After another embarrassing defeat on primetime television, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had seen enough of the Wade Phillips era in Dallas.
Jones made the move Monday that had speculated about for weeks, firing Phillips after 3 1/2 seasons and replacing him with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
Jones entered the weekend not planning to make a move, but Sunday night's 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers became the tipping point. It was the Cowboys' fifth consecutive loss, dropping them to 1-7 this season.
"The decision has been made to move forward with a new person in the head coaching position for the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said during a press conference.
This is the first time the Cowboys have changed coaches in the middle of a season.
"Obviously this is a very difficult decision for me, the team and our organization. We are grateful to Wade and his contributions to the Cowboys, leading us to two division titles in his first three seasons with the club," Jones said. "We also clearly understand we are not where we want to be at this time and that's an understatement."
The Cowboys are in the midst of their worst season since 1989 and, by record, among the worst in franchise history. Realistically, it's a low point for the franchise considering Dallas was coming off a division title and a playoff win, and was expected to contend for the Super Bowl that'll be held at Cowboys Stadium.
Jones said that the move to replace Phillips is not an admission of defeat, something he stressed to players during a brief meeting Monday morning. He repeatedly referenced a need to change the culture of the team, and said the next eight games will serve as a chance for both players and staff to show if they want to be part of the organization going forward.
"I know how fleeting your time is to get to play and how fleeting time is in my case to get to be part of the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said. "So I think you ought to play like it's your last down every down, and I don't think we're having that."
The first game under Garrett will be at the New York Giants on Sunday.
Just about everything has gone wrong for the Cowboys this season. But the constant has been mindless mistakes: penalties, turnovers and other breakdowns befitting an expansion team, not one of the highest-paid rosters in the NFL. Phillips couldn't get the Cowboys to snap out of it. He tried being loyal instead of benching the players who were underperforming the most. That only seemed to make things worse.
The bottom has fallen out since quarterback Tony Romo broke his left collarbone Oct. 25. Maybe that was to be expected, but the reality is the defense has been the bigger problem.
That unit has allowed at least 35 points in three straight games, something the Cowboys hadn't done since their inaugural season, 1960, when they went 0-11-1. Stranger still, it's almost exactly the same players who closed last season with the first back-to-back shutouts in club history. This may have been Phillips' undoing, because he also was defensive coordinator.
Jones confirmed that defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni will take over the defense. Jones also made references that the defense was a key aspect of the team's struggles, saying the unit's difficulties spread to other parts of the team.
Jones had steadfastly supported Phillips throughout the current tailspin, even saying late last week that Phillips would keep the job the rest of the season. While the first five losses had all been by a touchdown or less, which showed players were still fighting, a second straight humiliating loss left Jones with little choice. Something had to change to spark the team's interest over the final eight games.
"There are a lot of people that certainly are going to suffer and suffer consequences," Jones said Sunday night.
Garrett's unit hasn't been much better, but he's been viewed as the coach-in-waiting since he was hired -- days before Phillips.
Garrett, 44, becomes the first former Cowboys player to become head coach. He was a backup quarterback behind Troy Aikman from 1993-99, and was the quarterbacks coach in Miami in 2005-06 before rejoining the club in 2007. He's had the title of assistant head coach since 2008, when he withdrew from other interviews to remain with the organization.
Garrett's father was a longtime scout for the Cowboys and he has two brothers on his staff: tight ends coach John and Judd, the director of pro scouting.
The 63-year-old Phillips leaves with a 34-22 record and was 1-2 in the postseason. Dallas won the NFC East twice on his watch.
His career record as a head coach with Dallas, Denver and Buffalo is 79-57, but only 1-5 in the postseason. He had only one losing record in eight full seasons. Counting a 3-4 mark over two stints as an interim coach, Phillips has 82 regular-season wins, matching the total of his father, former Houston and New Orleans coach Bum Phillips.
Phillips' job was shaky after a 44-6 loss to Philadelphia to close the 2008 season that kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs, and again last season when it appeared they were headed toward a collapse in early December and Phillips' contract was expiring. But the Cowboys pulled out of it so impressively that Phillips received a contract for this season and next. He's owed at least $3 million for 2011.
It's quite possible this will be Phillips' final turn as an NFL head coach, although he could resurface as a defensive coordinator, his specialty throughout a 34-year career in pro football.
This season, his defense couldn't stop the run (routinely allowing 100-yard rushers, something that didn't happen once last season) and was helpless against the pass, offering neither a rush nor good coverage.
The offense in Dallas wasn't clicking even when Romo was healthy. The problems stem from an offensive line that consistently seems overmatched, whether it's trying to open holes for running backs or protect the quarterback. The backfield trio of Marion Barber, Felix Barber and Tashard Choice hasn't done much even when the holes were there. The lasting image of the receivers this season has been of balls ricocheting off them and into the hands of defensive players.
Even the special teams has been a disappointment.
The Cowboys have tried nearly every trick in the turnaround handbook -- a players-only meeting; an emotional speech from special teams coach Joe DeCamillis about nearly being killed when the team's indoor practice facility collapsed; a speech by Jones last week; a change in practice schedule; and, this past week, a return to fundamentals.
So now Jones is trying pretty much the only thing left.
Speculation will persist on the club's next permanent leader. Obvious candidates include former Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, both currently working in broadcasting.
Despite talks of who will eventually take over the coaching reigns on a permanent basis, Jones told reporters Garrett will get his shot to keep the job beyond the next two months.
"He does have the opportunity to get the job long-term," Jones said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.