Cowboys players say Garrett 'has their back'

December 13, 2012

IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys starting left guard Nate Livings has a unique perspective on the tragedy that occurred in the organization last weekend. He was with the Cincinnati Bengals in December 2009 when 26-year-old Chris Henry was killed during a domestic dispute with his fiancée.

Livings said he'll never forget how the team came together in the aftermath of Henry's death, but he said the past few days have been completely different. In particular, he was amazed at the way Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett handled himself in the aftermath of practice-squad member Jerry Brown being killed in a car accident, and another teammate, Josh Brent, being charged with intoxication manslaughter.

Livings told on Wednesday that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis did a great job of guiding the Bengals through that tragedy three years ago. But he said Garrett actually took off his coaching hat and allowed himself to grieve with the players. This man who is often viewed as a robotic personality because of the way he comes across during news conferences apparently let his raw emotion show in front of his players.

It's why Livings leaned over to Jason Witten during Tuesday's memorial service and whispered, "That is one helluva man we have coaching us."

I've heard several players this year say that Garrett is completely different with them than he is with the media. But that doesn't change the fact that a lot us would like to see Garrett show more anger or passion after losses. What we witnessed in the aftermath of an improbable 20-19 road win over the Bengals was a human being who was suffering right along with his players. He didn't pretend to have all the answers. He simply wanted to express his gratitude for how a group of players came together to honor their fallen teammate. And no matter what you think about his coaching future, Garrett connected with his team on a completely different level.

"Just knowing that he always has our backs is a huge thing," said Livings. "He wasn't trying to tell us how to grieve or anything. Because of all those years as a player in the league, it was natural for him to feel what we were feeling."

It was certainly Garrett's finest moment as head coach of the Cowboys, but it's unfair to act like his actions came as a surprise. Garrett took over a team in 2010 that had quit on Wade Phillips. The Cowboys were 1-7 as they headed to the Meadowlands for what figured to be a whipping at the hands of the Giants. Garrett led the Cowboys to a win that afternoon and the team finished the second half of the season with a 5-3 record. Since then, the Cowboys have been largely mediocre under Garrett's watch. He's struggled with game management in crucial situations, which has led to speculation about his job security. And of course it didn't help his cause that Sean Payton suddenly became a free agent just as the Cowboys' season was appearing to unravel.

Stephen Jones, son of Jerry, gave Garrett the dreaded vote of confidence while appearing on The Ticket's "Intentional Grounding" show Wednesday. Jones was asked whether he could envision a scenario where Garrett didn't return next season, and not surprisingly he said no.
"I just think he's done an outstanding job with this team," Jones said. "There has been adversity in this season. He's handled it well. He's never complained, never blinked. I know our guys play hard for him. I don't believe anybody has refuted that. No one wants to win more games than Jason. I know he's disappointed that we haven't won more games, but at the same time we do have a winning record right now. We're in the hunt."

And on paper, that's accurate. The Cowboys will host a Steelers team that was overwhelmed by the hapless Chargers last Sunday and then face the 5-8 Saints. They finish with a road game against a Redskins team that has also climbed to 7-6 on the season.
It remains far-fetched to imagine the Cowboys winning the final three games. But then, few believed Garrett could lead his team to a win in Cincinnati, even before the tragedy.

No matter what happens, Garrett has made an indelible mark on his players. And that's no small feat.