ARLINGTON, Texas — About 10 minutes into his tenure as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett had to step aside. Team owner Jerry Jones had something to say.
Garrett had been asked how much authority he would have over choosing his coaching staff and Jones wanted to be the one who answered. It seemed like business as usual for the Cowboys.
Only, it wasn’t.
“Jason will have the final say on any person that leaves the coaching staff or comes to the coaching staff,” Jones said. “There won’t be a player on this team that Jason does not want on the team. … That’s the way we’re going to operate.”
So Jones didn’t just change coaches Thursday. He changed his way of doing business. He ceded power and declared the start of a new era, one that could last for a while — maybe not 29 years like Tom Landry’s tenure, but something along those lines. Garrett is 44 and received a four-year contract.
“You can dream that the thing is in place long term because of his age and, frankly, his background and experience,” Jones said.
Another overwhelming factor is the bond already forged between the Jones and Garrett families.
At least one Garrett has been with the Cowboys for 20 of the 22 seasons that Jones has owned the club.
Jason Garrett just finished his 12th year as a player or coach. His dad, Jim, was a scout when Jones bought the team in 1989 until retiring in 2004. Jason’s brother, John, is the tight ends coach and another brother, Judd, is director of pro scouting. In 2007, Judd’s wife died suddenly and Jones lent the Garrett family his plane for multiple trips; Judd worked for the Rams then.
When Jason’s wife, Brill, arrived at Thursday’s news conference, she was greeted with hugs and kisses from Jones’ wife, Gene, and their daughter, Charlotte Anderson. They also made space for her to sit between them.
Sure, there’s been excitement, optimism and affection every time the Joneses have welcomed a new coach and his wife to the Cowboys family. But, again, the difference is the Garretts already have been part of the clan.
“I’m just so comfortable with him,” Jones said. “I know him so well. … The thing that I want you to understand is how much I value his judgment.”
Jones said it was important for him to make this public announcement of Garrett’s authority.
“I wanted to make sure our fans knew the extent of his power,” Jones said. “Let’s not be naive. You know that I’m criticized for basically making decisions in areas where fans and other people would like coaches to make. … That’s the reason that I’m being as definitive as I am about this.”
Garrett avoided directly answering whether he requested such decision-making power. Jones said it is not written into the contract.
“Ultimately, we’re going to feel good about the decisions we make as an organization,” Garrett said. “We’ll communicate, we have very similar football values and we’ll come to the right conclusions together.”
Garrett already has made one executive decision: He will remain the offensive coordinator.
Garrett becomes the eighth coach in club history and the first to also have played for the Cowboys. He was a backup to Troy Aikman in the 1990s, then played for the Giants and Dolphins. Jones joked that he “stayed mad about him for about two years because he wouldn’t let me sell him on quit playing and start coaching now when he went to the Giants.”
Garrett got into coaching with Miami. In 2007, Jones interviewed him to become head coach and was so smitten he hired him to an undisclosed position. It turned out to be offensive coordinator under Wade Phillips.
Since then, Garrett had chances to become head coach of other teams. He turned them down, making it clear this was where he wanted to be. Jones rewarded him with the title of assistant head coach and one of the top-paying contracts in the league.
Dallas opened this season with Super Bowl hopes then quickly fell apart. At 1-7, Jones fired Phillips and gave Garrett his audition.
He took over as if he owned the place.
He started the workday earlier, added hitting to midweek practices, required players to jog between drills and cracked down on rules, including ones he added. He had huge digital clocks installed around the locker room to avoid any excuses about being late to a meeting. He was constantly upbeat, talking about stacking good days.
The Cowboys responded, cutting down on turnovers and penalties, and began forcing other teams into mistakes. They went 5-3, winning four games with 38-year-old backup quarterback Jon Kitna and another with third-stringer Stephen McGee making his first career start. Their losses were by a total of seven points.
“I learned a ton,” Garrett said.
Jones probably would’ve hired him during the season, but had to wait because of a league rule requiring him to consider minority candidates. The only two people he interviewed were black: receivers coach Ray Sherman and Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles.
“Easy is not the right word, but there wasn’t a big decision here for me,” Jones said.
Jones added that other teams asked to interview Garrett for their head coaching jobs. Jones wouldn’t say how many, only that “it was plural.”
When Jones made Garrett interim coach, he kidded him about joining the club as a backup, then joining the head coaching ranks as a fill-in.
“I said, ‘Some day, somehow, you’re going to walk through that front door broad-shouldered, reach over there and grab it just like it was yours from the very beginning,'” Jones said. “Well, we had a little visit the other day and I said, ‘Jason, we’re walking through the front door when we announce this. You deserve this. You’ve earned it.'”