IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett turns 50 years old today.
The red hair is still bright, but there are some flecks of gray now. Call it aging or call it what happens when you coach an NFL team, especially one like the Dallas Cowboys.
He is entering his sixth full season as the Cowboys’ head coach in 2016. Only Tom Landry has coached the team longer. Only Landry has more wins than Garrett.
But last year’s 4-12 finished has dulled the good feelings created from the 12-4 finish in 2014. A year ago at this time, the Cowboys were considered one of the NFC’s best teams with a quarterback coming off his best season, a dominant receiver, a dominating offensive line and an opportunistic defense.
Now it’s as if the Cowboys are among the league’s dregs. They have not made any big free-agency signings. Tony Romo is coming off collarbone surgery. A broken right foot kept Dez Bryant from dominating a year ago, and some wonder if he will be able to return to the highest of levels again. The offensive line was good in 2015 but not as dominating. And the defense could not create a takeaway when they needed it most.
As a result, some are putting Garrett, who signed a five-year extension 14 months ago, on the same hot seat in which he entered in 2014 when he was in the final year of his contract.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has backed Garrett at every stop.
“I think he’s built for this circumstance,” Jones said from the scouting combine. “He couldn’t be more familiar with our team. He couldn’t be more familiar with our opponents. He couldn’t be more familiar with what we didn’t do right last year. He’s smart. He’s hard-working; his staff is hard-working. I’m very pleased with him. I’m not pleased at all with the fact that we won four games. I’m not pleased that we didn’t get a backup quarterback successfully in place to help us win some games. I’m not pleased with any of that, but he’s not either. ... Obviously Jason -- his blood is blue. Nobody is rooting for him more than I am.”
As Garrett sat at the NFC coaches’ breakfast at the owners meetings in Boca Raton last week, it was pointed out that he is the longest-tenured coach in the NFC East. When he took over full-time in 2011, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles held that title. When Reid left for the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants took over.
Coughlin resigned in January and was replaced by Ben McAdoo. Chip Kelly was fired before last season by the Philadelphia Eagles and Doug Pederson took over. Jay Gruden is entering his third season with the Washington Redskins.
“Don’t really think about that much,” Garrett said.
Go beyond the division and Garrett is the eighth longest-tenured coach in the NFL. Bill Belichick (2001), Marvin Lewis (2003), Sean Payton (2006), Mike McCarthy (2006), Mike Tomlin (2007), John Harbaugh (2008) and Pete Carroll (2010) have been at their stops longer.
“It just reinforces for me to take advantage of each and every day,” Garrett said. “We are fortunate to do what we do. It's a privilege to play and coach for the Dallas Football Cowboys. So we want to maximize that opportunity every day.”
Garrett does not do public introspection much. He does not worry about things that have happened or worry about things that will happen. His mind is on the present.
But at the owners meetings, he was asked what he would be doing if he was not a coach.
“It’s a hard question,” Garrett said. “You know I’ve been very fortunate ever since I was a young kid I wanted to be a football player, and I had a chance to do that. Now I have a chance to be a football coach. This is what I’ve been thinking about my entire life. At the end of my playing career, I did a few games in NFL Europe for Fox as a broadcaster. I messed around with that. But I feel really fortunate to have played in the NFL and now coach in the NFL. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I was a young kid, and I feel fortunate to be able to do it.”
That was as introspective as he wanted to get. When the subject of 2015 came up and how much it sticks with him now, Garrett deflected.
“Again, we’re focused on what we can do right now to have the best football team this year in 2016,” he said. “You learn from things that went well in the past; you learn from things that didn’t go well. You’re always trying to grow, but you want to have your focus on the opportunity now. So, there are a lot of things as individuals, and as a football team, we’ll grow and benefit from that maybe didn’t go quite as well as we wanted it to last year. But we have to take full advantage of those experiences to get better.”