Cowboys know dangers of team making in-season coaching change

FRISCO, Texas -- If there is anybody who knows what Steve Spagnuolo will face this week, it is Jason Garrett.

In 2010, Jerry Jones did something he had never done in his tenure as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, making an in-season coaching switch, firing Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start and elevating Garrett.

On Monday, the New York Giants made their first in-season coaching switch since 1976 (Bill Arnsparger was fired and John McVay was named head coach) by firing Ben McAdoo and elevating Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator.

Garrett’s first opponent on Nov. 14, 2010, was the Giants. Spagnuolo’s first as the Giants’ interim coach will come this Sunday against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.

“The biggest thing we tried to preach to our guys is just to prepare for the opportunity that we have on Sunday,” said Garrett, who was somewhat reluctant in rehashing the past. “It’s the same thing we’re preaching right now to our team, to get ready for this opportunity that we have. Each day’s worth of preparation is critical to allow us to play our best.”

The Cowboys entered the 2010 meeting against the Giants coming off five straight losses. They were embarrassed the previous week at Lambeau Field, 45-7, by the Green Bay Packers. Two weeks earlier, they were beaten at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose quarterback, David Garrard, threw four touchdown passes and had a 157.8 passer rating. A 158.3 passer rating is perfect.

Those Cowboys were a beaten team, physically and emotionally.

The Giants enter Sunday’s game with a 2-10 record and five losses in the past six weeks. The apparent downfall for McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese was the handling of Eli Manning’s benching last week. But this was a season that was lost long ago for the Giants, maybe not long after the Cowboys pinned a 19-3 defeat on them to start the season.

“I think the biggest thing I try to do and we try to do is just focus on ourselves,” Garrett said. “Obviously we’re fans of football, so we see what’s going on. But the biggest thing we try to do is lock in what we need to do to play our best football. That’s really where my attention was.”

The Cowboys got a jolt from the coaching change in 2010. They beat the Giants, 30-20, and won five of their final eight games to help secure Garrett the job on a full-time basis.

The Giants’ season is lost, but there could be a jolt with the coaching change that could affect the Cowboys. A team that might have seemed disinterested had McAdoo remained might have life Sunday.

“I think when you go through it, it’s being asked every week. It’s being talked about, so now when it finally happens, it’s, ‘Hey, look,’ and it starts there, then it goes throughout the football team,” Dallas tight end Jason Witten said. “So I think there’s an urgency that is created just because it’s change.

“I remember Coach Garrett and it was just, ‘We’re going to be defined by what we do moving forward,’ and there was extreme urgency in what we did, the way we practiced, the way we met, the way we watched tape. I’m sure they’re going to have the same thing in their organization.”

Only five Cowboys remain from Garrett’s first game as coach of the Cowboys: Witten, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick and L.P. Ladouceur.

If any of their teammates believe the Giants will be an easy out Sunday, they can remind them what they were a part of in Garrett’s first game.

“First off, I think every week in this league, it’s just such a challenge,” Witten said. “We don’t need any extra motivation here. Any time you play a division opponent, it’s tough, it’s a fight. If anything, there’s going to be a spark behind their team. I know that from when we went through it. Guys rallied behind Coach Garrett and the opportunity. Really, they’re all being evaluated -- as we all are -- but certainly when you see your coach get fired, that team will rally. We expect their best.”