IRVING, Texas — Jason Garrett stood behind a lectern for his first news conference as the interim coach of the Dallas Cowboys. That alone sent the message there’s a new way of doing things around America’s team.
Wade Phillips, you see, always sat behind a table.
Rearranging the furniture isn’t going to revive the 1-7 Dallas Cowboys, but team owner Jerry Jones is hoping the switch in leaders will. He fired Phillips on Monday and promoted Garrett from offensive coordinator to “affect a culture change” for a team that’s been playing worse each week.
The swing from Phillips to Garrett isn’t as drastic as when Jones went from Bill Parcells to Phillips.
But it’s still a big shift.
Phillips is 63 and was reared on defense. Garrett is 44 and versed in offense.
Phillips had been a head coach twice before, four times including interim stints. This is Garrett’s first time in charge at any level.
Phillips never played in the NFL and never was part of a Super Bowl champion. Garrett was a backup quarterback in the NFL for 12 seasons, mostly to Troy Aikman in Dallas, and was part of two Super Bowl champions with the Cowboys.
Then there’s their personalities.
Phillips is folksy and laid-back. Garrett, a Princeton grad, comes across more like the Ivy League image. Take the lectern, for instance. Or this description of how he’s going to run the team: “One of the things that we’re going to focus on going forward is the process.”
“I believe you give yourself the best chance of winning by focusing on doing things the right way each and every day,” Garrett continued. “We’re going to emphasize that in meetings, in walkthroughs on the practice field and hopefully take that to the game field on Sunday.”
Phillips talked about that, too, using the pet phrase, “Not just right, exactly right.” But sloppiness was the one constant thing for his Cowboys this season — well, that and losing.
What drove fans bonkers was the lack of repercussions. Starters weren’t demoted, backups weren’t released. Phillips defended his guys at every opportunity, a player’s coach to the bitter end.
Garrett declined Monday to discuss any lineup changes. But he made it clear that players will be held to a new standard.
“I think it has to be very clear as to what you expect from everyone in your organization, then hold them accountable to those expectations,” he said. “We will do that on a daily basis.”
Some of the people who know him best believe he will.
“You need somebody to do that and he is more than happy to,” said Cowboys radio analyst Babe Laufenberg, a former Dallas quarterback who has been friends with Garrett for nearly 20 years. “Just because he’s nice to people and considerate, don’t mistake that as not being demanding. You can do that without screaming and yelling.”
Garrett’s father, Jim, said he’s never seen Jason get angry. Ever.
“And he went through some tough times as a player,” said the elder Garrett, who worked for the Cowboys for 22 years. “Jason’s been around enough to know what makes the players tick. If he retains his same philosophy of being a teacher, he’s going to win.”
Garrett could be blamed for some of what’s gone wrong this season. In fact, he’s had his critics every year he’s been in charge, which is why his promotion surprised many observers.
In 2008, Terrell Owens was no fan of the play-caller. In 2009, Garrett’s unit gained the most yards in franchise history but scored fewer points than the year before, when Dallas missed the playoffs.
The offense has been out of whack most of this season, even before Tony Romo broke his collarbone. The biggest problem has been the running game going from one of the NFL’s best to one of the worst. Whether the blockers or the backs are to blame, Garrett could never straighten it out.
Garrett also took the blame for calling the play that started this season in the wrong direction — an attempted pass on the final play of the first half of the opener in Washington, when Dallas was 70 yards from scoring and trailing only 3-0. Instead of taking a knee, Romo fumbled and the Redskins returned it for a touchdown.
Jones has thought highly of Garrett since his playing days.
When Jones was interviewing replacements for Parcells, he considered Garrett, even though his resume consisted of only two years as Miami’s quarterbacks coach. Jones hired him days before he gave Phillips the top job. A year later, Jones made Garrett the assistant head coach — and among the highest-paid assistants in the league — to keep him from interviewing elsewhere.
As the interim coach, Garrett has eight games to show whether he’s got what it takes.
“All I can do is be who I am,” Garrett said. “I have things that I believe in. I have things that I’m convicted about. Many of them have been on display over the last 3½ years and some of them will be new and different based on this new responsibility that I do have.”
He’s actually already pulled off one noteworthy feat.
Before Garrett stepped behind the lectern Monday, it was announced he would be there for 10 minutes. He finished talking after 9 minutes, 45 seconds.
Now he’ll try making the Cowboys as precise.