OXNARD, Calif. – Jerry Jones opened his 25th training camp as owner of the Dallas Cowboys sounding as if coach Jason Garrett would be around for 25 more.
The first vote of confidence came even before someone could ask Saturday in the annual State of the Cowboys address that Jones gives on the eve of camp.
The words got stronger after the questions started. Jones said it was a mistake to consider this a make-or-break year for Garrett, who missed the playoffs with 8-8 records in each of his two full seasons.
Both ended with losses in finales to NFC East rivals with a playoff berth on the line.
The owner and his coach shared a concert-like stage for nearly 40 minutes in what has become something of a summer tradition for Jones since he bought the team in 1989. Garrett had to duck out for the first team meeting of camp, and as he was walking off the stage, Jones was asked whether it was fair to say Garrett’s job was on the line.
Jones leaned into the microphone, said no in several ways and even suggested that he was looking beyond the two years remaining on Garrett’s contract.
I look to the future with Jason and not just through his contract that we’re sitting here with right now, Jones said. But it is not what is implied when you say, Well, this is an Armageddon year for him.’ It is not that with me.
The questions started as soon as the Cowboys overhauled their defensive staff a few weeks into the offseason, and not long after Jones said he was going to make things uncomfortable at team headquarters.
Fueled by the comment, speculation centered on Garrett being a rubber stamp for the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the hiring of replacement Monte Kiffin and the decision to move play-calling duties from Garrett to Bill Callahan.
Kiffin might not have helped things when he said his first phone calls were from the owner and his son, executive vice president Stephen Jones.
Garrett had a stock answer for the hot seat issue all offseason: Everyone in the NFL is on it.
The question for him Saturday was getting out of his personal .500 rut – and the team’s. The Cowboys are 128-128 going back to the start of the 1997 season.
We are what we are to this point, Garrett said. But at some point in your life, you have to let the past go, whether it’s been great, good, mediocre or not so good. And you focus on learning from those experiences and getting better and take advantage of the opportunity in front of you.
Garrett and Jones think the Cowboys are better because they’re healthier than they were after a 28-18 loss to Washington that kept them out of the playoffs.