WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Jason Garrett never got a proper introduction as Dallas Cowboys coach.
He took over for the fired Wade Phillips on an interim basis midway through the 2010 season.
When he was hired officially in January 2011, he didn't have the basics normally afforded a first-year coach, such as an extra minicamp and extra time in the off-season to fully implement his new scheme, because of the lockout.
That led to an up-and-down 2011 season that included first-year coaching mistakes, year-long adjustment issues to the new scheme and ultimately an 8-8 record and third-place finish in the NFC East.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday, Garrett acknowledged that before the Cowboys can improve, he must learn from his mistakes.
You got a lot of criticism last season for some of your in-game decision making. How have you adjusted? What we do as coaches and what I do as an individual coach, after every game you say, 'What was good and what was bad?' What we try to do is take a very critical eye of self-evaluation. It's a really important thing for me as the head coach of this football team to look at myself first, look at what we're doing as a staff before we walk in to talk to the players.
Many problems seemed to stem from breakdowns in communication between the coaches and then to players on the field. Any changes coming? I would say that in the evaluations of things we liked over the course of a season and really within a game, you want to make the adjustments as you go as best you can. Now you also take another view of it after the season. There will tangible changes on some things. We've got to make sure we do that because we've got to get better. I've got to get better.
Are some of the mistakes magnified because you attended Princeton? Well, when you make a lot of decisions in the position I'm in, trust me, you're going to make a lot of mistakes. One of the things we try to do with our staff is we put guys together who are not yes men, guys who will hopefully tell me that wasn't very good. So hopefully we can be better, and that's our objective.
Jerry Jones said both of you got goose bumps when told that the Cowboys would play the Giants in the NFL's season-opening game. They are a great organization. They've been an outstanding football team for a long, long time. We respect their coaches. We respect their players. We're excited about the challenge.
Is there any added motivation involved because you ended the season at New York and were knocked out of the playoffs? I know as a coach, when you're talking to your team, it's easy to say on Wednesday night on that first week in September, we're going up to New York to play the world champions. If that doesn't get your attention as a coach, as a player and everybody in our organization to be the best they can be each and every day, I don't know what does.
Can you assess how the Cowboys did in free agency? We wanted to create competition throughout our team. We feel like we did that with guys we really liked, the right kind of guys who have some talent and some upside; guys that we think help our team now and going forward.
How did free agency affect your approach to the draft? One of the things we did in free agency is we tried to address some of the perceived needs on this team. The goal on the draft is to draft the best player available.
Jerry Jones said you are likely to draft a defender in the round because of the guards you signed in free agency. Does it look like you have a good grouping of defensive players to choose from? We are not ready to make that comment. We are picking 14th. We are going to start our draft meetings next week and go through the process.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.