FRISCO, Texas -- Whenever a NFL coach is hired, there is always an expiration date. For some, it doesn't take very long to figure out. For others, it might take nine seasons.
Jason Garrett's fate already seems determined as the Dallas Cowboys scuttle along with a 6-7 record. Yes, they are in first place in the NFC East, thanks to a tiebreaker over the Philadelphia Eagles, but they are in the midst of a second three-game losing streak entering Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).
The Cowboys are trending in a direction that has many believing Garrett's expiration date could be as soon as Dec. 30, the day after the regular season ends, or whenever a playoff appearance ends in something other than a spot in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19 or Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.
Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones likely has a list of potential coaches, but it isn't something he is expected to share.
So, what will Jones see when he surveys the landscape for a coach to bring him an elusive Super Bowl title after a 24-year drought?
For years, there has been a feeling New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton will return to coach the Cowboys. The timing has never really meshed, especially with Payton signing a five-year deal at the start of this season. But that wouldn't necessarily preclude Jones from inquiring about Payton, who was a Cowboys assistant from 2003 through 2005 under Bill Parcells.
Everybody has a price, and Jones has said folks would not believe how much he would pay for another Super Bowl. In terms of draft capital, would the Gruden price suffice? Eleven months after Tampa Bay landed Gruden, the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.
If not Payton, how about Mike Zimmer? He was a Cowboys assistant coach from 1994 through 2006. His deal with the Minnesota Vikings runs through 2020. The asking price might not be as high as Payton's and the addition of Zimmer would allow Jones to keep the bulk of the offensive staff, which has helped quarterback Dak Prescott, remain intact because of Zimmer's familiarity with the staff.
In many cases, coaching searches are a game of musical chairs. Whenever the music ends, coaches swap one logo for another. Sometimes these moves can be viewed as uninspired because the coach failed in one spot. Other times, teams hit, and New England's Bill Belichick is an obvious example.
From 2011 through 2019 with the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera had a 76-63-1 record. Garrett has a better regular-season record at 83-66, but Rivera has a Super Bowl appearance on his résumé (2015). In 2007, Rivera interviewed with Jones, so the Cowboys know him. He also has a defensive background that would allow the offense to be "Dak friendly."
From 2006 through 2018, Mike McCarthy was coach of the Green Bay Packers, overseeing the quarterback transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. He has a 125-77-2 record and made the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. He has a championship, winning Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium. Things grew stale with Rodgers at the end of their run together, but McCarthy inflicted two painful playoff losses on the Cowboys in 2014 and 2016. The body of McCarthy's work needs to be recognized more than the way it ended.
Perhaps Josh McDaniels should be in a third-chance category, but he never coached a game for the Indianapolis Colts, backing out of an agreement in 2018. His two-year run with Denver did not go well (11-17), but he has the Belichick seal of approval as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. He has directed a unit that has shown the ability to adapt to any situation, although the struggles this season have been greater in part because of Rob Gronkowski's retirement and the lack of a big-play threat at receiver. Is he a product of Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady's success, or is he somebody who can win on his own?
The pool of assistant coaches does not seem to be as inspiring as in past years. Last year, NFL teams seemed willing to hire anybody who shook hands with Rams coach Sean McVay. It has worked in Green Bay with Matt LaFleur. It has not worked as much in Cincinnati with Zac Taylor.
Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy has worked his way up the coaching ladder and earned the respect of many across the league. Coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree also will help his candidacy.
Lamar Jackson's success has made Baltimore Ravens coordinator Greg Roman a hot name. He also succeeded with Colin Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers. Given the pieces of the Cowboys' offense, it is possible to picture Roman's offense working with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper.
New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has been with Payton from the beginning with the Saints and with quarterback Drew Brees going back to their time in San Diego. Dan Campbell has been Payton's assistant head coach and tight ends coach since 2016. He has head-coaching experience, going 5-7 as the Miami Dolphins' interim coach in 2015. He has interviewed for a number of jobs since and would bring a tough-guy demeanor. Having played for the Cowboys from 2003 through 2005, he has insider knowledge of the Jones operation.
Matt Eberflus was on Garrett's original staff in 2011, serving as linebackers coach as the Cowboys kept their 3-4 scheme. In 2013, he remained on staff and became a Rod Marinelli disciple in the 4-3 scheme. In 2016-17, he was the passing game coordinator and calling defenses some of the time. He thought he would be working for McDaniels in Indianapolis, but he has done a solid job in two years as coach Frank Reich's coordinator.
San Francisco's rise to prominence will bring attention to its staff. While defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has plenty of talent to work with, he has gotten it to work at a high level, as the 49ers lead the NFC West at 11-2.
However you want to credit the Cowboys' three Super Bowl wins of the 1990s, they all came with a college coach running the show in Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Given how the college game has trickled up to the NFL, especially offensively, would Jones go that route?
Lincoln Riley's name has been attached to the Cowboys for the past couple of years in part because of how impressed executive vice president Stephen Jones was when Riley recruited his son, John Stephen, to Oklahoma. For years, many assumed Bob Stoops would make the trek from Oklahoma to Dallas, but he never did, except for his impending run as coach of the XFL's Dallas Renegades. Riley's name figures to continue that connection, and he is 3-0 at AT&T Stadium.
Riley's Sooners beat Baylor in last weekend's Big XII title game in Arlington, Texas, but Baylor coach Matt Rhule earned major credit for how he has rebuilt a program that went 1-11 two years ago. The New York Jets likely regret passing on Rhule now. Rhule has one year of NFL experience (2012 as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants), but he has successfully built two programs in Temple and Baylor.
Earlier this season, Urban Meyer said he would be interested in the Cowboys job if it came open. He has had success at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. He coached Elliott at Ohio State and knows the pressure of winning in a high-profile situation. He won a College Football Playoff National Championship at AT&T Stadium.
Can college coaches succeed in the NFL? It worked for Johnson. Pete Carroll had NFL experience before coaching an ultra-successful run at Southern Cal, and then he returned to the league. How did former Oregon coach Chip Kelly work out in Philadelphia? Will former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury succeed in Arizona?
The jump is big no matter the success a coach has had at the college level.
Foxworth: Marvin Lewis should be head coach of the Dallas Cowboys
While Bill Barnwell thinks Jerry Jones should hire Ron Rivera.
The wild cards
This is Jerry Jones we are talking about, so anything is possible. Who saw Switzer coming? Who saw Parcells working with Jones?
Mike Shanahan last worked in the NFL in 2013 for the Washington Redskins. With Robert Griffin III in 2012, things looked promising, then the quarterback got hurt and Shanahan was gone one year later. He won two Super Bowls in Denver.
Who knows if Shanahan would have interest in returning to the NFL? He turns 68 in August and Parcells was 62 when he came to Dallas.
How about someone without NFL coaching experience? Jason Witten. Eyes might roll, but the Cowboys tight end has long wanted to coach and his name was linked to his alma mater, Tennessee, two years ago.
Witten, 37, returned to the Cowboys following a one-year stint as an analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football. He knows the Cowboys' roster and is inside the operation. It has not been done in the NFL, but Steve Kerr did not have coaching experience before he took over the Golden State Warriors and Aaron Boone did not have managerial experience before he took over the New York Yankees.
Maybe he should be in the college coaches' category, but Jim Harbaugh has been to a Super Bowl even if he has yet to beat Ohio State while at Michigan. He had a 44-19-1 record from 2011 to 2014 with the San Francisco 49ers and went to the playoffs in three of his four years. Would he work with the Cowboys' structure? Does he want to get back to the NFL? The allure of the "big room" drew Parcells to Dallas.