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Jason Garrett has control of Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Almost a year ago Jerry Jones did something he had never done before as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys when he fired Wade Phillips in the middle of a disastrous season.

In Phillips' place, Jones named Jason Garrett as the interim head coach, a move that was expected by many the day Garrett was named offensive coordinator before Jones had found a successor for Bill Parcells in 2007.

Garrett coaxed the Cowboys, a woeful team without quarterback Tony Romo, to a 5-3 finish that led Jones to give him the job on a permanent basis three days after the season ended.

"It's a long time ago and what we're really focused on is the Bills," Garrett said, referring to Sunday's opponent at Cowboys Stadium. "That week we had to kind of make a quick transition to get ready for the Giants. We were playing the Giants in New York on a Sunday afternoon, so we had to kind of make a quick transition and I think our team responded well to that. And we're in the process of trying to put our program in place."

The Cowboys are 16 games into the Garrett era. With Sunday's win against Seattle, Garrett has a 9-7 record. As the record suggests, there have been a few more good moments than bad but hardly the stuff that makes anybody satisfied.

The midseason hiring and the lockout have prevented Garrett from doing everything he has wanted to do.

"It's an ongoing process for every team," Garrett said.

Some of the changes Garrett has made are tangible. He altered the coaching staff on both sides of the ball. He added pictures around the team's Valley Ranch facility of the greatest players and greatest moments in team history. He had collages of the five Super Bowl-winning teams placed outside the locker room.

Details matter, right down to the digital clocks that he installed outside the locker room.

It's not that Garrett has solved all that has ailed the Cowboys. Fourth-quarter leads turned into losses against the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots. Penalties remain an issue. The Cowboys continue to pile up yards without piling up points. The defense under Rob Ryan has improved but it would have been difficult to be worse than 2010.

At the least, Garrett gives the impression that he is in control of every situation even if his public words are not much different from Phillips'.

"I just think that he lives what he preaches, for one," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "I'm sure you guys have heard it, but he gets the most out of each day and, man, regardless if we were [undefeated] right now his approach doesn't change."

Just ask Superman.

"Jason's a true leader," said Dean Cain, who starred in television's "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," and was Garrett's teammate at Princeton. "He was a true leader back then. He'd get guys together and everybody would just follow. If you weren't there, you'd know it. You didn't want to let him down."

Garrett has the team's ear. Players parrot what he says about being "great today." They look forward to his talks the night before the game where he will tie in historical references (think "California as the land of opportunity" before the Cowboys played San Francisco) and relate them to what could happen on game day.

"I've heard coaches talk to a team for two minutes and I'm like, 'All right, let's wrap it up and go,'" Brooking said. "You're like sitting on the edge of your seat, wanting more."

A year ago, the Cowboys were 1-7 and thoroughly embarrassed at Green Bay.

This year, they are 4-4 and in the chase as the second half begins Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

"As a veteran being a part of a team you want a head coach that gives every opportunity to be successful and puts you in every positive situation though practice and through the talk," tight end Jason Witten said. "When you need a pat on the back, he does it. When you need to get a little chewing, he does it. I think the great thing you can say about a coach is he is a step ahead of you. He always is. That gives you hope."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.