Cowboys fans often find Jason Garrett's press conferences boring, cookie-cutter events. He doesn't create memorable quotes like Bill Parcells, he doesn't look goofy enough to make fun of like Wade Phillips, and he doesn't seem to provide any tangible information on things the media and fans really want to know. However, I find his press conferences to be honest and crystal clear. They may not provide the insider info to specific players and injuries that we would want, he may not make public examples of coaches or players that make mistakes, but he certainly provides an honest and crystal clear look into his approach to coaching and team building.
For anyone that has been involved in any group endeavor, you know that the clarity and repetition of the strategy and goals of the group is paramount. If you are going to lead a group, or team, to any success, everyone must be on the same page. A great example of this is Garrett's media session after the final Cowboys practice. It was basically a state of the union address on how the team is coming together this offseason and a very clear example of Garrett's approach to coaching and team building. When asked about his message to the team as they took their break before training camp:
"Really a continuation of what our message is, really, every day. We're striving to be our best, individual coaches, players, and as a football team. I try to convey that message to our guys a thousand different ways, using a thousand different examples...We have the right kind of guys on our football team, they work the right way, they're coming together. We have a long, long way to go; we all know that. We've made great strides here over the course of the offseason. I like how our team works."
Once again, Garrett reinforces his message of ‘be great today, work hard every day, and stack one good day on top of the next.' Perhaps being a part of the Cowboys 2010 breakdown that gave him his head coaching opportunity was a defining moment in his approach to coaching, but it seems clear that Garrett never wants to let his team feel entitled or rest on their laurels. After all, it is a process. He understands that a great franchise will work hard every day and realizes that the work is never done, and the journey never ends. It is likely a strong reason why Garrett also sees competition as a vital component to building a great team. If everyone is competing for their spot on the roster, no one will stop working hard and everyone will try to get better every day.
"I feel good about how guys came in here and worked. A lot of young guys got a lot of work over the course of OTAs and minicamp, a lot of veteran players worked hard and felt competition. That's a good thing for our team. We want to continue to do that. If that competition comes from within or comes from without, it's our job to make sure we're always trying to put the most competitive situation available out there on our roster, and we will continue to do that."
But Garrett also understands that players and competition along the depth chart is not enough. You can have the hardest working group of the right kind of guys, but if they aren't led or coached in the right way, they will never be able to reach their full potential. In his three years with the team, Garrett has continued to tinker with his coaching staff, trying to not only bring in the right kind of guys to play on the football field, but the right kind of coaches to prepare them for that challenge. If your team has a strong coaching staff, then the strides the players will make every day as they stack one good day on top of the next will be greater.
"I think they [draft class] made a lot of strides. Our coaches coach our players hard and they coach them well. And when you have the right kind of guys who have some ability they are going to get better. We threw a lot of guys in there, we threw a lot of stuff at them, and I think they responded well to it. They are far from being where they need to be and we understand that...If you go about it the right way, and you're in the right kind of environment with the right kind of guys, you're going to get better, and I think we made those kind of strides."
"I think we are forming an identity on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. It's a big part of being a good football team. You want it to look like something, feel like something, and stand for something. We always try to do that every year and coaches working well together and working well with players is a big part of that."
This is of vital importance to any team, but perhaps even more to a team like the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. With such a young roster and unproven guys trying to make a name for themselves, it will be up to everyone, coaches and players alike, to maximize their potential and help the team achieve their ultimate goals. But you can't put the cart before the horse. Before you can create that right kind of environment, with the right kind of coaches helping the right kind of guys get better every day, you must first create... you guessed it, the right kind of culture.
This is often a defining reason why some fans (including myself) feel Garrett should get another couple of years with this team even if they don't manage to find any playoff success this season. He has done a great job building an identity and culture for this franchise. And while the win/loss record has not improved as steadily as the intangibles this franchise needed to team building, it is clear that Garrett understands much more is needed to build a perennial contender. Before you can build a championship team, you must build a championship football program. When Garrett took over, the Dallas Cowboys needed far more than an improved roster to win more games. The franchise needed a stronger foundation, which was one of Garrett's priorities when he officially became the head coach.
"Well, there are a number of priorities; we're building a football team. And I use that word a lot with our team. We've tried to build a football program over the last three years, and now we're trying to build our team this year, the 2014 version of it. So, that is the priority. There's a lot of ways to do that, you do that with personnel, you do that with teaching and coaching. You do that with points of emphasis, on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. That's what our players have felt from me and from our staff since we got together. It's all about trying to form your team, trying to make your team strong, about executing at the highest level, about building a group of guys who are going to fight, that are mentally tough. So you are trying to build that, we've been trying to build that from day one with the type of guys we've brought in here and how we go about our business every day."
And if anyone was still unclear of the identity Garrett is trying to instill for the Dallas Cowboys, you can just look at one of the team leaders to understand the kind of culture Garrett is trying to reinforce, and the kind of players he requires to do so. They are not only the type of guys that get it done on the field, they are also the right kind of guys that do everything right prior to gameday and that are a great example to the rest of the team.
"His number one trait, line-one with Dez Bryant, is ‘passion, emotion, enthusiasm for the game.' Nobody catches more balls, nobody cares about it more than he does, and he works very hard at it. He works hard in practice, he works hard after practice. He cares a great deal about being a great football player and also doing great things for our team. He's a great example for the other guys."
Jason Garrett may not create a great media spectacle, and he still needs to improve his ability as head coach on the sidelines on gameday, but it is tough to debate his understanding of all the intangibles that go into being a great head coach and creating a perennial contender with the right approach, a clear team identity, and the need to reinforce those messages every day. One thing seems certain. If the Cowboys don't find more success on the field this season, it won't be because the players and coaches don't understand what it takes to build a strong football team or because their head coach doesn't have a vision. It will be because they haven't made enough progress in the process...one that I hope remains with the Dallas Cowboys for a few more years.