IRVING, Texas – Jason Garrett stood before the Dallas Cowboys on Monday and gave them their marching orders for the offseason. He encouraged them to watch the playoffs and to be frustrated over not being a part of it. He talked about things they can do to become a playoff team next year.
Speaking to reporters, Garrett said he'll be at the Senior Bowl later this month to check out potential draft picks and that "going forward, we will continue to implement the changes in regards to the offseason and how we do training camp and some of those things."
In every way, he sounded like a guy who plans to remain in charge.
Garrett has acted like a permanent coach since becoming the team's interim leader two months ago. So the image he projected Monday was no surprise.
If anything, team owner Jerry Jones allowing Garrett to fill those roles Monday was the latest indication he will be returning.
"It's probably not the day to talk about that, to be honest with you," Garrett said. "Today is really a day to start the evaluations of our players and, in due time, we'll have some conversations about that."
Garrett has built a strong case by taking a team that had been 1-7 and going 5-3, with the losses by a total of seven points. He might already have the job if not for a league rule requiring Jones to interview a minority candidate.
Jones is expected to meet with receivers coach Ray Sherman, who is black. He's talked about meeting with outside candidates, too. Jones also said he plans to keep the pool small and wants to decide soon. When asked Sunday about the new coach's involvement on hiring assistant coaches, Jones may have revealed his intentions by replying, "That is certainly something that Jason needs to have input in."
Garrett said he and Jones have no meetings set up. Don't read anything into that because Jones already has said he doesn't need to interview Garrett.
"The last eight games spoke for themselves," said linebacker Bradie James, a defensive captain. "That's why he was able to address us today. If they wouldn't have went the right way, he wouldn't have been up there. It would've just been Jerry."
Other teams with vacancies could seek permission to interview Garrett. Technically, when the season ended Sunday his status reverted to assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. He's under contract for those jobs for one more season.
Asked if he would even talk to other teams, Garrett said, "We'll just let that whole situation unfold."
While Garrett dancing around most aspects about his future, he offered morsels of insight. Such as his belief that being both offensive coordinator and head coach — as he's done since early November — is "an efficient way to do it."
He avoided a direct answer about whether he and Jones have discussed removal of the interim tag by saying, "A large, large majority of our conversations have been what we're doing each and every day." Thus, a small, small minority of their conversations were about that.
"We've always had the feel that he's our head coach since he's taken over," said third-string quarterback Stephen McGee, who led Dallas to a victory over Philadelphia on Sunday in his first career start. "He got everybody to buy in from the very beginning. ... I think everybody that's played for him believes in him and would love to play for him."
Jones spoke to the club Monday, too, and brought up his favorite subject: the Super Bowl.
Failing to make this one extends Dallas' drought to 15 straight seasons, the longest in franchise history. This failure hurts more because the game will be played in Cowboys Stadium.
"I encourage every teammate to watch it and let your stomach boil a little bit," tight end Jason Witten said. "That's what it's about, the playoffs and seeing those teams celebrate and go for the ultimate prize."
Jones was counting on the Cowboys becoming the first team to play in a Super Bowl at home. It seemed realistic coming off a division title and a playoff win.
But the season spun out of control early, forcing him to fire coach Wade Phillips midway through. When he promoted Garrett, all Jones asked was to make the team competitive again. Garrett did that from the start, taking Dallas to New York and beating the division-leading Giants.
"What I told them today was I was very proud of them, of how they played the last eight weeks," Garrett said. "To continue to play hard — win some hard-fought games, lose some hard-fought games, but continue to go about it the right way — it was impressive to me as a coach and really as a fan of football."
Garrett has to feel good about having drawn that out of them. He can't celebrate that quite yet, though, not until Jones said it was good enough to cement the job.
"It's probably not the time for me to evaluate my performance," he said. "... Publicly."