Commentary

Jason Garrett set for full-time challenge

First-year coaches face unexpected hurdles, but Cowboys leader has plan for 2011

Updated: March 30, 2011, 7:00 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Jason Garrett turned 45 years old on Monday, and although he has the title of head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL lockout prevents him from going forward with the task of running the team.

When he took over for Wade Phillips after the Cowboys' 1-7 start last season, the team was in shambles. Garrett pushed the Cowboys to a 6-10 finish and gave owner Jerry Jones hope for the 2011 season.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJason Garrett plans to empower his staff to handle certain responsibilities so he can focus on being head coach.

How Garrett will do in his first full season as coach is uncertain. Other NFL coaches can relate.

"He's great. Jason is going to do real well," San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "I think Jason has been around long enough to know it's not just about him. They've got a great staff and a great organization. You set a plan and a direction for everybody, and he'll do good. He had a pretty good handle on it. That's the advantage. He knows Jerry, and Jerry knows him."

Coaching for the first time in the NFL can be a challenging experience.

Mike Tomlin has been to two Super Bowls, winning one with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet in his first season, 2007, he drastically changed how the Steelers conducted training camp and was met with resistance. Tomlin pushed on and made adjustments along the way.

"There is no script," Tomlin said. "Expect the unexpected. You got to have a thoughtful plan but remain light on your feet. ... The reality is always very different than your vision."

Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins has been a head coach in this league since 1988, when he led the then-Los Angeles Raiders to a 7-9 record at age 36. Shanahan understands the demands that NFL coaches face not only within their own organizations but outside as well.

"I think it's the unknown," Shanahan said. "When I was with the Raiders, and you come in and you're always thinking offense or thinking defense, then you come in, and you got more than offense and defense. You're making a lot of different decisions, and it's a growing process. There's no playbook for it."

Garrett is smart enough to know he can't do it alone.

Dobbs Expect the unexpected. You got to have a thoughtful plan but remain light on your feet. ... The reality is always very different than your vision.

-- The Steelers' Mike Tomlin on becoming a head coach for the first time

He will lean on brother John Garrett as the passing-game coordinator, keep offensive line coach Hudson Houck as the run-game coordinator, depend on Rob Ryan to fix the defense and use his vast experience of watching other coaches to make things happen.

"What we like to do is empower people around us," Jason Garrett said. "There are a lot of different responsibilities that I have, and there are responsibilities our staff will have. You allocate those responsibilities or you empower people to do the things that need to get done."

Garrett already has changed things around Valley Ranch. He's placed digital clocks around the locker room area so the players have no excuses for being late to meetings and practice. There are pictures of the players hanging on walls to spruce up the place and other pictures praising players for their performance in the previous week's game.

He wants practices in training camp and the regular season to be more physical than they were under Phillips. Garrett is talking about the Cowboy Way of doing things. So what is the Cowboy Way? It's winning like they did in the 1990s. It's like they did in the 1970s.

The 2000s wasn't the Cowboy Way.

Garrett visited Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to learn about the Duke Way of doing things. Garrett also mentions his time with Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins and how he learned so much from him. Saban, of course, is a big winner in the college game.

All the things Garrett wants to implement might fail if the personnel doesn't respond to him. It appears the Cowboys did respond to him in the second half of 2010, when they went 5-3. Now he has to make sure that carries on into the next season.

"You want to be great at every level of your football team," Garrett said. "We work very hard as individual players and individual coaches to do that each and every day, and you want that to show up throughout.

"How we practice, how we play, how we workout in the offseason, where we live, how we interact with each other. Those are all the things when you talk about changing a culture. It's really about your behavior each and every day in all phases of your program, so that's what we're trying to put our stamp and imprint on this."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.