Jason Garrett guards against sympathy

IRVING, Texas -- Interim coach Jason Garrett is a mild-mannered, Princeton-educated gentleman. He’s also a tough guy.

And he will make sure that he has tough teams.

That’s why the Cowboys practice in full pads on Wednesdays. It’s not necessarily a mental ploy to send a message. He believes it’s the best way to make sure the Cowboys are as physical as necessary to win in the NFL.

“I just think football is a physical sport,” Garrett said. “You can never lose that. You have to be smart going forward over the course of a season, but Wednesday is the day when you’re putting the base stuff in. A lot of it is focused on the running game and the play-action passing game, and you need to be physical in those areas.

“Over the course of time, if you’re not practicing that way, I think maybe you lose some of that physicalness. Now there are a lot of other coaching philosophies that have been incredibly successful doing it a different way. This is just something that we believe in.”

Practicing in pads often isn’t popular with players. That doesn’t bother Garrett, who was heavily influenced by playing for brutally tough Jimmy Johnson when he broke into the league.

He respects the players and understands how difficult it is to get through an NFL season. He has a pretty fresh perspective, having retired as a quarterback after the 2004 season. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be a players’ coach, which is often code for soft.

“One of the things that you have to guard against is having too much sympathy for the players,” Garrett said. “It’s hard, and it’s going to be hard. It’s a long season, and we know that. The best players know that. You’ve got to fight through some things.

“Practices are supposed to be hard. The seasons are supposed to be hard. But if you work at it and you improve individually and as a group, you have a great chance of having success on Sunday.”

That doesn’t mean that players can’t approach Garrett. He considers it important to keep the lines of communication open. They just won’t always like what they hear from him.

“You always want to have a relationship with players,” Garrett said. “You want to be able to communicate with players, and different players need to be communicated with differently. The best coaches I’ve been around have been able to do that. Sometimes you’ve got to drive a guy more; sometimes you’ve got to pat a guy on the back a little bit more. It’s really kind of the nature of life more than anything else.

“But football is hard. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘OK, I’m not going to run that last wind sprint. I’m not going to finish this drill.’ It’s our job as coaches to make sure that the players get pushed through those things.”

For those following the Cowboys over the last few years, those words might seem unfamiliar. That’s what a real head coach sounds like.