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Best: Aikman says Garrett has tough task in Dallas

Dallas Cowboys interim head coach Jason Garrett responds

Dallas Cowboys interim head coach Jason Garrett responds to a question during an NFL football news conference at the team's training facility. (Nov. 10, 2010) Credit: AP

No one is sure precisely what sort of "tangible success," as he put it, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones must measure to consider Jason Garrett as his permanent head coach.

But Troy Aikman is sure of this: Judging his friend and former backup by how he handles the mess he inherited on an interim basis is impractical at best and "unfair" at worst.

"You're being asked to change an environment and culture and do it within five days in a locker room that knows they're out of the playoffs and they're 1-7," the Fox analyst said Wednesday.

"Is that to imply there is no chance in heck Jason is going to turn it around? No, there's always a sliver of hope. But in all likelihood, this is a monumental effort. I don't think the evaluation can be fair."

Aikman recalled that after the 2007 season, Garrett was a hot property, passing on chances to coach the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens to stay with the Cowboys for a big raise.

And now? "I think he's an excellent head-coaching prospect," said Aikman, who will work Garrett's first game, against the Giants Sunday.

"Is he right for Dallas? I don't think anybody's right for this situation right now."

The larger question is who will be right for the Cowboys moving forward, and after two decades of playing for and later observing Jones closely, Aikman believes he has a good idea.

"The two head coaches who have really enjoyed great success [under Jones] have been Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells," he said. "And those two head coaches, at least from a player perspective, were viewed as guys the players had to answer to."

That is particularly important under Jones, who easily can overshadow a less-than-bold coach.

"Dallas has won and there has been a consistent model as to how they've done that, and yet it doesn't get followed," Aikman said. "That's the thing I guess that's more surprising to me than anything."

The fact America cares as much as it does about Jones' dysfunctional 1-7 team is itself a testament to his marketing savvy, Aikman said. But there remain profound pros and cons to working for the man.

On one hand, Aikman said, no NFL owner is more dedicated to giving his coaches what they believe they need to win. On the other . . .

"As a player, I would look at it and say, 'What are we doing? How does this help us get better as a team?' " Aikman said, recalling, for example, far-flung, marketing-driven preseason trips.

"But it's part of the dinner. You have to accept it."

Aikman is as surprised as everyone else at the Cowboys' epic ineptitude, particularly in recent weeks. He saw inklings of trouble as early as the preseason but thought the season still was salvageable after a 1-4 start until the loss to the Giants last month. He said the loss of quarterback Tony Romo that night is only part of the problem.

Now Wade Phillips is gone and Garrett is in, already trying to foster a tougher culture. He might not be around to see the process through, but you-know-who will be, for better and/or worse.

"I think he's got to accept responsibility as well," Aikman said of Jones. "They don't fire owners, so the constant is Jerry Jones. He's not going anywhere.

"In Dallas, everyone said Jerry Jones the owner needs to fire Jerry Jones the general manager. Well, that may be true, but that ain't going to happen. So to continue to belabor that point is kind of pointless."

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