OXNARD, Calif. – How much authority Jason Garrett lost during the Cowboys’ tumultuous offseason is subject for debate.
There is no doubt, however, that Garrett emerged with his dignity intact. Despite being stripped of play-calling duties, the head coach remains immensely respected in the Cowboys’ locker room.
“Jason doesn’t have issues with his credibility or the fact that he is a young coach,” owner/general manager Jerry Jones said recently. “He does not have those issues with players. I have never sensed that. I have never had one player express that from anybody. I never had another one of his staff members present or not present mention that. And I don’t sense it.”
It’s one thing for Jerry, a man accused of emasculating his head coach, to say that. He’s honest about his willingness to lie if it suits his best interests.
But talk to the most influential players on the roster, and the respect for Garrett is apparent. They believe in Garrett’s football philosophies and admire his even-keeled but intense approach, which has stayed the same amidst all the changes.
“He does as good a job as anybody of handling all the crap that goes on as a head coach and filtering through it to keep his message strong,” perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said. “He just does a great job of keep pushing you, pushing you, pushing you.
“The one thing in this camp that’s different is it just seems like the pedal is down even more every day from him, from the beginning of practice to the end. … Players are seeing, ‘Hey, man, he’s got some expectations for us every day when we go out to practice.’ He’s created a competitive environment where he’s not afraid to jump on anybody at any given time.”
Garrett, who knew as well as anyone and accepted the unique challenges that come with working for Jerry when he took the job, didn’t feel the need to do anything drastic to make it clear he still had juice. That’s not his nature, and he recognizes that coming across as phony would be a major mistake. He put his trust in two of the things he values most: culture and consistency.
His consistency is evidence of Garrett’s self-confidence. The belief in his plan to build a contender and his coaching style hasn’t wavered despite two mediocre seasons. That trickles down to his right-kind-of-guys roster that the head coach had a huge role in constructing, turning over all but 17 players since he took over midway through the 2010 season.
Garrett doesn’t waste any energy worrying about the perception of his power, or lack thereof, at least not since the clumsy PR handling of the play-caller change. He’d prefer to focus on ways to empower the Cowboys’ leaders, an effective method to make sure that Garrett’s message is reinforced throughout the roster.
The buy-in from those leaders is clear – and not just when they’re talking directly about the head coach.
Guys like Witten, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee sprinkle Garrett-isms into their speech without even thinking about it. That’s strong evidence that the Cowboys continue to buy in to Garrett’s message and believe in his approach despite disappointing seasons in the first two full years of his head coaching tenure, which prompted Jones to force a major reconstruction of Garrett’s staff, including the delegation of offensive play-calling duties.
Example: When asked about his individual goals, Bryant stressed the importance of focusing on “stacking days together,” saying success would come if he consistently put in hard work. Told that he sounded just like Garrett, Bryant broke into a big smile.
“That’s real, man,” Bryant said. “That’s real.”
The respect for Garrett is real, and that’s a testament to him after a turbulent offseason. Now he needs results.