Just saying no

The Baltimore Sun

Just three years after he quit playing football, Jason Garrett stood near the pinnacle of his next chosen profession.

He had the chance to increase his salary, to work with bosses who draft Pro Bowl players in droves and, most importantly, to run his own team.

So why did Garrett turn down the Ravens' coaching job yesterday morning? And, more generally, why would anyone turn down the opportunity to become a head coach in the NFL, the nation's most popular professional sports league?

Agents and former NFL executives listed several reasons that could lead a coach to refuse an offer. He might not believe the hiring team can win quickly. He might have concerns about sharing power with entrenched executives. He might be loyal to his current organization, especially if it has a lot of talent. He might not like the financial offer.

Garrett was in a stronger position than many assistants who interview for head coaching jobs. He's the top offensive mind for a Dallas Cowboys team that just went 13-3 and features a young Pro Bowl quarterback in Tony Romo. He works for a bold owner, Jerry Jones, who countered the Ravens' offer with a large salary bump and, according to some reports, a promise that Garrett will eventually become head coach in Dallas.

"The reasons, to me, you can articulate them and they're pretty evident," said Garrett, who was promoted to assistant head coach and is now the highest-paid assistant in the league with an annual salary of $3 million. "They start with Jerry Jones ... and for giving us a chance to be a part of his team. It's a team that I have history with, and he just does a fabulous job as an owner giving us as coaches and players a chance to win."

Others suggest that with only three years of experience, Garrett - a thoughtful person by all accounts and the son of a coach - knew he needed more seasoning.

Or maybe he looked at the Ravens' uncertain quarterback situation and aging nucleus and saw the kind of team that has wrecked the fortunes of hot, young assistants in the past.

Former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt said Garrett isn't the sort to jump at any job just for wealth or status.

"Sometimes you look at a team and you don't see an upside to a team," Brandt said. "There's a lot of reasons. What I'm really trying to say is that he's not the type of guy that's just going to jump to be a head coach. He's a very bright, analytical guy."

Brandt sees positives and negatives about the Ravens' job.

"A lot of times, you can make great draft choices and rebuild quickly, but if you make great draft choices, you better have a quarterback," he said. "I think the plus side of the Ravens is that everyone thinks that Ozzie [Newsome, the general manager] and the owner are pretty good. They don't play on Sunday."

Whatever the specific reasons, football insiders disagree whether it's rational for a young assistant to turn away from such an offer.

One school of thought says NFL head coach is the ultimate goal for a football coach and anybody who turns down that job is a fool. After all, what happens to Garrett if the Cowboys go 8-8 next season and he's no longer such a hot commodity?

The other urges caution because nothing can wreck a young head coach faster than a rotten situation. What if the Ravens can't find a good quarterback, grow old on defense and go 15-33 over the next three seasons? Plenty of coaches, even good ones, never get another shot after a run like that.

"You don't know if you're going to get another chance, so you better be comfortable with the situation," said Dennis Cordell, founder of Coaches Inc., a Washington-based agency that specializes in advising coaches.

Cordell said that when considering a job, coaches think about the ability to win, the amount of control they will have over personnel, loyalty to existing bosses and players, and finally money.

Cordell said he wasn't surprised Garrett stayed in Dallas.

"When a guy feels that his current organization has his back, that goes a long way," Cordell said.

It's rare but not unprecedented for a career assistant to rebuff a head coaching offer. Jones was behind another instance in 2004, when he persuaded offensive coordinator Sean Payton to turn down the Oakland Raiders' job. Payton left for the New Orleans Saints in 2006.

Some coaches anticipate better offers. Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey turned down the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003 only to accept the Buffalo Bills' opening weeks later.

Many coaches who eschew offers do so because, like Garrett, they're assistants on formidable teams.

Current Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt ended negotiations with the Raiders in 2006, citing his desire to stay with the defending champion Steelers.

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who oversaw a record-setting passing attack this season, didn't even accept interview requests from the Ravens and Atlanta Falcons.

The temptation to stay with a strong team becomes greater when there's a suggestion the head coach's job might soon be available. Brandt still lives in Dallas and said the common perception there is that Garrett will succeed Wade Phillips at some point.

"When it comes to job satisfaction for a coach," Cordell said, "winning is always the most important thing."


Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

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