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Photo illustration by Ryan Burger

It was near-unanimously agreed upon by fans, sports radio personalities, and so-called NFL insiders that it would most likely take a Cowboys appearance in an NFC title game (or beyond) for head coach Jason Garrett to finagle his way into an extension on his expiring deal. As we’re all painfully aware, the football gods saw fit to deny Garrett such successes, and once the Philadelphia Eagles officially snatched the division title away from the faltering Cowboys, a countdown for word on Garrett’s imminent dismissal began. Strangely, no word came.

Counter to every media-ravenous fiber of his dark Sith Lord-inhabited soul, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was somehow able to remain uncharacteristically silent about the fate of the famously insentient coachspeak protocol droid. Not only was there no news from Jurrah himself, but there was also an impressively unprecedented shortage of leaks coming out of the Star on the subject as well. Media speculation ranged from that Jones was simply wanting to provide a soft landing for a man seen as part of the Jones family in all but name, allowing him the space to ease into the difficulty of the situation, or whether the Joneses might be taking a page from the two villainous Bobs in Office Space. Remember them? They ended the socially awkward Milton’s employment by fixing a payroll error to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation, so perhaps the Joneses were waiting until Jan. 14 (the last day of Garrett’s deal) hoping the situation would “work itself out naturally.” There was even a bizarre rumor that Garrett was pettily refusing to accept Jerry’s decision to replace him, much like George Costanza on Seinfeld, who hilariously just continued to show up for work with the Yankees after being fired.

The confounding silence finally ended when reports of meetings with potential replacements hit on Saturday. In an undoubtedly intentional media-vortexing slight against their division rivals, the Cowboys let the news finally drop just before halftime of the Eagles-Seahawks game, overshadowing the fairly boring Wild Card match-up’s coverage, if even only a little. After more than 26 years of being a near ever-present fixture occupying space on the Cowboys sideline — whether as a backup quarterback, as a prematurely hired offensive coordinator, or as a mediocre offensive coordinator failing upward to be head coach — the Dallas Cowboys organization has at last officially moved on.

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To many, it’s only fitting that Garrett’s final season with the Cowboys mirrored his first handful, frustratingly under-performing with a patented 8-8 record. Despite technically boasting a career winning percentage above .500 (85-67), to the majority of the Cowboys contingent, a middlingly even W/L ratio was practically integral to the code of Garrett-Bot’s operating system, and he will forever bear the scarlet double snowman upon his chest, a mark of superlative mediocrity.

I’m not going to jig atop the final resting place of the recently departed. My glee is less about Garrett’s removal because of any particular hatred for him than it is for the prospect of something — anything — new. Besides, I’ve got to think Garrett isn’t keen on having his lackluster tenure in Dallas be his only coaching legacy. He’s going to want another shot somewhere else — if you believe the rumor mill, he may be the Giants’ offensive coordinator by the end of the week. Being out from under Jerry’s thumb may just be the thing he needs to finally succeed. Despite how Cowboys fans may view him, at least according to some NFL “analysts” (does Trent Dilfer count?), he’s highly regarded around the league. I’m so used to former Cowboys freshly free of the oppressive yoke of JerryWorld exacting revenge upon their former team (anyone remember how Cole Beasley spent his Thanksgiving?) that the prospect of Garrett running, maybe the Giants, say, gives me more than a little pause.

Thankfully, the tendency for these types of situations is that once the ball begins to move, it starts to roll faster and faster. We didn’t have to wait long for  some idea of what the new different future for the Cowboys might look like. Less than 24 hours after it was announced that Garrett would not be returning, news that Dallas had hired former Packers bench boss Mike McCarthy to replace him broke on Monday, followed shortly after with the fact that Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan would be joining him as defensive coordinator.

Many fans are already grumbling about this hire. Obviously, one of the big college coaches whose names were tied to the prospective Dallas coaching vacancy — like University of Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, Baylor’s Matt Rhule, or former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer — would have been the flashier hire, but the thought of the window for this team at peak talent slamming shut while one of them is still trying to figure out the NFL isn’t exactly a thrilling prospect for me. Not to mention, it was never likely that any of them were willing to pay the price of admission to coach this team: dealing with an egomaniacal septuagenarian owner who’s likely to undermine your authority every time a microphone is present.

This isn’t a tear-it-down-and-start-all-over situation. A coach with a ton of NFL experience ought to be able to come in here with a different voice, a new personality, and a  fresh philosophy and shake these players out of their rut. McCarthy boasts a 125-77-2 regular season record (.618) and adds a 10-8 playoff mark and a Lombardi Trophy on top of it. While no one will confuse him for Bill Belichick, I feel he’s far better than what one friend dubbed him: “Just a fat Jason Garrett.” I think it’s a sizable upgrade (no pun intended).

I am more excited for this offseason than I typically am for the usual regular season. There’ll be so much to talk about, so much to learn about. For the first time in a decade, it’s a new and exciting time in Cowboysland. That is, until the first time McCarthy says the word “process” during a press conference. Then, we riot.

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