Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 10/4/11
Bill Parcells tried to tell Cowboys fans there would be days like this, but no one wanted to listen as Tony Romo was taking the NFL by storm in 2006. Parcells was very fond of Romo from the start, but the same thing that made the quarterback special his improv work drove the former Cowboys coach nuts. He insisted many times that Romo needed to be "coached all the way through games" in order to avoid the same back-breaking mistakes that have contributed heavily to the Cowboys' two losses this season. A lot of us in the media questioned Parcells' hands-on approach, arguing that he needed to let Tony be Tony. Now, we're realizing the coach may have been onto something. Romo was brilliant in the first half Sunday and early in the third quarter against the Lions. But just as he did in the Meadowlands three weeks before, he took unnecessary risks that allowed an opposing team to climb back in a game. The maddening thing about Romo is that he's completely capable of walking into Foxboro two Sundays from now and leading the Cowboys to a win over the Patriots. The question before the jury today is how much responsibility should coach Jason Garrett bear for Romo's decision-making. Garrett gained credibility by somehow getting the lifeless Cowboys to win five games in the second half of the 2010 season. But his No. 1 mandate since arriving at Valley Ranch in '07 was to take Romo to the next level. That '07 team won 13 games before getting knocked out in the divisional round of the playoffs by the Giants. Garrett was offered two head-coaching positions (Falcons, Ravens) before deciding to remain with the Cowboys as the highest-paid assistant in the league. For better or worse, his coaching future is in the hands of Romo. At times ('09), that's been a really good thing for Garrett. But after losses like Sunday's, you have to wonder whether the coach is doing enough to help his prized pupil. This is not a defense of Romo's careless throws, but maybe he would benefit from an in-game butt-chewin' from Garrett. Instead, the coach's expression on the sideline almost never changes. He walks into a postgame news conference and sounds like the most detached physician you've ever encountered. Perhaps Garrett lets down his Princeton exterior behind closed doors, but there's no evidence of that in the way Romo made decisions in the second half Sunday. Garrett constantly stresses "situational football" with his players. He wants them to be prepared for anything that might arise in the fourth quarter. And that makes it even more perplexing that his team is undermined by its quarterback at such critical moments. Former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson, who will soon join the club's famed Ring of Honor, told me Tuesday that he believes Garrett and Romo have developed such a strong bond that it's hard for the coach to get through to the player. That's an interesting opinion especially when you consider that Garrett fired wide receivers coach Ray Sherman this past offseason because he allegedly coddled his players. "Being friends is OK until it gets in the way of the head coach doing what's best for the Dallas Cowboys," said Pearson. "Garrett is only about 13 years older than Romo. Coach Landry never befriended his players, not even Roger Staubach. We all became friends with coach Landry when we retired." Can a coach and player have too close of a relationship? Obviously, coaches such as Sean Payton and Bill Belichick have a strong bond with their quarterbacks. But it's hard to imagine either one being hesitant to lash out at Drew Brees and Tom Brady if that's what the situation calls for. Perhaps Garrett removes his tweed coat in private and firmly corrects his quarterback. But the perception is that he enables Romo by not doing anything to curb his reckless style. As one longtime NFL assistant coach explained to me Tuesday, "Garrett can't keep calling plays like it's the first quarter. It's not the same for the quarterback especially when he's faltered in this situation before. Help him out. Even the greatest quarterbacks need help." Romo deserves much of the blame for the Cowboys' two losses this season, but there's growing sentiment that Garrett should assume more of the blame. And if he doesn't act quickly, the Cowboys could throw away a great opportunity in a wide-open NFC East. If Garrett truly wants to be a friend to Romo, it might be time for some tough love. Otherwise, he's doing his quarterback no favors.
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