From Interim To In: Jason Garrett '89 Named Dallas Cowboys Head Coach
Garrett, the first Princeton graduate to lead an NFL team as head coach, won the 1988 Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year. In two years as the Princeton starting quarterback, he won 12 games, averaged more than 210 yards passing per game and served as co-captain for the 1988 squad. One of his teammates and the starting center during his senior season at Princeton was Bob Surace, the current Tiger head football coach.
“He always had confidence and he brought an urgency to our team,” Surace said. “He is an amazing worker and understood all the qualities needed to be successful. He’s as good a leader as I’ve ever been around.”
Current associate head coach Steve Verbit was an assistant coach during Garrett’s time at Princeton.
“Back in 1987, Jason laid the groundwork for the greatest 12 years in Princeton football history, the period between 1987 and 1998,” Verbit said. “I have constantly said that his teams were the launch pad for the 75 wins and three Ivy League championships won during the years previously mentioned. He helped change the culture of the players on our campus through his leadership (caring about others and doing the things the right way), hard work (endless hours on the track and in the film room) and discipline (making the right choices).
“Jason was able to encourage more players than ever before to actively follow his lead and engage in longer and more strenuous off-season voluntary workouts,” Verbit added. “He helped average players become good, good players to be very good, and very good players to become exceptional.”
Garrett went on to play professionally, although he used time in between his NFL stops to begin his coaching career at Princeton. He served as an offensive volunteer coach in 1990 and coached quarterbacks on the freshman team under Steve DiGregorio.
“It was very easy to see that he was going to be a great coach,” DiGregorio, now a teacher and head football coach at Nutley High School, said. “He was very demanding and made them pay great attention to detail, but at the same time he was a gifted teacher of the position. He was very eager to add some of the concepts that he learned professionally to our offense. Jason is an outstanding person. Everybody feels both his level of confidence and his intensity. Even in 1990, it was clear that he would be a very special coach.”
In his seven years on the Dallas roster, Garrett started nine games and played in 23. A key reserve on two Super Bowl teams, he is best remembered for his Thanksgiving Day heroics in 1994. As the Cowboys third quarterback on the depth chart, he made his second career start against Green Bay after both Troy Aikman and backup quarterback Rodney Peete were felled with injuries in previous weeks. Garrett led Dallas to a thrilling 42-31 come-from-behind victory in which he directed the Cowboys to a club record 36 second half points with six consecutive second half scoring drives. He finished the day with 311 passing yards on 15 completions with two touchdown tosses and was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week. He went on to start five games in 1998 and two games in 1999 to finish his days in Dallas with a 6-3 record as a starting quarterback.
Garrett served as the primary backup to Kerry Collins during the New York Giants run to the Super Bowl in 2000, and played the entire fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game that year. He spent the next three seasons with the Giants (2000-03).
He concluded his career by splitting the 2004 season with Tampa Bay and Miami. Overall in his 12 NFL seasons, Garrett started nine of the 40 regular season games in which he played and completed 165-of-294 passes for 2,042 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Garrett began his professional coaching career as the quarterbacks coach in Miami under Nick Saban. He returned to Dallas in 2007 as the offensive coordinator, and the Cowboys sent seven offensive players to the Pro Bowl that season. He helped guide Dallas to the best record in the NFC that season, and followed with the team’s first playoff win of the decade last season.
He was named interim head coach on Nov. 8 after Dallas opened the 2010 season with seven losses in eight games. Without Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo available for a single snap, Garrett led Dallas to a 5-3 finish, including wins in New York, Indianapolis and Philadelphia, and each of the team’s three losses were by three points or fewer.
Jason and his wife Brill founded their charitable foundation, Jason Garrett Starfish Charities, in 1997 with the goal of enriching the lives of young people. The principle activity of the foundation is a one-day football camp and leadership forum for high school athletes; it is held each summer at Princeton in conjunction with Play It Smart, a program administered by the National Football Foundation.