During the NFL offseason dead period, ESPN has been presenting some interesting topics and Kevin Seifert released a ranking of the head coaches by the prominence of their football careers. You may be surprised to know that Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett ranks 6th:
Top-Level: Quarterback NFL (12 seasons)
Garrett impressed everyone he met as a future NFL head coach during his decade-plus as a backup quarterback. But he also was an effective player in his own right. He made nine starts, all for the Cowboys, and won six of them. He threw 11 touchdown passes in 294 career attempts against five interceptions in seven seasons with the Cowboys.
Last week, I wrote a column about the head coach and came away with the impression that for the most part, BTB really appreciates Garrett as the head man in Dallas. He's been around the NFL a long time and there's no coincidence that he's garnered respect from a lot of other head coaches around the league as well as his former boss, Nick Saban.
"Scott Linehan and all the other offensive coaches who had coached in the league ... they all knew Jason, and they said, 'You've got to interview Jason Garrett,'" Saban recalled. "I said, 'The guy's never even coached. How can you recommend him for a coaching job?' And I interviewed him, and he was by far the best candidate. And I said that even after a year — after his first year of being a coach — I really considered him to promote him to [offensive] coordinator and call the plays because he was that good a coach that quickly because he's a very bright guy and really could relate well with the players."
When it comes to Garrett's football knowledge, look no further than his father and longtime scout for the Cowboys, Jim Garrett. Football was something the Garrett children were born into. Jason attended prep school in Ohio where he lettered in three sports; football, baseball, and basketball. In his senior year, he would win All-League honors as a quarterback and safety. He graduated in 1984 and was off to the Ivy Leagues.
Garrett has played at two Ivy League staples in Princeton and Colombia. At Princeton is where Jason shined when he completed 66.5% of his passes for 4,272 yards, 20 touchdowns and was named Ivy League Player of the Year as well as winning the Bushnell Cup. Garrett still holds the Ivy League record for career completion percentage at 66.5%, his season high of 68.2% stood until 2000.
Garrett entered the NFL in 1989 as a undrafted free agent for the New Orleans Saints, but wouldn't make it onto the final roster in two seasons. In 1991, he was off to the WLAF, where he started at quarterback for the San Antonio Riders. After separating his shoulder and being supplanted by a new arm, Garrett was off to the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL.
It was Jim Garrett's influence in the scouting department that would get Jason to the Cowboys. Jim knowing the Cowboys were looking for backup quarterback candidates, scouted his son as a potential QB3 in development behind Troy Aikman and eventually Bernie Kosar, who had been released by the Browns. Garrett would eventually take the reins for the injured Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete in one of the most memorable Thanksgiving games in Cowboys' history.
After being down 17-6 at halftime, Garrett would lead the Cowboys with 311 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 109.6 passer rating to a comeback victory over the Brett Favre-led Packers and win 42-31. By 1998, Garrett had made his way into the QB2 position behind Aikman. In two years as Aikman's primary backup, Garrett went 6-3 with the Cowboys before heading off to the rival Giants and finishing up with the Dolphins in 2004. Garrett has fond memories of his short-lived career as the Cowboys' starter:
"I remember I was playing, excited about the opportunity," Garrett said, referring to five of his nine career starts. "So, I love playing football. We were better with the other guy playing, though. I’ve got to admit it. He’s pretty good."
Garrett retired from football following the 2004 season and spent two years on Saban's staff as the QB's coach with Miami before the Dallas Cowboys came calling again. They hired Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator before they even had their replacement head coach for the retired Bill Parcells. Garrett would coach the Cowboys' offense to a second-place ranking behind only the undefeated Patriots that season.
After 2007, Garrett was highly sought after by both the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons. In the years that followed, he would be a finalist for the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions, and Denver Broncos jobs. He ultimately opted to stay in Dallas and was the highest-paid NFL assistant at the time. Garrett finally got his shot to run the show after the Cowboys' had quit on Wade Phillips and fell to 1-7 (without Tony Romo) in 2010. Garrett's team would go 5-3 down the stretch and he would earn the gig full-time for the 2011 season.
Jason Garrett will always be the coach's son, which has allowed for him to be around some incredible football minds over his NFL tenure. Just about anyone you've seen from Jimmy Johnson to Troy Aikman, from Nick Saban to Bill Belichick and his biggest influence, Norv Turner, all knew that coaching is what Garrett would eventually get into. He was a sponge as a player watching Hall-of-Fame players in front of him. He soaked up every moment of football that he could find.
When it was finally Garrett's shot to coach the team that had been a second family to him for seemingly as long as his adult life, he made sure the first guy he went to was his former coach.
A year after Garrett turned down head-coaching offers from the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens following the 2007 season, he approached Aikman about traveling to Johnson's sun-drenched paradise in the Florida Keys to allow the former coach with whom they each won two Super Bowl rings to educate him on the requirements of succeeding in the NFL.
But their meeting lasted a few days, and the additional time allowed for more detailed conversations. Garrett arrived with a purpose and was thoroughly prepared, and Johnson clearly was not. Garrett had several pages of questions, which he asked relentlessly. At one point, Johnson turned to Aikman, laughed and said, "I need a little break. Let's enjoy each other a little here.''
"He wore me out,'' Johnson said.
Becoming a head coach was Garrett's dream aspiration after he had already met one of his most lofty goals in becoming an NFL quarterback. What some could see as pestering and obsession, Garrett sees as a relentless effort to constantly be better the next day. One of his more regular quotes, now six years into his head coaching career, has been "be your best, regardless of circumstance." That's a quote that has always stuck in the minds of his players and fans as holding weight. All you can control is what is in front of you, make every day as good as you can. Stack those good days together and be your best.
As an admirer of Jason Garrett's, his messages have been almost a daily reminder to myself and something that I use in helping deal with life's many anxieties. Everything Garrett has accomplished, he's earned through hard work and dedication and it's a blessing to have a coach with his steady demeanor and vast knowledge of the game of football. The very last nugget from the history of Garrett's football career that is important to share comes from his time at Princeton, the following is an excerpt in Princeton's Alumni Weekly from December 1988, see if it reminds you of the current Cowboys' signal caller in any way:
Sure enough, Princeton punched the ball into the end zone on its next possession. The highlight of the drive was a thirty-five-yard bomb from Jason Garrett to Mark Rockefeller on a broken play. Threatened by the Yale defensive line, Garrett scrambled around for an eternity before unloading the ball to Rockefeller, who made an acrobatic catch between two Yale defenders. A few plays later, Garrett found Dave Wix in the left corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Somers Steelman, pacing excitedly on the sideline, almost swallowed his cigar.
Now, tell me that didn't sound like a Romo play that we've seen on many occasions. Garrett propelled a solid playing career into becoming the head coach for the most visible and heavily marketed franchise in perhaps all of sports. Seeing him ranked sixth on Seifert's list just makes me more proud to see him chasing his coaching dreams with "America's Team". Who knows, maybe one day we'll be talking about the only former Cowboys' quarterback to win two Super Bowls as a player and one as their head coach. That would be the ultimate feat for a man who has given his entire life to the sport.