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Jason Garrett: Coaching Men, Not Football

The head coach of the Dallas Cowboys has his own approach to making the best team out of his players.

A Cowboys event that's about more than just football.
A Cowboys event that's about more than just football.
Pool/Getty Images

I want to be completely clear about one thing to start this: I am an unabashed fan of Jason Garrett. He won me over immediately with his approach to the game and his rock-steady demeanor under pressure. It is just my opinion, but I think he is the best head coach for the Dallas Cowboys since Tom Landry cast his long, long shadow on the sidelines.

Yes, that comparison says that he is better than Jimmy Johnson. The man who returned the Cowboys to Super Bowl glory was coaching in a different world. The salary cap did not exist, he had the benefit of one of the epic trades in NFL history when Dallas got the Minnesota Vikings to give them so much for Herschel Walker, players got away with a great deal more off the field than they do now, and everyone in the NFL had a pretty good idea what constituted a catch. Johnson would almost certainly not be able to duplicate his sudden success today.

Admittedly, Garrett has not led the team to anything near the success on the field that Johnson did, and he may never get there (although we all hope he will). But Garrett has a different approach to coaching from most, and that is part of why I think he is so good. Every coach in the league tries to get the most he can out of the players in games. What sets Garrett apart is that he also seems to care about making his players better at life as well as football.

He has always incorporated things that are more than just the routine team-bonding type activities. During training camp, he has taken them to see the Navy SEALS and US Marines train. When the team went to London last year, he arranged a team meal at the Tower of London, with its long and storied history. And now he has changed up the normal schedule for away games to get in a team visit to Ground Zero in New York. All these activities can help deepen the camaraderie of the team, but all of them have deeper lessons as well. They speak of sacrifice and service, of history and tragedy, of how men and women respond to situations far more meaningful and serious than playing a game for the entertainment of spectators. They look like things that are intended to teach the players how to be better persons as much as better teammates. They are the kinds of lessons that can last far beyond a usually brief NFL career.

The coming trip to the memorial in New York was a result of the effect his own visit had on Garrett. He felt it was something he had to share with his players and staff. It was typical for him.

Garrett may not be unique in this approach, but it does not appear to be universal or even common in the league. He seems as focused on the game of football as any coach, but he brings another layer to what he does. It fits his Ivy League education and the impression of high intelligence he gives, but it also reflects a depth of character that comes out in some of his public appearances. In a time when NFL coaches get labeled as cheaters or come to the league from college programs a step ahead of major NCAA investigations, he seems a throwback to the (largely mythical) image of the upright, stalwart coaches of yesterday. Sort of like that one fellow who was famous for wearing a fedora on the sidelines.

Does all this make him a better head coach? You would like to think so, but that is not certain, and based on some examples, it may actually restrain him from going to the lengths some coaches will in order to win at all costs. Does it make his players better people? Perhaps in some cases, but obviously it does not work with all of them.

Does it make him a better human being? That is a lot easier to believe. Does it make him the kind of coach players respect and want to play for? No one can be sure, but you tend to think so.

Does it make him the kind of man you want coaching your favorite team? Again, it is just my opinion, but my answer is an unequivocal yes. It makes me root for him to succeed more. It makes me proud to be a fan of the Star.

I hope you feel the same.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB


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