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Cowboys Magazine: Jason Garrett's Coaching Influences

One of my contributions to the Cowboys Annual was an article on Jason Garrett (O.C.C. also penned a terrific Garrett article), focusing on his history of learning from the most successful coaches in various sports how they run their organizations. In it, I discuss a trip he made in the offseason to Durham, N.C., to observe the way Duke Basketball and its legendary Coach, Mike Krzyzewski, conduct business. Also, I examine the influence of former Cowboys head man Jimmy Johnson on Garrett, who played for him as a practice squadder and then a third-string QB in 1992-93.

Today's snippet is from the section on Johnson's influence on Garrett's coaching philosophy:

This philosophy can be traced back at least as far as the mid 90s, when Garret worked under Johnson on Dallas’ 1992 and ’93 championship teams. As a practice squad player and then a third-string quarterback, Garrett had been in a unique position to study the way Jimmy ran the organization. Rules were clearly articulated; so long as players operated within those rules, they were going to have a lot of fun playing for Johnson. If they went outside of the rules, consequences were swift and immediate, and life became difficult for that player. As a result, everybody toed the line—but had fun doing so.

Moreover, Johnson had established a work ethic that resonated throughout the entire organization: the Cowboys had worked hard on the long climb from 1-15 to respectability—and only hard work was going to keep them at the top of the mountain. Practices could be as tough as games—or even tougher. But this served to instill confidence in the players; by following Johnson's formula during the week, the Cowboys knew they would win on Sunday. Garrett never forgot that and, since the day he assumed Johnson's old job in the middle of a disastrous 2010 campaign, he has employed Johnson’s lessons in an effort to restore a once-proud franchise to its former glory.

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When Garrett took over the coaching reins, the Cowboys stood at 1-7 after a 45-7 blowout at Green Bay in they had appeared sluggish, sloppy and disinterested. Much of this was the byproduct of an untidy organizational infrastructure that had taught the players this behavior was acceptable. For his first order of business, therefore, Garrett instilled some of Johnson’s dicta: players were required to show up earlier in the morning and a dress code was instituted for away games. Garrett had synchronized digital clocks installed throughout the facility. Perhaps most importantly, a clear set of rules was established and players were told the consequences for violating each rule.

At his first team meeting as head coach, Garrett showed the assembled players a video clip of a play from the previous season: a catch by Miles Austin in which Keith Brooking could be seen running down the sideline, wildly cheering him on. Garrett told the team: "this is the Cowboys I know." In doing so, he sought to remind a team with flagging confidence that they were capable of great things. Inside linebacker Sean Lee agrees; in an interview with Blogging The Boys, he said, "I think what Coach Garrett really did was instill confidence back into everybody….He kind of restored our confidence and you could see that in the last part of the season. We were practicing better, playing better."

Throughout that first week—and for the rest of the season—Garret preached "process," asking his players to focus on being great one day at a time, with the idea that long-term benefits would accrue. As Lee suggests, the best in-season examples of this come from the practice field. At his first Wednesday practice, Garrett put his players in full pads, nobody was allowed to stand around watching the goings-on, players were required to hustle from drill to drill, and everything was executed crisply and moved at a brisk pace. When apprised of the changes taking place at Valley Ranch, Aikman sent Johnson a simple text: "I know you will love it. Full pads!''

Johnson did love it. In a February radio interview on Dallas’ 1310 FM, he told reporters his teams "never broke from the routine of ‘we’re in pads Wednesday and Thursdays and we’re wearing shoulder pads on Fridays.’ Players would come up, Troy and all of them, and say, ‘Coach, why don’t you relax a little bit and let us go in sweats?’ I said, ‘Hey, we got to this point by being in pads. We’ll stay in pads.’" Johnson had always let his players know who was in charge and, by extension, that there was one organizational message—his. By putting his player in pads, Garrett both toughened up his team and announced that there was a new sheriff in town.

Hopefully, we're seeing some of this philosophy in action in San Antonio and will continue to see it as the season progresses. For more about Garrett as life-long coaching learner, get your copy of the Annual today!

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