- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - As a third-string quarterback on the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett tried to absorb every nuance of the game and he especially took note of the way coach Jimmy Johnson ran the club.

Johnson set a tone that resonated throughout the locker room and all of team headquarters. The Cowboys were good and knew it. They knew hard work got them from 1-15 to Super Bowl champs and only more hard work would keep them there. Rules were spelled out, consequences, too; only novices or fools tested the boundaries. Practices could be as tough as games.

By following Johnson’s lead during the week, the Cowboys won on the weekends. Garrett never forgot that. And now that he has Johnson’s old job, he is using a similar blueprint to make the franchise a winner again _ so far, that is.

Garrett is only 1-0 since replacing Wade Phillips last week, but soundly beating the division-leading Giants in New York helped win over a lot of skeptics. On Tuesday, he took a break from planning for the Detroit Lions to let Johnson know his way is back in vogue at Valley Ranch.

“Making sure I get the maximum performance from everyone in the organization every day is my No. 1 daily focus,” Garrett wrote in a text message to Johnson.

Garrett has learned from every coach he’s been around, crafting his theories on offense by playing for the likes of Norv Turner, Ernie Zampese, Sean Payton and Jon Gruden, and getting more lessons in leadership from Nick Saban in his first stint as an assistant coach.

Yet after his first season as offensive coordinator in Dallas, it was Johnson who Garrett turned to for advice on whether to become head coach for the Falcons or the Ravens.

“We talked at length about those jobs and the alternative of staying in Dallas, about the pluses and minuses and what the risks were,” Johnson said. “Then he flew down here to the Keys and spent three days with me.”

Garrett was invited for a guys’ weekend of fishing, drinking and talking football. He brought along Troy Aikman and several pages of questions.

“I told Troy, ‘This guy is wearing me out!’” Johnson said, laughing. “I wanted to drink beer and have fun and all he wanted to do was talk football.”

It wasn’t about strategy. They mostly discussed running a football team, how to lead 53 players and a staff of assistant coaches. That was among Johnson’s greatest attributes as he took the Cowboys from one win in his first season to Super Bowl champions in his fourth and fifth seasons.

“Xs and Os sometimes clutter people up,” Johnson said. “They forget that players win games. Jason understands that. He’s going to make sure his players are upbeat and motivated. And it’s not just the players, it’s everyone in the organization _ assistant coaches, second-team offensive guards, secretaries. They all need to be positive, upbeat.”

Dallas was 1-7 when Garrett took over, so the first thing he did was create a new, tougher atmosphere.

Wednesday practices are now in full pads. Players must hustle from drill to drill every day. They have to show up earlier every morning and must dress like professionals on a business trip when they travel. On Wednesday, digital clocks were being installed throughout the facility, all synchronized together. Everyone was told the consequences for violating each rule and several guys already have been punished.

It’s all part of the “culture change” team owner Jerry Jones wanted when he made the first in-season coaching switch in franchise history.

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