Coach Jason Garrett signed a five-year contract extension Jan. 15 to remain as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
It was the culmination of an unlikely journey that began with an wild 24-hour ride roughly seven years ago. It was jump-started by Nick Saban being hired by Alabama, the retirement of Bill Parcells, aqua and teal clothes, the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and a late-night dinner with owner Jerry Jones at Al Biernat’s when Garrett could barely keep his eyes open.
Garrett shared his story at the SMU Athletic Forum Luncheon, sponsored by Panini America, at the Hilton Anatole on Wednesday.
EPSN’s Todd McShay, the moderator, asked Garrett about his journey from quarterback coach of the Miami Dolphins to offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in 2007.
Garrett explained that he was left in limbo once Saban bolted as coach of the Dolphins for Alabama. It was his understanding that he would remain on the staff of his successor, Cam Cameron, in some capacity.
So Garrett goes to the Senior Bowl on Monday, Jan. 22, with the rest of the Dolphins staff. His story took a dramatic turn on Tuesday morning when Parcells decided to retire as Cowboys coach.
“That’s the big story in the NFL and I’m watching my quarterbacks as the quarterback coach of the Miami Dolphins at the Senior Bowl,” Garrett recalled. “And I get a call at practice that Mr. Jones wants to visit with me about coming to Dallas. This is Tuesday afternoon. We were going to talk about titles and responsibilities.”
Unbeknown to Garrett at the time, Jones and then-Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga had an agreement, giving the Cowboys 48 hours to get a deal done. It had to be done by noon on Thursday. Garrett had to fly to Dallas first thing Wednesday morning.
“All I got is Dolphin gear. Aqua and orange shoes, pants, the whole thing. I borrowed something from somebody just to tone it down just a smidge,” Garrett said.
Garrett gets to the airport at 5:15 a.m. and then his experience turns “surreal.”
“It’s misty. It’s foggy out,” Garrett remembers. “And I’m walking into the airport and I see these gigantic people walking in with me. Long hair, muscles, long arms. And I see these women walking in with them. These really, um, striking women. They are all in the line to go to Dallas. And I’m like ‘what is this. Who are you guys?’”
They were from the WWE and had a show in Dallas. They all pile into a small commuter plane, with Garrett in the back still aghast.
“I get to Valley Ranch and nobody is there yet. But then I start this interview with Jerry Jones, who I have known for a long time going back to 1992 when I was a player. We go through this exhaustive interview and he said let’s go talk to coach Parcells. Parcells was still in the building. He retired two days earlier and was cleaning out the office. And we sit down and talk about rosters.”
This was just the midway point and the time Garrett learned about the endurance of his new boss.
“The evening ended at Al Biernat’s [Steakhouse] in the back room with Jerry and I face to face at 3 a.m. talking about philosophy and strategy. Stephen Jones was hanging in there for a while and finally he just left. I think about that day a lot. It started at 3:45 in the morning in Mobile and it ended at Al Biernat’s at 3 a.m. with Mr. Jones.”
Garrett was hired as offensive coordinator roughly two weeks before the Cowboys hired Wade Phillips as head coach on Feb. 8.
Garrett succeeded him as head coach in 2010 and the rest is history.
It all began with a wild and unlikely 24-hour journey in 2007.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.