ARLINGTON, Texas — Jason Garrett nailed his audition. He gets to remain coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Owner Jerry Jones took the interim label off Garrett on Thursday and made him — officially — the eighth head coach in the history of this proud franchise. He's the first head coach who also played for the Cowboys, as he was a backup to Troy Aikman in the 1990s.
"He's truly one of our own," Jones said during a news conference at Cowboys Stadium. "We know him well for the qualifications he has for this position. I know that he has spent his entire life preparing for this day. And he is well-qualified."
Garrett made the choice easy for Jones by going 5-3 during his half-season in charge. He took over a club that had been 1-7 and was asked to merely make them competitive. He not only compiled a winning record, but his losses were by a total of seven points.
Having seen what Garrett could do, Jones didn't even interview him. He considered receivers coach Ray Sherman and Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles, who could still join the staff as defensive coordinator.
"I was fortunate to be on teams here in the '90s that went to the top of the National Football League," Garrett said. "I understand how those teams played. I like to refer to it as the Cowboy way."
The Cowboys needed new leadership when a season that began with legitimate aspirations of becoming the first team to play in the Super Bowl at their home stadium went rotten. Jones fired Wade Phillips at midseason and turned to Garrett, the 44-year-old assistant head coach and one of the highest-paid assistants in the league. The deck seemed stacked against him.
The team was coming off consecutive blowout losses, playoff hopes were gone and quarterback Tony Romo was out with a season-ending injury. It also was Garrett's first time as a head coach on any level.
And, as offensive coordinator, he was partly to blame for the mess. But the Princeton grad had spent years preparing for the opportunity and knew exactly what he wanted to do.
He started the workday earlier, added hitting to midweek practices, required players to jog between drills and cracked down on rules, including ones he added. He had huge digital clocks installed around the locker room to avoid any excuses about being late to a meeting. He was constantly upbeat
The Cowboys responded to the coaching change by winning four games with 38-year-old backup quarterback Jon Kitna and another with third-stringer Stephen McGee making his first start. Jones believes the Cowboys have enough key players in place to bounce back quickly. Despite the lousy record, Dallas had five players make the Pro Bowl, most from any team.
DOLPHINS LIKELY TO KEEP SPARANO AS COACH: Jim Harbaugh forced the Miami Dolphins to call an audible.
Harbaugh and the Dolphins broke off talks Thursday, and the team was expected to retain Tony Sparano as coach, two people familiar with the negotiations said. Both people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were to remain confidential.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross courted Harbaugh in a meeting in the San Francisco area, two other people with knowledge of the situation said. But after the meeting, Harbaugh was still considering staying at Stanford, one person said.
Harbaugh also met Thursday with the president of the university and the provost. The school made an amended offer to the coach with enhancements from an offer presented in early December.
CARDINALS' DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR FIRED: Arizona fired defensive coordinator Bill Davis, a member of the Cardinals' staff since Ken Whisenhunt became coach in 2007.
Davis is the second defensive coordinator fired by Whisenhunt in his four seasons in Arizona. Clancy Pendergast was dismissed after the team's run to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season.
Davis was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator following Pendergast's dismissal. The team announced Davis' firing Thursday in a two-sentence statement.
The Cardinals were 5-11 and last in the NFC West after winning the division the previous two years. It was the first losing season since Whisenhunt took over. Davis has been an NFL assistant coach for 19 seasons with eight teams — in chronological order Pittsburgh, Carolina, Cleveland, Green Bay, Atlanta, the New York Giants, San Francisco and Arizona.
Arizona went 10-6 in Davis' first season as coordinator a year ago, with the team fifth in the league in fewest points allowed. But the Cardinals gave 90 points in two playoff games and Davis knew the pressure was on this season. The departure of big-play linebacker Karlos Dansby via free agency didn't help.
Arizona wound up 29th out of 32 teams in total defense, 22nd in passing defense and 30th in run defense.