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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
How Jason Garrett can reach elite status

By Calvin Watkins

Coaching in the NFL is hard. Very hard.

Jason Garrett's first task as Cowboys interim coach last season was to change what the man who signs his checks called, "a losing culture."

Garrett did.

He praised practice squad players so they could practice harder, held players accountable if they made mistakes and forced the team to wear shoulder pads on Wednesdays.

Things worked out. After a 1-7 start, the Cowboys finished 6-10 and had three road wins under Garrett.

His next challenge is to have the Cowboys ready to go without having any players to coach because of the lockout, which could last months regardless of Wednesday's ruling by a judge in Minneapolis.

He has a plan in place, and he'll implement it when the players return. But whether or not that plan works is uncertain.

Garrett continues to seek advice of successful coaches. This summer, he sought out Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

ESPN.com's NFL bloggers ranked the top 10 coaches in the game, and the Patriots' Bill Belichick is No. 1 on the list. I was surprised at how much respect Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got (No. 2), but it was deserving because he's been to two Super Bowls in his brief time on the job and dealt with losing his star quarterback for the first month of the 2010 season.

I thought Washington's Mike Shanahan (tied for 10th) got too much respect. He messed up the Redskins' entire season with questionable decisions. Yes, Shanahan is a brilliant mind, but the man hasn't won anything of significance since Terrell Davis and John Elway were still playing.

Still, this is an excellent list -- and Garrett can be on there one day. But he has to get to a Super Bowl or at least push this Cowboys team to the NFC title game within three years. If that happens, expect Garrett to be the head coach in Dallas for a long time.