I will never forget bumping into Jason Garrett at Super Bowl XL (that’s 40 for those who are Roman Numeral challenged). We were in Detroit and had not seen each other since his last year with the Cowboys some six years earlier. We greeted each other with a hearty man hug and big smiles, mindful that we had shared some great times together when the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls in the Mid-’90s.
We reminisced and laughed about some old memories for a few minutes and then, as is my wont, I asked if we could do a quick interview. His face changed as he replied, “Oh Coach Saban does not want us to do any interviews with the media while we are here.”
Jason was quarterbacks coach of the Dolphins at the time, and Nick Saban was his boss. I was surprised that a guy with Jason’s personality, quick wit and intelligence was declining an interview request, but I understood that he should honor the wishes of his boss.
When I watch Jason in press conferences to this day I often think of that brief encounter in Detroit. Because when Jason is at the podium I believe he is channeling his inner Nick Saban. Saban is similarly robotic and cryptic with the media. Jason’s demeanor is much more pleasant than the often-vexed Saban, but his answers are sometimes less than enlightening.
If all you know of Jason Garrett is the guy you see in press conferences then you don’t know Jason Garrett. He is one of the most engaging, funny and thoughtful guys you would ever want to meet. He earned a degree in history at Princeton in 1989, the same year he won the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year.
Before signing with the Cowboys in 1993, he was on the Saints practice squad for a year, spent a season with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football and even got cut by the Ottawa Rough Riders. But he was smart enough or lucky enough to land with the Cowboys, where he was part of two Super Bowl Championships and at least one legendary performance. He lead the Cowboys to a Thanksgiving Day win over the Packers in 1994, a performance that earned him NFC Player of the Week honors.
The Jason Garrett I wish you knew is the one you see on the sidelines congratulating players after they make a great play. His celebrations may look a bit awkward and unchoreographed but they are so genuine. He loves his players, and they love him back. He has cultivated a relationship with them that was born of being in an NFL locker room as a player for 12 years. He knows how he liked being treated and he treats his players just that way, applying equal doses of admiration, respect and accountability.
The real Jason Garrett stood before us a few weeks ago on the day that friend Babe Laufenberg lost his son to cancer. Jason cried at the podium that day and asked us all to remember that life is short and nothing is promised. That is the Jason Garrett that I know. He is caring, thoughtful and empathetic.
So the next time you see a Garrett press conference or hear a sound bite that frustrates you, just know that there is so much more to the man than his press conference style reveals. Remember, too, that if he is going to emulate someone, who better than a coach who has won six national championships in college football.
Oh, and by the way, Saban started his coaching career in 1973 and did not win his first championship until 2003. It won’t take Jason Garrett 30 years. He is going to lead his team to a title soon. And even if he doesn’t, he is a really good man!
Sports columnist John Rhadigan is an anchor for the Fox Sports Southwest television network.