in that conference, and Mike Leach used to be. Chris Petersen looks like he could make a nice transition from Washington to the NFL. Forget about Lane Kiffin and James Franklin , who could bring more volatlity vs. the stability of Garrett. Overall, there’s a feeling that most of these guys would be in over their heads under Jones’ rule.
5. Other NFL assistants
|1.||Ken Norton Jr.||16/1|
Ken Norton, Dan Campbell and Todd Haley all have Cowboys ties as guys Jones has liked in the past, a la Garrett. Norton has that Super Bowl glory day appeal and Campbell is rising again under Sean Payton in New Orleans. Gus Bradley deserves another shot in a situation that isn’t the Jaguars and he’s still very young. Jim Schwartz and Mike Munchak aren’t big enough for Big D, despite their previous head-coaching experience.
6. Cowboys assistants
File Kris Richard in the “master motivator” column, given he, like Norton, did a great job firing up troops under the high-energy Pete Carroll. Rod Marinelli has that Lions head-coaching experience, but it’s not a good one.
Handing the keys to Kellen Moore, despite the fact he’s only 31, seems like very much in play for Jones; it’s the kind of move he would make to copycat the rest of the NFL, given Garrett’s conservatism has been at odds with Moore’s successful aggressive passing attack at times. Too bad there aren’t odds for Moore, because outside of Urban Meyer, he may actually be the most appealing Garrett replacement.
7. Big Cowboys names
Tony Romo returns to Dallas to call the game on Thanksgiving, where Jones will further appreciate his former quarterback’s amazing football knowledge. It’s hard to see Romo ever giving up his prized CBS gig to go into a totally new job with no experience, unlike what happened with Jon Gruden, “Monday Night Football” and the Raiders.
Jason Witten is already a player-coach, but should he actually retire after 2019, watch out. He’s been in head-coaching headlines before with those wacky Tennessee rumors.
Barry Switzer, 82, and Jimmy Johnson, 76, gave Jones his most recent Super Bowl titles, but of course they’re not coming back to help Jones much later in life.
That leaves Jerry Jones, 77, pulling a Ted Turner and coming down from the owner’s/general manager’s box to lead his team himself. He could simply let Moore and Marinelli continue calling plays and hire situational analytics folks to do the rest of the in-game stuff.
OK, maybe not. But with “them Cowboys” and Jones, you can’t completely rule it out.
Meyer and Moore are the sneaky best feasible replacements, however, while Norton and Richard, for the moment, are the top sleepers.