The opening line so masterfully said by Jim Garrett in the Mothership’s “Deep Blue” documentary on Garrett’s life:
“The word is YEARN...Y.E.A.R.N. The dictionary says wish to achieve and what that means is THAT is what you want to do with your life.”
Nobody truly defined the word yearn more than Jim Garrett. His legacy in football isn’t often celebrated but it certainly should be. You can’t easily trace the impact he’s had in the sport of football because there isn’t a special wing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for outstanding scouts. That’s what Garrett will be remembered for most as he scouted for the Dallas Cowboys from 1987 to 2004, but his legacy in football began before World War II even ended.
Jim, a native of Rutherford, New Jersey, played linebacker and fullback at Rutherford High from 1944 to 1948. He received a scholarship offer from St. Mary’s but soon transferred to Utah State University, where he continued playing as a running back. After he completed college, Jim played for the BC Lions before spending a few seasons with the New York Giants under defensive coordinator, Tom Landry.
In the 1970’s, after Landry had already been coaching the Dallas Cowboys for more than a decade, Garrett, then the Giants’ defensive coordinator, landed a win over his former coach. He spoke to Jeff Sullivan about the memory of that day and of Coach Landry:
“I was afraid to go across the field to shake hands with him, but sure enough, I look up and he’s coming at me, shook my hand, offered congratulations, couldn’t have been any nicer,” Garrett said. “That’s who he was. He wanted to make sure he shook hands with a former player of his. He was the most humble guy you could ever meet, and the most tremendous teacher of the game I’ve ever been around.”
Garrett spent three years at the helm of the Giants’ defense before he made stops in New Orleans with the Saints and another seven years with the Browns. Garrett bounced around a few places before taking a job with the Cowboys scouting department under the legendary Gil Brandt.
Jim met his wife Jane when he was with the New York Giants. Together they had eight children, four girls and four boys.
Perhaps the most profound impact that Jim had was the 40 years he spent instilling his passion for sports into his sons, who all carved out paths in the NFL. Garrett had an intense love affair with competition and football, often referring to it as a “contagious disease”. He believed in his ability to get the most out of young athletes and he really admired the ‘underdog’ mentality that closely resembled not only his playing career but his children’s as well.
Garrett owned a beach house in New Jersey where he set up a makeshift field outside. Any time Jim found the opportunity to teach, he would bring his sons and just about anyone in the nearby area that wanted to play football to his backyard. His son and head coach of the Cowboys, Jason Garrett, said there would be upwards of 60 kids at a given time all being mentored by the patriarch of the Garrett family.
Soon that backyard teaching session became a well known training camp that produced a few NFL players that didn’t share his DNA, like Sam Mills and Miles Austin. Jim Garrett always possessed an incredible feel for what NFL teams were looking for even in his advanced age. There are numerous Garrett scouting stories that have been discussed by those who spent time with him. Bryan Broaddus of the mothership, for one, greatly admired Garrett’s conviction.
Broaddus has routinely told a story that surrounded the 1998 NFL Draft and 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Randy Moss. Of course, Moss had a laundry list of off-field incidents that deterred many NFL teams from drafting him. Jerry Jones had brought Moss into Valley Ranch for a visit where he went as far as to tell him “If you fall to us, we’re drafting you.” Jones’ confidence in that statement was rumored to soften when Moss’ asked where he could find Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders.
Drafting Randy Moss with the issues they were currently dealing with involving Irvin, a notorious party animal, didn’t sit well with then Cowboys Director of Scouting, Larry Lacewell. While his peers in the scouting department showed trepidation, Jim Garrett never wavered, literally jumping on the table to plead with Jerry and Stephen Jones that “This is the NFL, not the Boy Scouts.” He exuded total confidence that Moss was the right pick and that he would be a star.
Though the Jones family didn’t ultimately agree with Garrett, he was right. Moss scorched the Dallas Cowboys every chance he got, going a perfect 7-0 with three teams versus Dallas. He only caught three passes in his 1998 debut against Dallas on Thanksgiving but they were for 53, 56, and 56 yards, all three touchdowns for added insult. Jerry Jones still kicks himself about not taking that risk but then again Moss wasn’t a “Boy Scout” in the NFL either.
Perhaps my favorite Jim Garrett story wasn’t nearly as thrilling as the image painted by Broaddus about the pleading for Moss. There was a video made in the 1998 season that has since vanished from YouTube where Jason Garrett was featured due to him taking the starting job for an injured Troy Aikman. In the video, they ask for Jim’s opinion of his son and it was the perfect scouting report. Paraphrasing him from a foggy memory, Garrett said that Jason’s intelligence for the game would have him ready.
Jim noted that Garrett’s arm talent was unimpressive but he did possess good ball placement. Lastly, he stated that coming out of college he scouted his son as the third quarterback with the upside of a solid backup in the NFL. Jason Garrett started five games and went 3-2, an unspectacular but solid result. That scouting report defined Jason’s playing career to a “T”.
It’s hard to put over 70 years of football experience into one column but Jim Garrett just embodied the spirit of football and it started with his passion for life. He never did anything in his life without loving it, I can still see the image of a 70+ year old Jim Garrett slowly jogging every morning in the opening scene of an episode of Hard Knocks in 2008. He never wavered in that passion for life and his optimistic nature still lives through his children today. Jim Garrett was an amazing teacher, coach, scout, and father. Everyone from the Cowboys organization to its fans lost one of their brightest stars, and he’ll be sorely missed.