I know this is crazy long, so I'm sure a lot won't read it... but for those of you who want to: I have mentioned a few times in other threads that I thought Dallas was a franchise being run the right way and heading in the right direction. So, I thought I would make a post explaining what I meant when I said that. Really, there are two main areas that are vital to how a team is being run: The team itself (actual 53 guys on the roster), and the personnel side of things (draft, free agency, etc.). If either one isn't being done right, then it doesn't really matter what is going on with the other because the franchise isn't going to succeed anyway. Basically, a good coach without talent can't win and good players without discipline and coaching can't win. What excites me now is that the Cowboys look very healthy in both of those aspects. Finally. Dallas hasn't really looked like this since Jimmy Johnson took his Heineken's and left town. For Dallas fans, the slow erosion of those great early 90's teams was like a slow death. A franchise we were once so proud of was slowly-but-surely being chipped away at by internal forces. Forces that simply didn't think the franchise should be run the way most of us thought it should be. Accountability was replaced by enabling. Discipline was replaced by leniency. Deion didn't want to work and Woicik wanted him to, so it was the coach that left town, not the lazy player. Putting on that Star no longer meant you were the toughest, hardest worker in the NFL... but everyone at Valley Ranch thought it did. The team became sloppy on the field and sloppy off of it. It took a few years, but that line of thinking eventually led Dallas towards the bottom of the NFL landscape. The Cowboys were one of the most penalized teams in the league. Mistakes were frequent and the drafts were usually head scratchers. Eventually, when Dallas would draft a good player, I started to view it as more luck than anything else. The talent on the team plummeted, mistakes and penalties skyrocketed, and the teams won-loss record reflected that ineptitude. Things bottomed out at Sea-World with Campo, and the only thing that kept me going was the fact that as a Draftnik I was excited about picking in the top 5 of the draft. Then, Parcells came along and things significantly improved. He added some discipline and his reputation helped as much as his coaching in improving the team's record. Where he really helped a lot though, was in the draft. He completely re-vamped how the franchise ran the draft, and it turned out to be a huge step in the right direction. Parcells was about done coaching though, and while he helped a lot, he was no longer the coach that took teams to super bowls. He burned out rather quickly and Wade Phillips was brought in. Phillips is a great x's and o's guy, but is a terrible head coach. The discipline that Parcells had instilled in the team immediately started eroding, and a team that started out 2007 on fire, simply petered out by the time the playoffs rolled around. Sloppy play in the divisional round of the playoffs saw a Dallas team that should have moved on to the next game, have to go home instead. It was the same old nemesis: Penalties, bad routes, discord and chaos. Wade was an enabler, you see. He didn't hold the players accountable for their mistakes. Bad routes and stupid pre-snap penalties were tolerated, so why would the team work to eliminate them? Young, unproven guys never got a shot unless they were a first round pick, and everyone knew it... so why work hard to win the job when you couldn't? Why work hard to keep your job when the guy behind you wasn't working hard to take it? Eventually, the team imploded and simply quit on Phillips. He had to go. So, in came Garrett as the head coach, and immediately the team felt different. Mostly because they had quit on Phillips and were trying again, but there was also something that didn't quite feel like the status-quo around Valley Ranch. That feeling was validated when Garrett cut Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode, and Marc Columbo (among others) before the 2011 season. All were over-paid players who had been good at one time but were no longer playing up to their level of play. All of them were guys who were poster boys for Dallas' dumb pre-snap penalties, their lack of motivation, and lack of discipline. Garrett wasn't going to allow undisciplined, unmotivated, over-priced guys to be on the roster... and more importantly, Jerry wasn't going to stop him from getting rid of them. To me, that was a key indicator of real change. Cutting all of them before the 2011 season was what needed to be done. It's what a good NFL franchise would do... and it is what wouldn't have been done for the past two decades. Garrett knew the cancer had to be cut out. The problem guys had to go, and what's more, the rest of the team had to see that they were gone and know that stupid, undisciplined play would no longer be tolerated. The discipline that was expected from the team and the level of accountability they were being held to was increased to a point we hadn't seen since Jimmy left. The problem however, was that the team didn't really have people to replace those guys. The offensive line would suffer the most, and that is such an important unit that the entire team would suffer along with it. Still, it excited me to see all that dead weight jettisoned from the team, and the growing pains Dallas encountered were a small price to pay (in my mind) in return for a franchise that was actually doing things the way they should be done. I'm sure Garrett knew they were in for some hard times, but I'd bet that he was just as happy as I was to go through it. That had to be difficult to get Jerry to go along with, but it is a measure of just how much Jones respects Garrett and the way he wants to run things. Like I said, real change. Even with the problems, the team played hard, won half their games and had a shot at the playoffs. Just too many holes though. 2012 saw more changes and an increased emphasis on players who loved to play the game. Guys who football is important to and who working hard is just the way they do things. Longtime Jerry favorite Husdon Houck was "retired" and Bill Callahan was brought in. Discipline was an ongoing process and everyone was being held accountable. Again, the team was clearly in transition. Callahan taught a completely different way of blocking and there were still holes from Garrett's initial cleansing of the team. I wanted wins, but what I wanted more than that was to see discipline from the team. I wanted to see a difference on the field that would validate everything Garrett had been doing that I had wanted done. I wanted to draft guys who love to play football. I had wanted to get rid of the guys that couldn't concentrate enough to stay on-sides. I wanted to play the best players, not the highest paid ones. I wanted to see a difference on the field. I did. At first, it was kind of hard to tell, with the Seattle loss being particularly deflating. But as the season went on, you could begin to see a team that didn't fold under pressure. Amazingly, it was the other team that started to crack. Suddenly, it was the other team quitting before the Cowboys. With the game coming down to the wire, you started feeling like Dallas would pull it out, not mess it up. When the going got tough... it was Dallas that got going. You could see that adversity would galvanize the team rather than make it throw up its collective hands and move on to next week. As the year went on there were fewer penalties and fewer dumb mistakes. Simply put, Dallas began to look like it had real leadership and direction for the first time since Johnson was there. The franchise had rummaged through the hall closet, found its backbone, and dusted it off for the world to see. I started liking what I observed from the team on a consistent basis for the first time since the 90's. To me, it was clear that the current leadership's mantra was finally taking hold. What Garrett had been planting since midway through the 2010 season was finally taking root and poking its head up through the mud that has been NFL parity. There were still holes on the roster, for sure. The OL needed help and it lost us some games last year, but the culture change that the franchise so badly needed had finally taken place. It was 8-8 again, but it felt different. Tons of injuries, playing with a 4th string center, and a defense that was playing with half street free agents, and the death of one of it's players because of another player driving drunk... and yet the season ended with a string of wins and a decimated team falling short in Washington. Through all of that, the team improved, played tough, made the other teams fold, and damn near pulled itself into the playoffs. For someone who had watched the Switzer/Gailey/Campo/Phillips regimes, it was astounding. If that didn't make you realize this was a different team being run a different way, then you just weren't paying attention. The past off-season saw a continuation of the metamorphosis. A fundamental change on the defensive side of the ball to a more sound, mistake free unit moved that part of the team towards what Garrett wants out of his squad: Sound, fundamental football, without blown coverages and missed tackles. Few penalties, and a lot of turnovers. Now the defense is forcing the mistakes instead of making them. They're making the tackles instead of missing them. Now instead of pointing their fingers at each other, they are pointing them towards the sky. Another increase in accountability has also occurred. Players are being pulled for mistakes and others are taking their place. There is even less tolerance for penalties than there was last year. Mess up now, and anyone not named Romo might find himself sitting on the bench watching a rookie play in your spot. No yelling, no fighting... you are simply replaced if you make dumb mistakes. The team is becoming less and less concerned with how young a guy is too. If you are talented and don't make mistakes, you will play, period. Young guys are working hard to see the field, and the vets are working hard to keep them from taking their jobs. Penalties are still going down, down, down, and now when I see a flag fly on the field, I no longer expect it to be against Dallas. Actually, I almost expect it to be against the other team. What a great feeling. There are fewer mistakes made by the team now. They look like a well run, well coached team. Even in the chaos that is Arrowhead stadium against a well coached team, Dallas held its composure perfectly. They didn't look rattled and confused like so many teams do in that situation, and they damn near pulled that one out. I know a lot of the naysayers will think this is an optimistic post following a big win that was against an inferior team, but that loss to KC in Arrowhead stadium is more responsible for my optimism than the win against the Rams is. The Chiefs are a damn good team and that stadium, when it is rocking like that, is almost impossible to win in. It has unmanned many a team in years past, and I was thrilled with Dallas' composure, and their overall play. Had there been a couple more minuets on the clock, and the Cowboys could very well have walked out of there with a win. And frankly, the Rams aren't nearly as bad as we made them look. They took a very good Falcons team down to the wire at Atlanta the week before and they beat a pretty solid Arizona team in week 1. We undressed them for sure, but they are a solid well coached team. To summarize this insanely long post: to a guy who has watched every Cowboy game played since Jimmy Johnson was hired in 1989, it is clear that the franchise is finally doing things the right way again. Is it all Garrett, or is it Garrett in conjunction with Jerry and Stephen that is running things the right way again finally? I don't know, and I don't really care. All I care about is that it looks like a well run, well coached franchise. All I care about is that the team looks fundamentally sound and smart. That they look like a team that loves the game and that football appears to be very, very important to each player out there. I love the fact that we are putting young, aggressive, talented players out on the field and that the old, expensive guys who had a sense of entitlement are gone. I love that the players, to a man, parrot what coach Garrett is saying. They listen. They learn. This is a young team. This is a well coached team. This is a hungry team. This isn't an easy team to beat. This is a smart team. This team is constantly evolving. This is a team we can trust. They won't win them all, but this is finally Garrett's team, and it is a group of guys that should compete for the division and beyond. It still has some holes. It isn't a complete team... But it is completely dedicated to winning football, and I am finally proud of the Dallas Cowboys again.