IRVING, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talked about his new assistants for nearly 30 minutes before taking a question in his first offseason news conference Wednesday.
He emphasized his ties to the six newcomers, seemingly in anticipation of what he would hear when he finally turned things over to reporters.
Was he behind all these changes after a second straight 8-8 season and a third year in a row without a trip to the playoffs? Or was someone else? Dallas owner Jerry Jones' name didn't come up in the question, but it did in Garrett's answer.
"We've had a lot of discussions about coaches and players through the years, and the lines of communication have always been open," Garrett said. "My opinions are well-known, Jerry Jones' opinions, (executive vice president) Stephen Jones' opinions, our coaches' opinions."
Jones' opinion after the season was that he was going to make things "uncomfortable" at team headquarters. A revamping of the coaching staff followed, along with talk that Garrett would surrender play-calling duties.
All the chatter led to speculation — including from former Super Bowl-winning Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman — that Jones was calling all the shots and Garrett was just following orders, happy to still be the head coach even though he'll be one of the hottest seats in the NFL when the season starts. The speculation was strong enough for Jones and Garrett to try to knock it down in interviews on the team's website, and there was an overflow crowd for Garrett's nearly hour-long appearance Wednesday.
"Since I've been here as the head coach, he and I have had a really good relationship," Garrett said. "We've had very candid conversations, and this offseason has been no different."
If the decision on play-calling duties for 2013 has been made, Garrett's not saying, although he did say it would be his move to make. He has been the offensive play-caller since joining the staff under Wade Phillips in 2007, and he kept that role when he replaced Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season.
Garrett said he has re-evaluated whether he should call plays each offseason and said the same process was ongoing. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who called plays for the Oakland Raiders and in college at Nebraska, was mentioned by Garrett several times, but without the head coach saying Callahan would take over.
"The way that we had done things around here, candidly, is there has been a primary play-caller, which has been me, but these have always been collective exercises," Garrett said. "Bill was very involved in our play calling particularly with the run game this year. So what we're trying to do is work through the mechanics of that and as we get closer to playing a game, we can fill you in more specifically."
Garrett, a former Cowboys quarterback, talked at length about his final season as a player with Tampa Bay in 2004 because that was his first exposure to three new coaches on his staff: defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia.
Kiffin replaced Rob Ryan, who was fired after two seasons as the Cowboys decided to switch back to the 4-3 defense they played when Garrett was on the roster and they were winning Super Bowls in the 1990s. Dallas had switched to the 3-4 under Bill Parcells nearly a decade ago.
Garrett said the club first decided it had suitable personnel for the 4-3, and he said he picked Kiffin because his defenses in Tampa Bay were known for causing turnovers, and Marinelli's was in charge of a Chicago defense that forced 44 takeaways last season. Garrett also wanted a simpler scheme in case injuries piled up as they did in 2012 and Dallas had to sign players off the waiver wire.
"One of the conclusions we came to is that in this day and age in the NFL, with shortened offseasons, shortened training camps, injuries, all those kinds of things, it's important to try and put offensive and defensive systems in place that allow you to deal with the schedule and absorb the injuries that very well could happen," Garrett said.
The other newcomers are former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley as receivers coach, Gary Brown with the running backs and Frank Pollack as Callahan's offensive line assistant.
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