By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
This story is part of Richie Whitt's mostly upbeat but occasionally depressing 2011 Cowboys preview. Elsewhere, find stories about Tony Romo, gambling, as well as a week-by-week breakdown of the Cowboys' mediocrity.
Jason Garrett is never concerned. He doesn't get anxious. And by no means does he worry about the future — especially not what he's going to wear tomorrow morning.
Blue sweat pants. Gray T-shirt. Blue cap emblazoned with the Cowboys' star. Yep. Every damn day.
"I don't like to think about it a whole lot," the head coach says. "I just want to go to work."
From his outlook to his outfit, there's a lot of consistency to Groundhog Garrett. Some might call it redundancy. Maybe even a lack of creativity, a sort of leadership equivalent of a nightly scoop of vanilla. Whatever it is, it's simple.
And Garrett swears it leads to success.
"I'm big on routine," he says. "Football is a process. You give yourself a chance to be a great team or even a great player by practicing and preparing the right way, day after day, practice after practice, meeting after meeting. You stack a bunch of good meetings and practices and days on top of one another and eventually you'll grow and improve. But there is no shortcut. That's why we talk so much about the process."
After Wade Phillips was fired mid-season, Garrett took over a team in a spiral of awfulness. The Cowboys were 1-7, their Super Bowl aspirations long buried in an embarrassing swath of turnovers, upsets and ignorant play. When he assumed control, the Cowboys had more penalties for excessive celebration (2) than they did wins (1). Charged with not only auditioning for a job but changing the culture at Valley Ranch, Garrett put on his Sunday bland and went to work.
Clocks were installed and tardiness became unacceptable. Ties became mandatory on road trips. Players ran between drills at practice. And, whaddayaknow, the Cowboys started winning. Even without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, they finished 5-3 the second half under Garrett, an improved, exciting product that featured six last-second outcomes and ended with his landing the gig full-time.
"It wasn't just the play and performance on the field," owner Jerry Jones says of the hiring. "Jason proved almost right away that he was in charge. The players tend to do things his way. And it's the right way."
That's because basic and boring can be beautiful. The Cowboys' playbook in the 1990s contained only six different running plays for NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. On the other hand, when Garrett was Dallas' offensive coordinator in 2009, he handed the ball to running back Marion Barber inside the 5-yard line four consecutive times against the San Diego Chargers — each without success. It helps to have the players.
Garrett is also (Ivy League and all) intelligent and polite. He begins each press conference with a glee-glazed "How are we doing today?" Bill Parcells, on the other hand, often commenced the proceedings with a visibly agitated "Go." But Garrett also has his master's in coachspeak, his redundant catchwords — "football," "process," "football," "process" — droning on like a swaying gold watch, as we all get hypnotized into thinking the Cowboys have Super Bowl potential.
And don't dare try to interject "concern" (it's merely an "opportunity") or "anxious" (we're more "eager") into the conversation. You can't, however, totally forget what sport the Cowboys play, because the head coach will remind you — approximately 17 and a half times per presser.
That's right. Football.
"I know I say it a lot, but that much?" Garrett laughed when told his f-bomb habit might elevate into a drinking game during the season. "Well, football is a pretty big part of my life."