Unless the Cowboys win the NFC East (not likely) and then start winning postseason games (less likely), Jason Garrett will be out after more than nine seasons as head coach. So what happens next for America's Team?
Earlier this month, Cowboys owner and G.M. Jerry Jones seemed to throw water on the notion of hiring a college coach.
"College coaches coming directly into [NFL] head coach have the lowest percentage rate of success as opposed to coming from coordinators," Jones said. "You pay a price for somebody to get up to date."
It's possible that Jones said what he said because he believes what he said. It's possible that he said what he said because he already has determined that he won't be able to get the college coach he wants at the price he wants to pay. It's possible that Jones said what he said because he simply said it in the moment, and that it ultimately means nothing.
Regardless, Jones wants to win yesterday; he'll settle for winning now. If/when (when) he pulls the plug on Jason Garrett and hires a new coach, it makes sense to think that Jones will lean toward coaches with NFL experience - and preferably with Cowboys experience. Jones, put simply, will want a plug-and-play successor to Garrett, a coach who will instantly get the most out of the talented roster that Jones has compiled.
So who will that be? The allure of Sean Payton, a former Cowboys assistant and Super Bowl winner, will linger until it's crystal clear that he won't be the next Cowboys coach. If Payton truly won't be trying to become the first coach to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises, it makes sense to keep an eye on coaches like Mike Zimmer (a former Cowboys assistant), Dan Campbell (a former Cowboys player who has ties to both Bill Parcells and Payton), and even Gary Kubiak (a Texas native who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos and who has re-energized the Minnesota offense).
While the same health reasons that ended Kubiak's tenure in Denver three years ago could keep him from coaching the Cowboys, or anyone, Campbell surely would be available, and Zimmer could be. He's under contact only through 2020, and if the Vikings have one of their periodic clunkers in the wild-card round, Minnesota ownership may decide to move on in lieu of giving him an extension. If they can get a draft pick or two for letting him go a year early, even better, possibly.
Regardless, the widely-expected decision to move on from Jason Garrett will represent the start. Where it all finishes remains to be seen, and it could be a fascinating ride.