Three straight 8-8 campaigns can get a franchise down, but only optimism seemed to emanate from Valley Ranch during last week’s voluntary offseason workouts. This may be the surest testament to the leadership of Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett – despite some very vocal and influential opinions to the contrary, his players appear to believe in this program.
“My little saying that I go by is, ‘You gotta love and respect the job you do.’ You do that, you’re going to dominate. Always. I love my job, and I’m doing a better job of respecting it.”
Love the job? That comes naturally to a man such as Bryant. Respect the job? That’s coached.
Respect is part of Garrett’s message, part of the drum beat he’s pounded seemingly every day since he got out in front of this organization. Respect the job you do. Respect your natural-born talent with a relentless work ethic. Respect your teammates and your role by studying hard and knowing your assignments. Respect your opportunity in the NFL by being mature and trustworthy off the field.
Love is the internal motivator. Garrett often says he wants players who love the game of football. Love is a key element in Garrett’s oft-cited Right Kind of Guy. Love is the combustion that propels a player; respect is the rudder that keeps him on course.
This is high-level stuff. Ambitious, from a coaching standpoint. After all, to play in the NFL one must first win the lottery of life, born with a special kind of athleticism. It takes a ton of hard work, dedication, and personal sacrifice as well – but with just those qualities and no talent, you’re Rudy. And that’s cool, but it aint landing you on any NFL rosters. The worst practice squad player in the NFL was the best athlete at his high school. Men are either born with the opportunity to become NFL players or they’re not.
The challenge Garrett has embraced is to coach respect to men who were born lucky and treated as special for much of their lives. It’s hard to maintain a sense of appreciation and perspective when all your life you’re told how awesome you are.
It’s frustrating for us regular folks to see an accident of genetics waste his talent. Why do we care? Because our perspective is that of an unremarkable middle class grind, stretching out before us all the way to the grave. No forks in that road for most of us. And that’s OK – we can have good lives, and we’re luckier than a lot of other folks in the world – but to see special athletic talent fail through unforced error galls us. Man, if I were in that guy’s shoes… Doesn’t he know how lucky he is?
Dez Bryant seems to know. You gotta love and respect the job you do. Garrett’s other players know it, too. This is what Garrett brings to this organization. It hasn’t shown in the record yet. He’s endured three straight 8-8 seasons, but he’s never made excuses for that, and he’s right not to. That’s not his place. His job is not to explain or make excuses; his job is to go do better.
I’m not so constrained out here in cyberspace – my job is to call it like I see it: If Jason Garrett can ever field a defense not comprised chiefly of practice squad pickings and street free agents, he’s going to win in this league.