After coming into the season as a lame-duck coach in the final year of his contract, Jason Garrett has seemingly been validated by the Dallas Cowboys’ surprising 12-4 mark and run to the NFC East title.
It’s finally given him legitimacy in the mind of owner Jerry Jones, who, as much as he supported and believed in Garrett, needed proof in results to justify Garrett’s continued existence as coach.
“The thing I have seen ever since he’s been the head coach and frankly since he joined our staff professionally as a coach, I’ve seen nothing but encouraging things relative to his ability to coach and his ability to be in that administrating function,” Jones said. “What I have worried about is that we just weren’t going to be able to get it right, get the wins, have the success on the field, and we all know that except for the general manager, that makes it tough to make those decisions.”
After a 29-27 record and three 8-8 seasons in his first 3 1/2 years, Garrett got it right.
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A contract extension is coming whenever the season ends.
Neither Jones nor Garrett is in any rush. Both are hoping for a long playoff run starting with Sunday’s wild-card matchup against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium.
Although the results in 2014 are authenticating, they are merely manifestations of the foundation and core tenets Garrett laid down when he became interim head coach after Wade Phillips was fired midway through the 2010 season.
The foundation resonated immediately with the players and has taken an even stronger hold because of its consistency.
“He has been the same person since he’s been our coach,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “He has been giving the same speeches since the first day he got the job. I always respected Jason as a coach. He is as real as they come. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. The things he says are the things he really believes in. They are things that are really what it takes.”
As much as Garrett is chided for his mundane, one day at a time, one practice at a time process-oriented outlook, there has always been a method to his madness in focusing on things you can control.
“We have a philosophy of how we want our team to be. We are trying to instill a culture into our football team and into our organization,” Garrett said. “Those messages don’t change. It’s not quote of the day: ‘Where is my card? I’m going to read this quote to the players.’ That’s not how we do stuff. Now you want to illustrate those same points a lot of different ways to keep it interesting and fresh. But the core beliefs that we have and the kind of the team we want to be, those things haven’t changed and will never change.”
They won’t change because they are as much a part of Garrett as his red hair, rooted in the life lessons he learned as the son of former coach and Cowboys scout Jim Garrett.
“I think all that stuff is part of who you are and the influence that they have on me and how I look at life and how I look at opportunities in life and football,” Garrett said.
More and more, Garrett’s expressions of optimism come right out of his dad’s playbook.
Nobody had a bigger zest for life and making most of today than Jim Garrett, who ran every morning for more than 30 years.
“His enthusiasm for life is like none other,” Garrett said. “One of the great things for us growing up was my dad was the running backs coach for the Cleveland Browns at one time and the running backs would come over for Thanksgiving. I’m 10 or 11 when Charles White comes in asks ‘Does your dad kind of hit you in the chest and say, Hi ya doing, Jason?’ I said ‘Yeah, sometimes.’ Charles says, ‘Well, he does it to me. He hits me and says, Hi ya doing, Charlie? Should I hit him back?’
“That was the manifestation of [my dad’s] enthusiasm.”
Garrett routinely gives players and even reporters a shove or tap upon greeting them.
Tight end Jason Witten acknowledges he thought about hitting Garrett back a time a two, similarly to Charles White.
“He treats everybody like a pro. He is fair. He is honest. He is a great communicator. He wants what’s best for us,” Witten said. “He’s created an environment that makes you excited to work every day.”
Garrett’s attitude as a coach is the same one he had as a player, namely 12 years as a backup quarterback with the Cowboys, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had only nine starts in 40 career games played, but he prepared every week as if he were playing.
“He was a real pro as a teammate, as a backup, as a guy in the meeting rooms,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who was Garrett’s teammate for seven seasons in Dallas. “He did prepare himself each and every day as if he was the starter. He was always ready at the moment’s notice if he was called upon to get out there and play.
“The thing I’ve gotten from his messages to his players as a head coach is we take each day and each moment and make the most of it. That’s been the guy I’ve known since we first met. He truly is one of those guys who each day he wakes up doing whatever he can possibly do to make that day the best day.”
Garrett never needed official validation or conformation of the job he’s done.
The fruit was always in the work and making the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.
With his first playoff appearance as head coach on tap on Sunday, Garrett’s life has never been sweeter.
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760
Just win, baby!
The Dallas Cowboys head coaches, ranked by number of wins:
*Includes games as interim head coach in 2010 (5-3).