- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- When Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips as head coach in the middle of the 2010 season, the Dallas Cowboys were a mess.
A 45-7 loss at Green Bay the previous week forced owner Jerry Jones to do something he never wanted to do: fire a coach during the season.
So in came Garrett, then the offensive coordinator, who was faced with taking on the New York Giants on the road in his first game.
The interim head coach wanted to change the culture around Valley Ranch, everything from dress codes to the approach. And the result, at least that day in East Rutherford. New Jersey worked.
The Cowboys beat the Giants, 33-20, for Garrett's first victory.
"I remember we had a really good team, and we weren't winning," defensive end Anthony Spencer said of the time. "We needed a win. I loved Wade and the year before we went to the playoffs. But things just didn't work out for us the next year."
Many players didn't really know Garrett.
To deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur, Garrett was simply known for the color of his hair.
"Just knew him as Red and he was the quarterbacks coach, calling plays and then he goes by Coach Garrett," Ladouceur said. "Different freaking business now. I think he was overwhelmed, too I think every coach is thrown into it. It's like any job, you got to be a rookie at some point and you got to learn and learn on the fly, which as a NFL head coach, is even harder because you're scrutinized like crazy. But where we've been and where we're going and the way he's been handling [things] I think he's been doing a good job."
Of course, Garrett became the head coach permanently, and the Cowboys have finished the past three seasons at 8-8, missing a postseason berth with a loss in the regular-season finale.
Sunday night, Garrett takes his Cowboys, tied for first in the NFC East into MetLife Stadium again, to take on the Giants nearly four years since he became the coach.
A victory would give Garrett eight wins for the fourth consecutive season, and it would be the first time he's led a team to it's eight before December in his career. In the past three seasons, the Cowboys didn't earn it's eight victory until mid or late December.
Reaching eight victories now could fuel discussions the Cowboys might finally end their four-year playoff drought.
The players have brought into Garrett's one-game-at-a-time mantra. There are awards for scout team players, sayings posted on the walls of the practice facility about doing your job/not giving up and remaining focus on the task at hand.
Garrett has changed things from the hard nosed old-school approach of Bill Parcells and grandfatherly ways of Phillips, to how the Cowboys' did things in the 90s, when they won three Super Bowls.
Popular players such as outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware were released to make way for younger players.
“Well, we knew we had to make some hard decisions from the outset, and we had to make some decisions to move on from some players who had been cornerstone players for us and then get new players in here and along the way you have to compete. So that’s what we tried to do," Garrett said.
Along the way, they found a dominant running attack, which they have with DeMarco Murray who leads the league in rushing, and a young, hungry offensive line. The Cowboys invested three first round picks on linemen and changed the defense from a 3-4 to the 4-3, led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli who demands his players hustle.
It's all changed for the better.
"My honest opinion, I’m just speaking on our personnel relationship, I didn’t too much understand his mindset because he went to Princeton, I’m from this small, country town [Lufkin, Texas], I didn’t understand his whole type of structure," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "I used to always think, coach, he’s always on me, he’s always on me. I guess as I grew, he didn’t treat me no different as he treated the rest of the players. He seen a lot of potential in me, and I took that as he believed in me, so it was my job to show him what he want me to be or better, and I think he does an outstanding job with us. He don’t BS around with us. He lets us know the truth."
The truth is the Cowboys have a chance to do something for themselves in the next few weeks with a win on Sunday night. But it all started that windy day at MetLife when Garrett took over the Cowboys.