Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has had nearly two months to get a head start on hiring his next coach. He says he's put it to good use.
Although Jones says Monday he hasn't contacted anyone — even informally — he has been refining his list of candidates. Without giving away any names, he said it will include fewer than the 10 prospects he hired last time.
"I doubt that we will have that kind of extensive interviewing," he said.
Interim coach Jason Garrett seems to be near the top of the list, especially since Jones said Dallas' loss to Arizona on Saturday night did not hurt his chances.
"A game like the other night gives you two perspectives," Jones said. "You can take a look at the last five or six ballgames and you can be critical of it, or you can take a look at it and have some positive things to look at it, too.
"I'm looking at it from the positive. ... I'm not negative about that game as it relates to future decisions with our coaches."
The Cowboys are 4-3 since Garrett replaced Wade Phillips. They were 1-7 when the change was made, and had been crushed the past two games.
The losses under Garrett have been by a combined seven points. There's no shame in losing by a field goal to NFC East champion Philadelphia and to Super Bowl champion New Orleans among the teams that narrowly beat them. However, losing to Arizona — and making all sorts of Phillips-era mistakes — left Jones saying afterward he was "mad as hell."
Having a few days to cool off, Jones apparently prefers to remember Dallas overcoming deficits of 14-0 and 21-3 to lead in the final minutes, with third-string quarterback Stephen McGee rallying the club in his NFL debut.
"I like the way our team hung in there, coming back in an adverse situation," Jones said.
Jones was vague about his timetable, stressing how much the ongoing labor negotiations will be a factor. That, too, could be interpreted as being pro-Garrett.
If a lockout hits in early March, a new coach would have less time to dig in, whereas Garrett already has a half-season head start.
"If you're putting in new systems, that's going to be tough with a shortened offseason," Jones said.
Jones can't give Garrett the job yet anyway because of the Rooney Rule, which requires him to interview at least one minority candidate. Receivers coach Ray Sherman is likely to be among those Jones interviews, although he said such a decision wouldn't be made to fill a quota.
"It's just too logical for me if we've got qualified people on our staff to interview them," Jones said.
Garrett is working under a special contract as interim coach. Once the season ends Sunday in Philadelphia, he will still be under his previous contract as assistant head coach-offensive coordinator. That means he could interview with another team, too, which might force Jones to speed up his timetable.
Garrett has been reluctant to discuss this topic, and remained so Monday.
"I think I am at my best and I think we're at our best when we focus on the what's right in front of us," Garrett said. "It's just the way you do it. I think anybody in this game understands the importance of doing that. I had to do that as a player and as an assistant coach. And I certainly have to do it here."
When Jones was asked about his interest in former Super Bowl-winning coaches who are available, such as Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, he brought up the fact no coach has ever won a Super Bowl with two franchises.
"That's long odds," Jones said. "That's worth noting."
He also made it clear he considers his team ready to rebound. Quickly.
"I certainly do think that we have the ability, based on what I've seen other teams do, what I've seen us do," he said. "I certainly think we can hit the ground running. With a quarterback like (Tony) Romo, I think we can."
Don't get the wrong impression, though. Jones said he plans to take a wrecking ball to the roster, especially to a defense that's allowed the most points in franchise history. Coming off an 11-5, division-championship season, the Cowboys only changed two starters and both were backups who got promoted.
"We had every right to look at starters and the guys that had played well the year before to pencil them in," he said. "We all know that penciling them in didn't work in terms of where we find ourselves. ... All of this impacts your personnel decisions."
The last time Jones went on a coaching search was early 2007, after Bill Parcells left. Some of the candidates Jones considered were back in the news Monday — Mike Singletary, who was fired by the 49ers; Norv Turner, whose job with the Chargers could be in jeopardy after being ousted from the playoffs Sunday; and Tony Sparano, who could be out in Miami after going 1-7 at home and missing the playoffs.
"I was real proud of the group we interviewed," Jones said, laughing, "but they're falling like flies, or at least in trouble."