Cowboys better in 1st year of Garrett, more to go

In his first season’s worth of games running the Dallas Cowboys,

Jason Garrett has succeeded in changing the culture around the


He shook up the daily routine, tightened rules and made life in

general more rigid. With an emphasis on ”passion, emotion and

enthusiasm,” and ”being great today,” his approach immediately

stabilized the wayward team he inherited.

The Cowboys have gone from routinely getting crushed to being

competitive nearly every week, with just one lopsided loss in 16

games. They’ve also won more than they’ve lost, going 9-7.

”He’s been brilliant,” tight end Jason Witten said. ”It’s

unfortunate the record doesn’t show how fabulous of a job he’s

done. … When you turn on that film or the opponents that have

played us, win or lose, I think they would say they feel the way we

play them and the style we play with. I think that starts with him.

The way he coaches and the way he demands that.”

Two major challenges remain: Winning close games (six of those

losses are by four points or less) and winning consistently

(they’ve yet to win more than two straight games).

Garrett hits his 1-year anniversary this week at the start of a

stretch that could define Dallas’ season and his tenure thus


The Cowboys happen to be one game, and one win, into a run of

five games they will be expected to win. A sweep would send the

Cowboys into mid-December with a great chance to win the NFC East,

especially since they come out of that roll with two of the

remaining four games against the division-leading Giants.

The only winning team Dallas plays in the next month is Buffalo

(5-3), at home on Sunday, and that was about all Garrett has wanted

to discuss this week. Not that he’s ever interested in discussing

much beyond an upcoming foe.

Asked big-picture subjects such as evaluating his performance so

far, and the lessons he’s learned, Garrett was his usual

polite-but-trite self, saying, ”I think you’re always trying to

put your program in place. I think it’s an ongoing process for

every team in the league. … I do like the direction we’re going.

I like the group of guys we have.”

As for looking ahead, his best answer was typical, too: ”We’ve

got to get better in all areas of our football team. We’ve got to

throw it better, we’ve got to run it better, we’ve got to play

better on (special) teams, we’ve got to stop the run better, we’ve

got to play better on the back end defending the pass. We’ve done a

lot of good things to build on as far as the first eight games of

the season, a lot of things we can be positive about. We’ve played

a lot of young players and they’ve stepped into roles and done a

nice job. … Teams that win in this league, the teams that make

the playoffs are the teams that improve over the course of the

season. That has been my experience as a player and coach in this

league and that’s what we’re trying to do every week.”

The 45-year-old Garrett has turned things around by injecting

more accountability and consistency. There are all sorts of grand

gestures (players waived, stricter practices and meetings), but

also with little things, such as adding scoreboards on the practice

fields to make situational drills more realistic.

Another detail guys like are the large displays outside the

locker room, facing the team meeting rooms, that spotlight the top

performers in each victory. These tout boards include recipients of

game balls, as well as ”Attaboys,” a ”Scout Team Player of the

Week” and, in the glory spot across the top, there’s the ”Grab A

Bat Award” for the No. 1 star, a Louisville Slugger bat with the

honoree’s autograph atop the date of the game and the score.

”We just go out and do what we’re supposed to do, try to

implement whatever he is trying to build and put forward for us to

go out and execute whatever he puts out for us,” said linebacker

Bradie James, a defensive captain. ”I don’t know about

expectations because I didn’t have any. He showed up and was


James is among a group of defensive players who came in under

Bill Parcells, then played for Wade Phillips, a pair of

defensive-oriented coaches. They knew Garrett as Phillips’

offensive coordinator, but, as James said, they didn’t really know


”Seeing him in a head coaching role has been fun to watch,”

defensive end Marcus Spears said. ”To know how much he understands

the game, and how much he understands defense, it has been great

watching him sit into that role.”

Bills coach Chan Gailey was coaching the Cowboys in 1998 and ’99

when Garrett was a backup quarterback to Troy Aikman. Gailey joked

that he thought Garrett, a Princeton graduate, was smart enough not

to get into coaching.

”But there was no question,” Gailey said, ”if he decided to

do it, he would be great.”