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Top-five candidates to coach the Dallas Cowboys if Jason Garrett is fired

Luke Mullin
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When Jason Garrett takes charge of the Cowboys in 2019, it will mark his ninth season leading the team. With just three playoff appearances resulting in divisional round exits, anything less than a playoff berth could end up costing Garrett his job.

If the Cowboys do end up moving on from Garrett, there are five coaches who sit atop the list to become the next great Dallas coach.

Tony Romo: It would be a bold call to hire someone with no previous coaching experience. But if anyone can do it, it’s Romo.

  • The new McVay: His time as an analyst has shown Romo’s prowess as an offensive mind capable of reading defenses. The NFL is trending toward exciting, offensive wrinkles, as shown in Los Angeles and Kansas City. Romo could be the next big offensive guru.
  • Mr. Popular: Romo remains one of Dallas’ most popular figures, and he and owner Jerry Jones have a great friendship. Cowboys fans would certainly be receptive to one of their own in Romo, and more than anything else, he understands what it means to win in Dallas.
  • Announcer duties: The downside for the Cowboys could be convincing Romo to leave his analyst position with CBS. Romo was linked with coaching jobs this past offseason, but he preferred to remain in the broadcast booth, and is seeking a big-money extension.

Mike Tomlin: With eight playoff appearances in 12 years with the Steelers, Tomlin’s time in Pittsburgh has been a massive success. However, it could come to an end soon.

  • A worthy coach: Tomlin is regarded among the NFL’s best coaches and for good reason. The Steelers have never finished with a losing record under him, and a Super Bowl title is something few coaches can boast.
  • End of an era: Despite on-field success, instability has threatened the Steeler locker room and Tomlin may finally have enough of it. All-Pro weapons Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are gone, and Ben Roethlisberger can’t have many years left. The Steelers are still a good team in the present, but it may be time for Tomlin to move onto a new project.

Mike McCarthy: If Tomlin is unwilling to leave the Steelers, the Cowboys could go another Super Bowl-winning coach in McCarthy.

  • Offensive mindset: There’s no denying McCarthy’s ability as an offensive coach. The Packers finished with a top-10 offense in nine of his 12 full seasons with the team. Having Hall of Fame quarterbacks didn’t hurt, but a run of eight straight playoff appearances requires solid coaching.
  • Gap year: Two consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance signaled McCarthy’s exit from Green Bay. While he was considered for coaching jobs this offseason, McCarthy chose to take the year off instead. He’ll be on the market if the Cowboys want him, but they could face interest from other teams too.
  • The right fit: There are still concerns about McCarthy’s coaching ability, especially with the Packers’ defensive struggles in recent seasons. The Packer defense was average, at best, over McCarthy’s tenure. Oftentimes it was downright bad. If he is to land a big-time job with the Cowboys, he’ll need a talented defensive coordinator by his side.

Jim Harbaugh: While he may have a great job with the Michigan Wolverines, Harbaugh could jump back into the NFL ranks to lead the Cowboys.

  • Foolish 49ers: Harbaugh’s success with the 49ers speaks for itself. He had a three-year run of conference championship appearances. Following an 8-8 season in 2014, Harbaugh was let go by the 49ers, and they have totaled just 21 wins in four seasons since.
  • Leaving Big Blue: Since then, Harbaugh jumped back into college coaching with Michigan. His teams have been good, with three 10-win seasons, but not elite. With no wins over rival Ohio State and no Big Ten championships since 2004, some Wolverine boosters could potentially push Harbaugh to the exits once again.

Josh McDaniels: Nearly the next coach of the Indianapolis Colts, McDaniels chose to remain in New England as one of the league’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

  • Benefiting from Brady: McDaniels is regarded as one of the league’s top offensive coaches, and has been with the Patriots for six Super Bowl titles. Brady continues to perform well, but he won’t be with the Patriots forever, and McDaniels would be wise to set up his coaching career elsewhere.
  • Learning from the past: One of the hangups on McDaniels’ coaching record is his time with the Denver Broncos. He went just 11-17 in his only head coaching experience, and was part of a videotaping scandal as well. If he is to be a candidate for the Dallas job, McDaniels needs to demonstrate growth from his previous work.

The bottom line: If Garrett can’t get the job done, Dallas will likely move for an offensive mind who can utilize the talents of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper. There are many coaches out there who fit that bill, but they all come with their downsides as well.

For now, Garrett remains in charge, but his job relies on another playoff run.