- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dallas interim head coach Jason Garrett returns to New Jersey every summer, but this trip will be different.
He'll be returning to the new Meadowlands stadium with a 1-7 team in the first week of his tenure. On Wednesday, he had his Cowboys practice in pads, trying anything to change the dynamic of a team that lost starting quarterback Tony Romo the last time it played the Giants, just three weeks ago.
It's not exactly the way he imagined getting his first head job.
"I dont think anybody would have predicted this scenario happening in this way," Garrett said.
He'd been mentioned as a candidate for NFL head-coaching jobs the past two seasons, but his first shot comes in the middle of a difficult grind. He has to balance the head-coaching responsibilities with remaining in charge of the offense. He'll have to delegate some things.
"What we're doing now is going forward," Garrett said. "There's not a lot of time to think about different scenarios. We have to get ready for the Giants on Sunday; they will present a great challenge all across our football team, so we've got to have great Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to get ready for that challenge on Sunday."
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said Garrett laid out the stark situation the team is facing and said wearing pads in a Wednesday practice did contribute to a spark. Garrett mentioned Witten as one of the players who has been supportive in the wake of the change.
"Over the last three and a half years, we've had a lot of success," Witten said, "and I think the players feel a little disappointed, like they let [Wade Phillips] down. But at the same time, with Jason, I think we know what his leadership is and we know what his mindset is and our mentality is, 'Get back to work.' We have eight games left; one game at a time."
Garrett is no stranger to New York and New Jersey. In 1985, Garrett played for Columbia University when his father, Jim, coached there. His other three college seasons were spent at Princeton. Garrett was with the Giants as a backup quarterback starting in 2000, and he comes back to Monmouth Beach with his wife to visit his parents in the summers.
Being on the Giants in 2000 when they reached the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Ravens, was particularly memorable.
"I had a great experience there over the course of my four years," Garrett said. "It's an outstanding organization. Anybody who's ever been around it understands that. It starts at the top with the Maras and the Tisches, and really works all the way down through. They've done a great job there for 75-plus years."
Rich Seubert was a rookie and remembers Garrett, who he joked was in his 15th year in the NFL. Seubert said Garrett was football smart and always seemed like the kind of person who would join the coaching ranks. The best thing about Garrett was that he gave everyone on the offense Christmas presents, like a harmonica.
"It was cool," Seubert said. "Heck, the quarterbacks don't give us nothing now."
Garrett admitted that it's like returning home. But there won't be any sand and probably will be quite a bit more stress when the Cowboys take the field.
"Best of luck to him," Seubert said. "After this weekend."