In the midst of one of football’s oldest rivalries, the Cowboys’ head coach knows exactly what the Giants‘ new boss is going through.
Fans of each franchise would probably frown upon fraternization between members of their beloved Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. One of the NFL’s longest and most eternal rivalries, the teams will meet for the 112th time on Sunday afternoon (1:00 p.m. ET, FOX), officially kicking off Giants interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s tenure.
Despite the rivalry, the one who would probably best understand what Spagnuolo is going through right is none other the coach on the opposing sidelines, Jason Garrett.
In his eighth season, the second-longest tenured head coach in Cowboys history behind the legendary Tom Landry, Garrett’s tenure began under similar circumstances, taking over a team that failed to live up to massive expectations in 2010. A season that began with Cowboys fans dreaming of hosting Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium (then known as Cowboys Stadium) went for naught, as the Cowboys began the year 1-7, losing star quarterback Tony Romo to an injury inflicted by Giants linebacker Michael Boley in the process.
Prior to the teams’ rematch at MetLife Stadium (then known as New Meadowlands Stadium) in November, Wade Phillips was relieved of his duties, control of the team turned over to Garrett. Though a hot commodity as a head coach due to his success as an offensive coordinator, his unit had been stifled by Spagnuolo’s defense in the 2008 NFC Divisional Playoffs, as the Giants earned a 21-17 victory at Texas Stadium en route to Super Bowl XLII.
Going up against a 6-2 Giants team, Garrett’s Cowboys pulled off the upset, paced by 327 yards and three touchdowns from backup quarterback Jon Kitna and a 101-yard interception returned by cornerback Bryan McCann for a score. The Cowboys emerged with a 33-20 victory, igniting a 5-3 stretch that earned Garrett the full-time position.
Spagnuolo, who was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams at the time, recalled Garrett’s debut stretch, having maintained a strong relationship with the former Giants and Cowboys backup quarterback.
“Jason and I are good friends. I got a great deal of respect for him,” Spagnuolo revealed after Giants practice on Friday. “I think Jason did a pretty good job going through. He had a full half of the season. When they mentioned that, I said, ‘Geez, Jason is a good friend. I wish I could get on the phone and say, ‘what are your suggestions?’ But I didn’t really think he would give any good suggestions, so I didn’t do that. It’ll be good to see him and this is just something I’ve been challenged with, been blessed with, and hopefully, it’ll be a good thing.”
While Garrett acknowledged that his situation was different from Spagnuolo’s, he did recall the opening of that eight-game stretch during a conference call earlier this week.
“It was a collective challenge. We had to somehow, someway, process what had happened and then get our sights set on a ball game that we were going to play in six days,” Garrett recalled. “I thought our coaching staff did a really good job and our team did a really good job somehow processing it and just really getting focused and locked in on what that preparation day was and how important it was to us and we were able to do that the rest of the week.”
Garrett is 8-6 against the Giants in his career. Previously, he faced off against Spagnuolo as head coach in October 2011, as his Cowboys topped Spagnuolo’s Rams in Arlington.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490