By Clarence E. Hill Jr.
Palm Beach, Fla. _ Jason Garrett never got a proper introduction as Cowboys coach.
He took over for the fired Wade Phillips midway through the 2010 season on an interim basis.
When he was hired officially in January of 2010, he didn’t get the things normally afforded a first year coach, like an extra minicamp and extra time in the offseason to fully implement his new scheme, because of the lockout.
That all led to an up and down 2011 season that included first year coaching mistakes, year-long adjustments issues to the new scheme and ultimately an 8-8 record and third place finish in the NFC East.
Garrett won’t get a do over. What is done is done.
In a question and answer session with reporters on the final day of the NFL owners meetings on Wednesday, Garrett said he excited about the 2012 season but acknowledged before the Cowboys can get better and improve that he must learn from his mistakes and get better himself.
You got a lot of criticism last season for some of your in game decision making, how have you adjusted and what have you done to correct the mistakes?
“What we do as coaches and what I do as an individual coach, after every game you say, ‘What was good and what was bad?’ What we try to do is take a very critical eye of self-evaluation. It’s a really important thing for me as the head coach of this football team to look at myself first, look at what we’re doing as a staff before we walk in to talk to the players. I can give you 10 things out of every game this year that, ‘that wasn’t very good. That was better. I kind of liked that. I didn’t like that decision. I can’t believe we set it up that way. I can’t believe I made that decision.’ It starts with me and I have to be real critical of myself and our staff before we start talking to players and make their evaluations.”
Lot of problems seemed to stem from breakdowns in communication between the coaches and then to players on the field, any changes coming about communication?
“I would say that in the evaluations of things we liked over the course of a season and really within a game, you want to make the adjustments as you go as best you can. Now you also take another view of it after the season. We start looking at cut-ups, individual plays, game situations, how we handled those things and we evaluate it again. We’re still in the process of doing that with all of our different systems, both during the game and leading up to games and all of that. There will tangible changes on some things. We’ve got to make sure we do that because we’ve got to get better. I’ve got to get better.”
Are some of mistakes magnified because you’re a Princeton guy who is not supposed error?
“Well when you make a lot of decisions in the position I’m in, trust me, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. The biggest thing I try to do is be critical in the self-evaluation of myself, of our staff, how we’re doing things and make the adjustments. Take the emotion out of it and just be really objective as best you can when you’re evaluating yourself and our staff. One of the things we try to do with our staff is we put guys together who are not yes men, guys who will hopefully tell me that wasn’t very good. So hopefully we can be better, and that’s our objective. Our objective is to be as good as coaches as we can be, put as good a team out there as we can. Critical self-evaluation is important around the fact that we have to have core beliefs in the things we’re doing. Big picture stuff, smaller picture stuff. We try to balance that and it’s an important part of our process to get better week to week and year to year.”
Jerry Jones said both you got goose bumps when told that the Cowboys would be part of the NFL’s season opening kickoff game against the Giants?
“Hey, we’re excited about the opener. The New York football Giants at their place, Super Bowl champions. Obviously, we know the challenges. They are a great organization. They’ve been an outstanding football team for a long, long time. We respect their coaches, we respect their players. We’re excited about the challenge.”
Is it any added motivation because you ended the season there and knocked you out the playoffs?
“I think all of our players and coaches are motivated to be the best we can be in 2012. That goes without saying, regardless of who the opponent is in week one. But I know as a coach, when you’re talking to your team, it’s easy to say on Wednesday night on that first week in September, we’re going up to New York to play the world champions. If that doesn’t get your attention as a coach, as a player and everybody in our organization to be the best they can be each and every day, I don’t know what does.”
You finally get a true off season for the first time as head coach, how will it help?
“We excited to have a traditional offseason going into a traditional training camp into a traditional season. I think everybody in this league is. We talked about adversity a little before. That is inevitable. Everybody deals with these kinds of things. The teams that handle it best are the ones that will be successful. So those are the situations we were put in over the last year in a half. You deal with the best you can. Now having a traditional offseason is best for everybody.”
Can you assess how you have done in free agency?
“We’re excited about it. We addressed needs with players that we liked. We targeted players, we evaluated players and we felt good about the guys we were pursuing. Now, all they do is come into the mix on our football team. We paid different guys different contracts, and there is a business part to the NFL, there is a recruiting part to free agency, once you acquire those guys they get into the mix of your football team. We wanted to create competition throughout our team. We feel like we did that with guys we really liked, the right kind of guys who have some talent and some upside. Guys that we think help our team now and going forward.”
How did free agency affect your approach to the draft?
“One of the things we did in free agency is we tried to address some of the perceived needs on this team. The goal on the draft is to draft the best player available. All teams have that goal. Some times you are able to achieve that and sometimes not. So hopefully by the time we get to end of April we will be in that position. We will pick the guys we think are the best guy for our football team.”
Jerry Jones said you are likely to draft a defender in the round because of the guards you signed in free agency. Does it look like you have a good grouping of defense players to choose from?
“We are not ready to make that comment. We are picking 14th. We are excited to pick 14th. We are excited about the players who are potentially available. There are good players in every draft. We are going to start our draft meetings next week and go through the process. We will talk about every player and get into the discussions as we get closer to draft about players and clusters of players. But as we have talked one of the objectives of free agency was to address needs on our team with players that we liked so we can on draft day pick who we feel is the best player regardless of the position. That is our goal now is to evaluate them as best we can. Stack them up against each other. Line up at the different positions. Line them up across the board and say this guy is best for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Talk about the two free agent guards Nate Livings and MacKenzy Bernadeau and what they bring to the team?
“You’re trying to bring guys in who can stir up the competition at the different positions you have to make everyone better individually and hopefully in a better to make us better collectively.
We signed Mackenzy Bernadeau from Carolina, he’s a guy we liked coming out. He’s a young guy from a small school who we feel has the physical traits to be a really good player in this league. He has not been a consistent starter for them, he has been a starter, but he’s had some injuries and some different things he’s dealt with. We’re just excited about the kind of kid he is and the upside he has.
Nate has been a starter the last couple of years in Cincinnati. He’s a big guy, he played at LSU. He was one of those guys who was a college free agent and really earned his way in the NFL. You put the tape on, we just like how he played. We feel like to bring a guy like that in he can get infused into our roster and hopefully create some competition up there.
None of these guys we brought in to say you are the anointed starter. They’re here to create competition in our team and we feel they are the right kind of guys individually as people but also with their talent.”