IRVING, Texas – When the discussion of Jason Garrett’s mentors is broached, the talk mostly centers around Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban, Norv Turner and Ernie Zampese.
One guy who had a big impact on Garrett was Sean Payton, his offensive coordinator with the New York Giants for three years.
“I learned a great deal from him, not only about the X’s and O’s of football and of quarterback play and of offensive football and strategy and all of that, but also just how he was, how he interacted with players and coaches and just his demeanor,” Garrett said. “I learned a ton from him. I was one of the older guys on the team and so he and I hit it off really well right from the start. He really made my experience in New York a really important one for me where I learned so much, but also a very enjoyable one."
Payton’s presence looms as a big shadow over Sunday’s game at Cowboys Stadium even though he will not be coaching New Orleans.
Payton’s name has been linked to the Cowboys since word broke that his contract extension with the Saints last year was voided by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Payton became owner and general manager Jerry Jones’ first $1 million assistant coach when Payton backed out of a deal with Oakland to stay with the Cowboys. Jones then gave defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer a raise to $1 million as well.
Jones and Payton have a good relationship and it has been easy to connect the dots even as Jones – and executive vice president Stephen Jones - has backed Garrett without pause.
When the Payton news broke, it came at a bad time for Garrett. The Cowboys were struggling mightily and his job was at least publicly talked about if not privately inside the walls of Valley Ranch by those with the last name of Jones.
"I don’t think so much about that kind of stuff," Garrett said. "What I try to do is the same thing I try to emphasize to our players – focus on this day, the task at hand and do your job the best you can do it."