In the past 20 years, Jason Garrett has gone from being a member of the 1990 Saints practice squad to head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. In a conference call with the New Orleans media, Garrett discusses his relationship with Saints head coach Sean Payton, who coached him with the New York Giants, as well as Thursday's matchup with New Orleans.
How has it been taking over one of the most storied franchises in the league after such a difficult start to the season and ripping off two straight wins?
"It's been kind of a whirlwind here the last few days, but we're really just focused on what we need to do here every day to be honest with you. We had challenges immediately after the transition happened. We were going up and playing the Giants and so we had to hit the ground running on that Wednesday morning when the players came in. We've just been trying to put good days on top of each other and get ready for the game each week."
Can you talk about your relationship with Sean Payton and your familiarity with him?
"I had the great fortune of playing for him for three years in New York. He was the offensive coordinator and I was one of the backup quarterbacks. We developed a great relationship. I consider him a friend. I definitely consider him a mentor. I really, really cherish those experiences we had together. I really learned a tremendous amount really on a daily basis on so many different things. Certainly he's influenced me immensely as a coach."
What have you seen differently from this year's Saints defense than maybe from last year's game?
"I think you see the same overall style. They're an aggressive defense. They have some very good players. Gregg Williams does an outstanding job with scheme. They understand the importance of being aggressive and coming after the opposing offense really in every kind of situation. There are a couple of scheme wrinkles that are a little different, but I think that's kind of typical of defenses from year to year. The thing we have to be ready for is their aggressiveness. They're an awfully good defense."
Obviously you'd like to have Tony Romo, but does working with an experienced backup like Jon Kitna benefit you at all?
"I just think we're excited about having Jon as our quarterback. It was disappointing for us when Tony got hurt. He's done so many good things for this franchise. To have a guy like Jon Kitna come in, a veteran guy like that who's kind of a natural leader…Guys respond to him. He certainly has plenty of physical ability and experience. It's exciting to have him as Tony's backup and playing for our football team right now."
Can you talk about the development of your first round pick Dez Bryant who really seems to be coming along lately?
"Dez is an awfully good football player. We liked him coming out of college. We were fortunate to be able to draft him. It's really been remarkable the transition he's made because as you guys may or may not know, he practiced for about a week or ten days in training camp and then he got hurt. He had a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss the rest of training camp and all the preseason games. For a young player to be able to come in at any position, miss that time and be able to make the transition that he has, it's very impressive."
Do you guys have to put that same type of aggressive approach out there defensively knowing what type of quarterback Drew Brees is?
"He's a great player. He's one of those guys that really has everything you want at the quarterback position. He's a very natural leader. His team responds to him. He has great command of the offense and he certainly has all the physical abilities that you want. It's a challenge to slow him down every time he breaks the huddle. We're going to do our best to try to do that."
Since taking over as head coach, what's been your biggest adjustment in overseeing the whole team as opposed to one of three sides of the ball and have you done anything differently on a team level than Wade Phillips?
"I just think the responsibilities of a head coach are different than that of a coordinator. When I was an offensive coordinator, my sole responsibility and my focus was on the offensive side of the ball. When you're a head coach, you can't be that limited. You have to make sure you're on top of what's going on on defense and certainly the kicking game as well and you're more involved in the personnel decisions that are happening. Your responsibilities have been expanded and you just have to be able to accept those things and handle them. We have an excellent staff. We have an excellent support staff and coaching staff. We have a bunch of experienced coaches who understand how to do their responsibilities. They've been a great help to me in making this transition and regarding any wrinkles or anything that have come with me being the head coach, I think it's about me working hard every day. There are some logistical things we've changed, but primarily we've been focused on everybody working to the best of their ability everyday, getting themselves ready for Sundays. Guys have responded well. They've practiced well. The last couple games have not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we've found a way to win each of them. We're going to be challenged on Thanksgiving when the Saints come to town. We're excited about that opportunity."