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The Dallas View: Garrett’s Gameplan; Do the opposite as Wade

At the Cowboys press conference announcing the new permanent head coach, Jason Garrett laid out his gameplan for the Cowboys: whatever Wade Phillips did, do the opposite.

If that’s not proof the Princeton doesn’t graduate dummies, what is?

Garrett started implementing the plan while he was still the interim coach, making it a point to put the Cowboys in pads during every Wednesday practice.  Phillips hadn’t had the players practice in pads since training camp (and he barely had them do it then), further cementing his reputation as the most lenient coach in Cowboys history.

Garrett points to that adjustment as the biggest reason for the Cowboys’ improvement in the running game once he took over.  The running game relies on the big men up front being mean, physical, and driving – and Garrett’s theory is that it’s tough to have that physical mindset just once a week.

He said he would continue that mindset into the upcoming training camp, with “tough” practices that will get the players ready for the battles to be waged in the regular season.  Again, a contrast to Wade’s camps, which were given the moniker by the media of “Camp Cupcake.”

Life under Wade had few rules – and Garrett immediately started adding them.  Fines for being late to meetings were added, shocking everyone because this meant that there were no consequences for tardiness under Wade.  Fines for not following a new, professional dress code that’s supposed to remind everyone they’re on business trips, not vacations.

The Cowboys Braintrust: Jerry Jones, Stephen and Jerry Jr. at Reliant Stadium in Houston (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

To me, though, the biggest change will be stressing accountability.  Now, no one knows what Wade said to players behind closed doors, but to the public, Wade was a big jolly barrel of excuses.  Players were never at fault – he would blame himself long before upsetting his players. Accountability wasn’t even a rumor – it was totally absent.  Even Wade’s sideline demeanor seemed to somehow lack accountability.  He was never upset at anyone, he was never angry at anyone.  He just seemed sad, or confused, and at times sad and confused.  But never angry at an offensive lineman for jumping early.  Never angry at a wide receiver for running the wrong route.  Never angry at a running back for missing his block.

Cowboys coaches of late clearly follow an ebb and flow pattern.  You had Bill Parcells, the gruff disciplinarian who commanded authority – even going so far as to arguably belittle players while refusing to call them by their name.  (Remember Terrell Owens, a.k.a. “The Player”?)  He then was replaced by Wade, the man who wanted to be loved by his players, always pointing out the positives after humiliating losses.

Where does Garrett fall on the spectrum, then?

My read, thus far, is that Garrett is far closer to the authoritarian Bill Parcells than he is to the teddybear Wade Phillips.  He’s talks tough and he gets to the point in press conferences. His first act as official head coach? Fire wide receivers coach Ray Sherman, a coach the players liked.  But there are also signs of a softer side – smiling during the postgame opponent handshake after a loss, for instance.

Andy Reid (L) and Jason Garrett after the Cowboys beat the Eagles to end the 2010 season (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

That balance makes me feel hopeful about the Garrett era.  Is he a coach that’s going to be malleable, and adjust to the situation?  Wade never seemed to be able to adjust.  If it rained, Wade seemed confused by the sky water rather than getting an umbrella.  Even Bill Parcells could be criticized for being too tough, and not realizing he was losing the team by being overly … Parcells-like.

Jason Garrett is showing signs of being stern and tough without being a drill sergeant screaming on deaf ears.  It was pretty obvious to anyone with a TV set that the Cowboys were undisciplined and lost under Wade – adjusting to that didn’t take the Ivy League education Garrett carries.

I’d like to believe that’s because Garrett made those adjustments not naturally, because he happens to be a tougher, gruffer guy than Wade Phillips.  I’d like to believe it’s because Garrett analyzed the situation, looked at the team, and decided it’s what this team needs.  If it’s the latter, I see success for Garrett.  Teams don’t always need to be hit over the head with a shovel of discipline.  There will be weekends after a tough loss where they might need their coach to get their back a little bit.  Similarly, there will be weeks where the team needs the coach to crack the whip.

Jimmy Johnson, now working for FOX (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Jimmy Johnson had the knack of knowing when to crack the whip and when to back off.  In 1992, on the final game of the regular season, the Cowboys rather handily beat the Chicago Bears.  Much to everyone’s surprise, though, Jimmy wasn’t talking about the bye week his team earned, or the upcoming playoffs at all.  He was furious about his team’s effort during a victory.  Wade complemented his players’ efforts after games that the team had lost in embarrassing fashion, obviously having quit.

Jimmy had more than a small tirade, even cutting backup running back Curvin Richards for his fumbles.  But he sent a message loudly and clearly to his team.

That 1992 team went on to win the Superbowl.  Jason Garrett wouldn’t join the Cowboys at quarterback until the next year, but hopefully he understands what Jimmy Johnson did: motivation isn’t about always being nice, or always being mean – it’s about hitting the right buttons.

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