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Strong Ties Bind the Garrett Family... To Princeton
The Sporting News details the link between the Garrett family, the NFL’s Cowboys, and Princeton.
It goes like this: Jim, Jane, Jennifer, Janine, Jill, John, Jason, Judd. Those are the eight Garrett children, in order, oldest to youngest. There will be a test at the end. Is eight too many? Then let’s narrow it down to the Garretts who work for the Cowboys: John, Jason and Judd.
Three brothers, all with the highest-profile team in the highest-profile sport in the country. John coaches tight ends, Judd is the assistant director of player personnel, and Jason is the offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting. Throw in their dad, Jim Sr., who played, coached and scouted for NFL and college teams for more than 50 years, including more than 20 with the Cowboys, and this is a great NFL family that few fans know anything about.
To understand why Jason Garrett is hailed as the NFL’s next great coach, you have to travel back to 1970. He was 4 years old, and his dad was an assistant with the Giants, one of many stops in an itinerant career. Jim Sr. bought an 11-bedroom house in Monmouth Beach, N.J., across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. The yard worked perfectly as a football field, Wiffle Ball diamond, wrestling ring, etc. The Garretts lived there through Jim Sr.’s tenure with the Giants, then returned every summer as coaching jobs moved the family around the country.
Early on, Jim Jr. taught his brothers about sports, spending countless hours with them, though he was six to eight years older than his brothers. “Those are my most vivid, most cherished memories,” says Jim Jr., who coached high school football for 25 years, including one season when John, Jason and Judd were on his team in suburban Cleveland.
The boys being boys, they got along great … except when they didn’t. If John lost at Wiffle Ball, he’d chase the winner around the yard, and it was not to give him a congratulatory hug. Today, Jason says the three get along great at work but that “if we played a game of pickup basketball, it would end in some kind of scuffle.”
Typical fights aside, John, 43, Jason, 42, and Judd, 41, were best friends; only 27 months separate them. They eventually asked their dad to teach them about football on the field across the street from the ocean. “I said to them, ‘You have to remember one thing. When we’re out here, I’m not your dad, I’m your coach.’ “
By then, Jim Sr. was with the Browns, and two of his players (Dino Hall and Pat Moriarty) became regular participants in the practices at the field. Local high school and college players started showing up, and an enduring and ongoing tradition was born. They meet two or three times a week, and 25 participants is still not uncommon.
Anybody willing to work hard is welcome. John, Jason and Judd are there occasionally each summer.
The field is so unscriptably American that it comes complete with a cranky neighbor who calls the police if anybody crosses the invisible line that marks his property. Said line runs perpendicular to the end of the hedges. Long passes are thrown toward the house, which allows players to practice stopping on a dime, lest they trample the plants that surround the home.
A neighbor once asked if those were the Jets practicing, which says something about the quality of the players … or the neighbor’s opinion of the Jets.
Maybe Jason would have had a 12-year NFL career as a backup quarterback and hot start as a coach if he had grown up cooped up in an apartment … but probably not. Jason stuck in the NFL because he was smart and accurate, and he’s a star coach because he’s open-minded, thorough and well-prepared. All of those attributes can be traced to the field across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.
While he was in high school, Jason regularly threw passes on the field to NFL wide receivers covered by NFL cornerbacks. He never had a strong arm, but it was in those drills that he learned the impeccable accuracy that made his career possible. And he learned far more than how to hit a closely covered, quickly moving target.
The most important trait the Garrett brothers share is well-roundedness. “We were exposed to things at a young age that a lot of people just weren’t exposed to,” Jason says. The three younger Garretts have already played, scouted or coached for 10 different NFL franchises. How many guys can say their father worked for Hank Stram, Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson and was friends with just about every other big name in the game? (And Jim Sr. has stories about every one. Among the best: He’s with the Saints and Stram in the mid-’70s. They’re winning. Late in the fourth, Stram says something like, “My mother always said to compliment people when they deserve it. Thanks for helping me hire Rich Kotite for special teams.” Seconds later, a Saints punt is returned for a touchdown. They lose. Stram berates Jim Sr. for recommending Kotite.)
Jason has played or coached for Johnson, Norv Turner, Jon Gruden and Nick Saban. Throw in all the men John and Judd have coached and played for and it’s hard to find somebody they don’t know. “There’s rarely a place I can go where there’s not some kind of connection,” Judd says.
Jason absorbed what his father taught him. Much of it is nebulous–Jason says the one thing he learned most from his dad is to appreciate the purity of the game.
“Squeeze blood from a rock” is Jason’s slogan. He doesn’t know if his dad ever said those words, but Jason says Jim Sr. lived them every day.
Some lessons were learned the hard way.
The 1985 season looked to be the start of a tremendous Garrett family story. Jim Sr., Jim Jr., John, Jason and Judd were together at Columbia University after Jim Sr. was hired as head coach. Jim Jr. was on the staff. John (wide receiver) was a sophomore. Jason had transferred from Princeton to join his dad. Judd (running back) was a freshman. They had high hopes for turning around the team, which had not won a game the previous season.
But their anticipation soon turned to disappointment. They knew going in Jason and Judd couldn’t play because of the transfer rule and the Ivy League freshman ineligibility rule at the time, and then John broke his collarbone and was out for the season. The team lost every game, and Jim Sr. resigned under pressure. His high-intensity style was the reason he was hired, but it also contributed to his downfall. He was criticized after two players complained that he had slapped them, during practice.
John, Jason and Judd transferred to Princeton, Jim Jr. returned to Cleveland, and Jim Sr. returned to the NFL as a scout. Dealing with all those issues was difficult, but Jason says it illuminated one of his father’s lessons: “One of the things he always taught us is: ‘You win some, you lose some, you move on,’ ” Jason says. “This was a chance to test all that.”
Those are lessons Jason applied in his career. Though he graduated from Princeton in 1989, he did not make an NFL roster until 1993.
The kind of player Jason Garrett was–accurate, thoughtful, full of questions–made him a classic coach-to-be. The Cowboys tried to make him a player-coach for the 2000 season, but he wanted the opportunity to play more, so he signed with the Giants. He didn’t necessarily see himself becoming a coach, anyway–at the time, he was thinking more about broadcasting as a next career. He worked NFL Europe broadcasts for four years, and he briefly worked in a FOX NFL booth in 2004.
He also spent part of ‘04 on Tampa Bay’s roster, and it was there, while staying late after practice to work with wide receiver Michael Clayton, that he started thinking about coaching. His first coaching job was in Miami, where he oversaw Dolphins quarterbacks in 2005 and 2006 and worked alongside Judd for one year. Jason parlayed that into the coordinator position in Dallas. With the Cowboys’ powerful offensive display last season, Garrett became a hot head coach candidate, and he turned down an offer to be Brian Billick’s successor in Baltimore. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made Garrett the highest-paid coordinator in the game and gave him a new title–assistant head coach–as a way to persuade him not to become a head coach elsewhere.
Jason ran a high school camp at Princeton, his alma mater, this summer.
That has led to the widespread conclusion that Garrett will be the next head coach of the Cowboys. Garrett, coach Wade Phillips and the Cowboys insist the seemingly awkward relationships will work because all involved are professionals. Whether that company line can survive if the team suffers a downturn remains to be seen.
Quick refresher: Jim, Jane, Jennifer, Janine, Jill, John, Jason, Judd. The names are worth repeating because Jason’s devotion to his family has played a huge role in his ascent in Dallas, says David Magee, who shadowed Jerry Jones last season for the forthcoming book Playing to Win. In giving him the raise and new title, Jones praised Garrett’s “vision and direction on the offensive side of the ball.”
But there’s more to the high Garrett population at Valley Ranch than that. “The biggest surprise to most people who get close to the Jones family is the darn near obsessiveness with family,” Magee says. “You can’t underestimate the power of family to the Jones family. They migrate toward that. That whole family dynamic is part of what they like about the Garretts.”
The Cowboys’ opener will mark the first game since their Princeton days that John, Jason and Judd have been on the same team. But tragedy brought them together. Last August, Judd’s wife, Kathy, a former All-American soccer player at Princeton, collapsed at home after a jog. Judd performed CPR, but she died a few days later, at 38. The family suspects a heart problem, but the cause is unknown. The couple had four children, and the oldest will be a freshman in high school this fall.
The Garrett family immediately started arriving at Judd’s home. His mom, sisters, sisters-in-law and even wives of other coaches were there nonstop for months. “It really was an amazing time,” Jason says. “Everybody really rallied around Judd and his family.”
Jones made his personal plane available–Jim Sr. says the plane was used for at least 10 trips, and keep in mind, Judd was working for the Rams at the time. Many NFL teams sent representatives to the funeral, at which Judd gave a eulogy.
Family members admire the strength Judd has shown. But coaching hours are impossible for a man with four children and nobody to watch them.
This spring, the Rams released Judd, with pay, so he could put his life back together. Still, Judd needed a job. As Jim Sr. tells the story, Judd showed up in a tie to talk to Jones about becoming the Cowboys’ assistant director of player personnel. He needn’t have spiffed up. The job was his.
The position allows Judd to stay in football but with reasonable hours and stress. He now lives in Dallas, close to John and Jason, his two best friends.
Steve Verbit coached Princeton’s secondary when John, Jason and Judd were on the team–and he remains good friends with them. “I think Jason could drop back, close his eyes, and know where Judd and Johnny would be,” says Verbit, now the school’s defensive coordinator. “The throws they made here at Princeton were the throws they made time after time after time down at the beach. I mean, holy smokes, it was a thing of beauty to watch those three play together.”
That translates, though less dramatically, to their work together in Dallas. “There are times when we’ll need to correct something in practice, and (Jason) will just give me a look, and I’ll know what he means,” says John. “We’re just familiar with what we know is important to each other.”
All of that they learned from their dad. And they learned more than football. Jim Sr., 78, is a whirlwind of curiosity. He reads four newspapers a day–he’s so old school that he reads printed copies–and takes classes at Princeton just for the heck of it, not even for credit. While being interviewed, he asks nearly as many questions as he answers. A recent conversation about football ended up veering to Aristotle, William Faulkner and how if you live by the ocean long enough, you start to think it has a personality.
John got his father’s looks and encouraging personality. Judd got his athletic ability and love for the game. Jason got parts of all of that, plus his dad’s curiosity and passion to figure out the best way to do things.
So Jim Sr. gets all the credit for how the Garrett brothers turned out. There’s a football term for that: baloney. Let’s end this family story where everyone knows it began–with the matriarch. Mrs. Garrett birthed and raised eight children, moved 14 times–seriously–without complaint and cried the first time she saw the beach house.
They were not tears of joy. Friggin’ thing has 11 bedrooms! Who do you think took care of all that while everyone was out playing football?
Claiming to have had nothing whatsoever to do with the boys’ football careers, she did not want to be interviewed–the idea made her nervous, in an utterly charming way. She’d rather look after her 27 grandchildren, and who could blame her? She asked that her name not even be mentioned. Fine, fine. She’ll go nameless and quoteless. But she never said anything about quotes about her.
So here’s one: “She’s an angel.” You have eight guesses to figure out who said that. All of them would be correct.
The Garretts are connected–everywhere
You’ve heard of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. In the NFL, there might as well be the Six Degrees of the Garrett family. They’re connected to just about everyone in the league. Even connecting the Garretts to Kevin Bacon is easy:
Jason, John and Judd Garrett played at Princeton with Dean Cain. Dean Cain was on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with Teri Hatcher.
Teri Hatcher was in The Big Picture with Kevin Bacon.
Maybe that was too easy. How about this instead:
Jason and Judd Garrett worked with Rams coach Scott Linehan in Miami. Scott Linehan’s sister-in-law is married to Jim Caviezel, who was in The Thin Red Line with Nick Nolte.
Nick Nolte was in I Love Trouble with Julia Roberts.
Julia Roberts was in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon.
Strong ties bind the Garrett family
By Matt Crossman, The Sporting News