Football: Garrett ’89 shines in Dallas debut
Thankfully for Jones, another quality coaching figure stood on the sidelines, eager for his opportunity. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett ’89 took over the head coaching duties, becoming the first Princeton alumnus to serve as head coach of an NFL team, and he led the Cowboys to a 33-20 upset victory over the previously 6-2 New York Giants on Sunday. Although he had just a few days to prepare as head coach, the win was a long time coming for Garrett.
As quarterback and team captain for the 1988 football team, Garrett won the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year after throwing for 2,217 yards, one of the top seasons in Princeton history.
“One thing that makes him a great leader is that he’s very positive and is a great encourager,” said senior tight end Harry Flaherty, who is Garrett’s nephew. “Regardless of circumstance and the number of losses, he wants to get the most out of people.”
Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90 played center with Jason Garrett during their time together as Tigers. Surace said that during one season, Princeton beat both Harvard and Yale and the team was excited for the traditional bonfire. As the starting quarterback, Garrett was expected to light the fire, but he was absent. He instead chose to train for his upcoming NFL workout and missed the occasion.
“He was focused on being the best player and leader he could be,” Surace noted. “He was focused on being the guy that could lead a team to success.”
Surace also said that Garrett was highly dedicated to the team and was always thinking about the game. When Garrett arrived early to classes, he would draw up plays on pieces of paper and ask teammates if they thought they would work in games.
“He had that type of discipline and that type of mentality,” Surace explained.
After graduating, a determined Garrett practiced and worked out for NFL teams. Scouts viewed him as undersized and less talented, and so he played in several lower-level leagues until he was signed as a third-string quarterback by the Cowboys. He went on to win three Super Bowl rings as a backup, and he filled in for the injured backup quarterback Rodney Peete on Thanksgiving Day in 1994 to lead the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory. Over the course of his 12-year career, Garrett was the exemplar of the benefits of hard work and persistence, which influences his coaching style today.
“He was a guy that worked very hard, who was an overachiever,” said his brother Judd Garrett ’90. “He had to do all the other things that were necessary in order to have a career in the NFL. I think that gives his message to the team credibility.”
After retiring from playing, Garrett went into coaching, following the example of his father Jim Garrett, a long-time assistant coach and scout for several NFL teams. Because of his success as a quarterback for the Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones took a liking to Jason Garrett and made him offensive coordinator. Dallas finished second in the league in offense, and Garrett received offers for head coaching positions with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens. He ultimately decided to stay in Dallas and become the highest-paid assistant coach in the league, while waiting for his chance to become head coach. That chance came last week, and Garrett proved capable for his first career victory.
Football is a strong tradition in the Garrett family. Jason’s brother John Garrett ’88 is tight ends coach for the Cowboys, and Judd is director of pro personnel for team.
The three all played together for Princeton in 1987, with John at receiver, Jason at quarterback and Judd at running back. In fact, it was John who, while working for the Cincinnati Bengals, gave Surace his first chance at coaching. With all the future coaching prowess on that team, it’s a wonder they lost to both Harvard and Yale that season.
“It’s a little strange he’s leading one of the most storied franchises in the NFL and he’s the head guy and the face of the organization right now,” Judd Garrett said. “I’m very proud and I know he’s going to do a good job.”
“You knew he had it in his blood, and that once he got started he’d be very successful,” Surace said.
Jason Garrett did not respond to a request for comment.