I wouldn't want to be in Jason Garrett's shoes.
The Dallas Cowboys' head coach is coming up on the time when he's going to have to make the call on whether to hand the starting quarterback of "America's Team" back to veteran Tony Romo, or keep the reins in the hands of the young, dynamic rookie Dak Prescott, who has captured the hearts of Cowboy Nation in Romo's absence.
Prescott didn't win over the skeptical fans because of his nice smile and calm disposition. In Dallas all that matters is whether you win games and lead your team to a Super Bowl. Prescott got the attention of the Cowboy faithful by sometimes quietly, sometimes flamboyantly, leading his team to a 7-1 start and first place in the NFC East.
He's not thrown for more than 300 yards in any game this year, mostly because they have the best offensive line in the business and the NFL's leading rusher in co-rookie Ezekiel Elliott so they run a balanced attack. His only loss comes to division-rival New York Giants in the season opener but since then has won seven straight games including victories over the other division competitors, Washington and Philadelphia.
The most eye-catching statistic is that he's only had four turnovers — two fumbles, two interceptions — since taking over at the helm, a huge accomplishment for a rookie quarterback. Apparently this is nothing new to Prescott.
He set the rookie record for 155 consecutive passes without an interception and threw 50 passes in the preseason without a single interception. He even holds the Mississippi State record for throwing 288 passes without being intercepted.
Romo's first pass in 2006, against the Giants, was an interception.
Romo has been the leader of this franchise for a decade when he took over for then starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe. In that span, Romo has led the Cowboys to 80 wins, thrown for more than 34,000 yards, with 247 touchdowns against 117 interceptions for a 97.1 quarterback rating. Although he hasn't won a Super Bowl and only two of those wins were in the playoffs (against four losses) there are many teams that would love to have had him on the sidelines.
This is a situation if you've been coaching long enough that each of us has faced at some point in our career, although certainly not with as much as stake as the Prescott vs. Romo decision.
Injuries are a part of the game, no matter what game, no matter what level, and unfortunately we all have to deal with them. The player has to attack the rehabilitation with as much fervor and dedication as his or her preseason workouts, if not more. The medical staff has to push them to improve while nurturing the injury to avoid a future incident. And the coach has to continue to coach his or her team with the available players to try to win games and advance the goals of the team.
That's where the issue comes in sometimes. When there is a conflict between what is good for the player and what is good for the team, where does your allegiance lie?
I'm not talking about the physical health of the player, that's a no-brainer; always err on the side of overprotection of the athlete, even if it costs you your job as has happened to friends of mine.
I'm talking about when a player is physically ready to return but his or her return to action may not be what's in the best interest of the team. I've had to deal with injuries too much as a coach but most of the time the player returned healthy and got his or her starting position back with little competition. That's not a complicated decision to make.
There have also been instances when I've had to make the tough decision to keep the replacement player in the vacated role and try to work out a way to fit the former starter back in to a productive role for our team. There have even been times when the injury changed the player or the replacement player made the most of his or her opportunity and it's unfortunate for the former player who lost the job due to injury, but as a coach you have to make the decision that gives the team the best opportunity to win. Sometimes that's not always popular with the player and never popular with the parents.
I know I haven't always made the best decision when it comes to this situation and I wish Jason Garrett the best when that day comes.
I just try to live by the words of author and motivational speaker Byrd Baggett when he says, "Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror."
Prescott is the way forward.
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