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Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Updated: August 19, 12:03 AM ET
Jason Garrett puts stamp on Cowboys

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The daily message Jason Garrett expounds on to his players makes him sound like a younger, gentler Bill Parcells.

It's a message about winning titles. It's not about remembering how close you came.

It's about honoring tradition. It's about the Blue and White scrimmage. It's about the flex defense. It's about winning with class. It's about holding people accountable. It's about getting to meetings on time. It's about running with the proper technique in pat-and-go, when nobody is watching. It's about taking notes in meetings.

"Bill was legendary and everything was thought through," tight end Jason Witten said. "If you ask players around him during his successful times, he was almost a step ahead of everybody else. I kind of see that in Jason. We're in the grind of camp and he's two weeks ahead of us of where he's thinking. As a player and a leader you appreciate it because he's always giving your best chance to be successful."

When Parcells took over for the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, the team was coming off three consecutive 5-11 seasons.

Jerry Jones made the bold hire because Parcells was going to change everything about the Cowboys. It meant no more card games in the locker room or hanging out in the trainer's room unless it was necessary. It was about how you stood along the sidelines during the national anthem. It was about what to wear on a road trip.

Parcells' message was doing everything possible to win. There was that famous quote from Parcells after a big win, saying the Cowboys weren't losers anymore. Think Wade Phillips would have referred to his team as losers in the past tense?

Somehow, after Parcells left here, some of these things were forgotten.

Instead, the Cowboys took a step back conceptually under Phillips. Yes, he won a division title and a playoff game, something Parcells didn't do. But the Cowboys are not about wearing baseball caps honoring the division title. The Cowboys' front office, fans and players want titles.

Garrett won't tell his players they're winners when they haven't won anything, like Phillips did a few years ago. Garrett doesn't want to take chances on talented players who have combustible personalities like Phillips did when he had to deal with Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson.

Wade Phillips
Jason Garrett's approach is vastly different from Wade Phillips, the man he replaced as Cowboys coach.

When Roy Williams began to question the play-calling of Garrett, he was sent home. And while Marion Barber was a good guy to his teammates, his inability to produce on the field and antics with reporters in the locker room were becoming tiresome.

Garrett is about having the right type of players in his locker room.

There is a core group of Cowboys players who grew up in this game learning from Parcells. Andre Gurode, who was drafted under Dave Campo, learned from Parcells. Gurode will tell you stories about how he misses the old man because he used to ride him so much.

Bradie James fought so hard as a fourth-round pick in 2003 to make the roster and earn the coach's trust that he still remembers the boxing stories the old coach used to tell.

Of the free-agent signings the Cowboys made this summer, Kenyon Coleman and Abram Elam grew up under Parcells. Elam played as an undrafted safety in 2006, and Coleman played four seasons for the old man with the Cowboys. Coleman, by the way, is going to start at defensive end over Igor Olshansky, a Phillips guy. Elam is starting at strong safety, moving Gerald Sensabaugh, a Phillips signing, to free safety.

The Cowboys want people who conduct themselves accordingly. Check out Elam after the first preseason game. He didn't know the dress code for home preseason games, so he played it safe and wore a black suit with a vest.

It should make Garrett and Parcells proud. When in doubt, dress up.

Garrett is his own man. He's not Parcells, but some of his principles are. He's got those messages hung around the locker room area at Valley Ranch trying to motivate players, much like Parcells did.

He talks about getting better every day and being around people who won titles, not around people who lost conference title games.

"It's different now. Being a rookie with Bill was a shock," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "Now this. You're just a professional and you come in and do your job and being about your work, and the things he's asking of us we expect of ourselves. Maybe for a young guy this might be a shock, but for us it's just football."

There's no telling if this will work.

"I played for two different style head coaches and both had success," Witten said. "Jason seems like he understands and has that mindset of what it's like to dig a little bit and he knows the mindset of the organization and how things tick. He eliminates those distractions for players. I think the best thing he does for us is allow us to be our best."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.