By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Help wanted: If you were in the market for an NFL head coach, how would this resume sound to you?
Played quarterback on three Super Bowl teams for brilliant offensive minds such as Ernie Zampese, Norv Turner and Sean Payton … Also played for Jon Gruden … Apprenticed as an assistant coach under Nick Saban and Wade Phillips … Son of a long-time coach and NFL scout … Graduated with a degree in history from Princeton University … Interviewed for five NFL head coaching jobs, turning down two offers.
Pretty impressive. And yet a week doesn’t go by in which Jason Garrett isn’t casually nudged aside as coach of the Dallas Cowboys on the unforgiving NFL rumor mill.
One week it’s Payton escaping from his suspended contract with the New Orleans Saints to return to Dallas, where he coached the offense in the Bill Parcells years, and the next it’s Mike Holmgren making a triumphant return to the sideline as Cowboys savior after three awkward years miscast as Browns president and de facto owner.
All of which brought Cowboys owner/president/general manager Jerry Jones to rise to Garrett’s defense Tuesday in Dallas.
“I can’t get into that conversation (about Holmgren) because of how fired up I am about the future of Jason,” Jones said. “The future is now. I’m fired about him and what he can be as coach of the Cowboys.
“Mike Holmgren is someone I can’t tell you on an individual basis how much I respect. He is everything you would want as far as a coach is concerned. I appreciate the compliment when he was talking about how he was impressed with our talent and the fact that we could work together. That is just the case. But the bottom line is it’s all about Jason with me.”
Born to be a coach: Former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano has known Garrett since before Garrett was a sixth-grader at St. Ann’s in Cleveland Heights and a three-sport letterman at University School. Garrett’s father, Jim, coached with Rutigliano under Hank Stram in New Orleans and then followed Rutigliano to Cleveland.
“He grew up with all my kids,” Rutigliano said of Jason, who was the second-youngest of eight children to Jim and Jane Garrett. Two of Garrett’s brothers are also on the Cowboys’ football staff.
Rutigliano regularly attends Jason Garrett’s one-day football camp in June at Princeton and occasionally leaves him inspirational phone messages.
As a player, Garrett was Troy Aikman’s backup in 1993 when the Cowboys were gunning for a second consecutive Super Bowl championship. When Aikman suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of the year, jeopardizing their hopes to defend, the Cowboys jumped to sign Bernie Kosar almost immediately upon his release from the Browns by Bill Belichick.
Kosar joined the Cowboys on a Tuesday. For the next four days, Garrett sacrificed his own preparation to cram with Kosar on the intracacies of the Cowboys’ offense. In place of Aikman, Garrett had a ceremonial start in the next Dallas game, then gave way to Kosar in the first quarter.
“He spent every second with me,” Kosar remembered. “This is one of the most genuine, nicest men there is. He is completely for the team. He was unbelievable to me. He taught me everything.”
Loyalty rewarded: It’s not easy being the coach of the Cowboys under the huge, domineering shadow of Jones. Parcells, a dominant personality, co-existed with Jones only three seasons.
But Garrett has the right, easy-going temperament to suffer Jones’ post-game press conferences and radio appearances. He has forged a workable relationship with Jones as a player and coach for 13 years. When Garrett was one of the hottest, young, offensive coordinators in the NFL, he turned down head coach offers from Atlanta and Baltimore to be groomed as Cowboys coach.
“I thought two things when he took the job,” Rutigliano said. “His personality would be perfect for Jerry Jones because he is 180 degrees opposite from Parcells. Then I thought, ‘if he wins.’
“Who can coach in that kind of environment, where the owner can’t fire the general manager? How do you work that way? Because you can’t be right. I think it’s almost impossible. I think Jason Garrett is in an impossible job.
Garrett is 17-16 in two-plus years as Cowboys coach. This year the Cowboys are underachieving at 4-5, but find themselves only 1 ½ games behind the New York Giants in the NFC East.
On Sunday against the Browns, the Cowboys begin a stretch of five games at home over the next six weeks. On Monday, cornerback Brandon Carr called the Browns’ game a “must-win” for the Cowboys.
While marquee names are lining up to be Jones’ next coach, Garrett’s inner confidence leaves him unruffled.
“If he can pull it out and get into the playoffs, I think he’ll hold on,” Rutigliano said. “I think Jerry wants him to win and remain the coach of the Dallas Cowboys more than anybody he’s hired since Jimmy Johnson.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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