FRISCO, Texas -- To hear owner Jerry Jones tell it, coach Jason Garrett does not need to worry about his future. He is not on any kind of hot seat in 2018 after the Dallas Cowboys finished a disappointing 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
Jones has been patient with Garrett, even letting him get to the final year of his contract in 2014. Garrett answered that challenge with a 12-4 record, thanks to quarterback Tony Romo’s best season, and was rewarded with a five-year, $30 million deal.
If the Cowboys miss the playoffs in 2018, would Jones give Garrett a ninth season as head coach?
Using the seven head-coaching changes from 2017 into 2018 as a guide, what could the Cowboys be looking at if Jones makes a change?
The big name
The Oakland Raiders lured Jon Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth with what was reportedly a $100 million contract. He last coached in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 but remained close to the game during his time at ESPN.
Bill Cowher last coached in 2006 and has been on CBS’ pregame show ever since. His name has been tied to jobs even though he has professed he is done coaching. Could he be lured to the “big room,” as Bill Parcells called the Cowboys’ job in 2003?
What about Sean Payton? Yes, he is the New Orleans Saints' coach, but Jones has long been a fan and there have always been rumblings of a reunion. Payton took the Saints back to the playoffs in 2017, but he has been in New Orleans a long time.
Bob Stoops? Jim Harbaugh? Never underestimate the pull of the star.
The Belichick guy
Bill Belichick’s run of success with the New England Patriots has made his assistant coaches hot names. Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel left New England for lucrative head-coaching jobs. Now Patricia has a chance.
McDaniels might be too hot to touch with his handling of the Colts’ debacle, but would Jones care? No. He would want a coach who can help Dak Prescott the most. McDaniels is at the top of the list of playcallers in the NFL.
The former player
Mike Vrabel could be considered a Belichick guy as well, considering he played for so many years with the Patriots. His ascension from player to Ohio State assistant, Houston Texans defensive coordinator to Titans coach has been quick.
Dan Campbell was named Miami Dolphins coach after Joe Filbin was fired after four games in 2015. Campbell went 5-7 but brought a toughness to the Dolphins after he was named interim head coach four-plus seasons after he finished his playing career. Now the Saints assistant head coach, Campbell played three seasons with the Cowboys (2003-05), becoming something of a Parcells’ guy over the years. He also learned a high-powered offense under Payton and knows the Cowboys’ process.
The defensive coordinator
Steve Wilks had a one-year run as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, but he earned praise through the years as a position coach.
Kris Richard had interest from teams as a head coach when he was coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. He will be under Jones’ nose in 2018 as the Cowboys’ passing game coordinator and secondary coach. Jones has also seen what Jim Schwartz has done as the Philadelphia Eagles coordinator the past two seasons.
The offensive coordinator
Frank Reich got the job in Indianapolis after the McDaniels fiasco but his work with Nick Foles in helping the Eagles to Super Bowl LII should not lead folks to believe he was some kind of backup candidate.
If the Cowboys can't get Payton, then maybe they would look at his offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael. He has been with Drew Brees since their time together with the San Diego Chargers. Payton has had Carmichael call plays and has relied on him greatly over the years. Carmichael has interviewed for head coaching jobs in the past (Oakland).
The redemption guy
Pat Shurmur went 9-23 in two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Looking back, maybe he did a better job than anybody could have expected, since the Browns have one win over the past two years. The New York Giants hired Shurmur to take over for Ben McAdoo after their 2017 season fell apart and are banking on him being much better the second time around.
Campbell and Schwartz can fall into this category, but John Fox has a long friendship with Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. This would be his fourth chance, not second, but he took the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl before a poor showing with the Chicago Bears.
Jack Del Rio, a former Cowboy, took Oakland to the playoffs in 2016 for the first time since 2002 but lost his gig when Gruden opted to return. Twice he took the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs.
The out-of-nowhere guy
Nobody would have said Matt Nagy would be a head coaching candidate prior to the 2017 season but he did well as the Kansas City Chiefs playcaller after Andy Reid gave up the duties in-season. The Bears are hoping Matt Nagy can be the next Doug Pederson, who was also groomed by Reid.
Nobody expected much from Sean McVay when the Los Angeles Rams named him coach. He was 30 when he was hired and ended up being the NFL’s coach of the year in 2017.
Matt LaFleur is Vrabel’s new offensive coordinator in Tennessee. He was with the Rams last season under McVay. He also spent time with Mike and Kyle Shanahan. He’s 38 years old. New England linebackers coach Brian Flores interviewed for the Arizona Cardinals job and many across the league have raved about his future ability as a head coach.