John Garrett might not have been born to coach and evaluate talent, but he sure did get it honest.
Garrett, who joined Mike Norvell’s Florida State football staff in March, not only is part of a famous football family, but he was guided early on by a father who dedicated his life to helping others and spreading the love of the game.
“My Dad is the most inspirational person that I know,” Garrett said of the late Jim Garrett, whose career in college football and the NFL spanned more than 40 years. “And I’m not the only one to describe him that way.”
While his father was a coach and scout by trade – one whose career would eventually lead him to roles on three Super Bowl championship teams – it was Garrett’s older ability to instill confidence and hope in young athletes that might have been his greatest strength .
John Garrett watched his father work that magic with his siblings, including former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. He saw him do it with other players that he coached or trained. And he also experienced it first-hand.
“He would tell me as an eighth-grader, ‘You’re gonna play in the NFL,'” Garrett recalled. “I’m 110 pounds, and he would say, ‘You’re gonna play in the NFL.’ “He would just instill so much belief in you because he believed in you to accomplish things. He never wanted you to squelch that dream.”
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Garrett acknowledges that he initially rolled his eyes at the NFL talk. He already knew at the time that he was not going to be exceptionally tall or fast. And no matter how well he ran his routes, or how sure-handed he was, it was going to be a major long shot for him to make an NFL roster at wide receiver.
But fueled by the confidence instilled by his father, and helped by a keen understanding of the position and the game, Garrett ended up defying the odds.
After starring at Princeton, he signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. He then spent parts of the next four years on practice squads with the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, along with a year in the World League of American Football.
He even got on the field briefly for the Bengals during the 1989 regular season, catching two passes for 29 yards … as a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder.
The Cincinnati head coach who gave Garrett that chance to play on Sundays was Sam Wyche. And it was Wyche who would eventually cut him for the final time a few years later in Tampa Bay, while also helping him embark on a coaching and scouting career that would span more than three decades and eventually lead him to Florida State.
When Wyche brought Garrett into the Bucs’ camp in 1992, the invitation came with a unique twist.
“I’m not sure you’re gonna make it (on the team),” Wyche told him. “But if you do not, I want to keep you around.”
Sure enough, when Garrett was released at the end of that preseason, Wyche immediately hired him as an assistant in the organization’s brand-new, two-person pro personnel department. The NFL had just started adopting free agency, which meant teams would not only need to have scouting departments for college players, but they would need to evaluate players on other NFL rosters as well.
The Bucs started out by having Garrett evaluate players in the AFC, while also assisting with college scouting. And after three years there, he got his first on-field coaching position, working with the Bengals’ wide receivers.
It would be the first of more than a dozen stops as a college and NFL coach, including quarterbacks coach with the Arizona Cardinals, offensive coordinator at Oregon State and passing game coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I wanted to play as long as I could, and then I wanted to get into coaching because I saw the impact that my dad had,” said Garrett, who spent the past five years before coming to Tallahassee as the head coach of an FCS program, Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
Even though the 57-year-old Garrett was dismissed after going 3-8 last season at Lafayette, he still describes his first head coaching stint as a “wonderful” experience.
“It’s a unique level of football,” Garrett said. “It was very similar to what I experienced as a player (at Princeton). A good academic school playing good, competitive football. And you get some fantastic student-athletes – that want to be the best in every aspect of their lives. “
Unsure what his next move would be, it was a chance text exchange with an old friend that would help lead Garrett to Florida State.
During his years with the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys, Garrett got to know an up-and-coming front-office executive named Michael Alford. So when Alford was hired as FSU’s athletics director in December, Garrett sent him a note of congratulations.
One thing led to another – Alford explained that the Seminoles’ football staff would be expanding and Garrett expressed interest in working for Mike Norvell – and the wheels were in motion.
On March 1, he was officially announced as the Seminoles’ new director of scouting on offense.
“I’m so impressed,” Garrett said of his first few months on the job. “With Michael Alford and Coach Norvell, we’re gonna get this back to prominence – where this blue-blood program should be.”
Garrett has seen first-hand what Florida State Football can look like when it’s rolling.
In the mid-2000s, Garrett spent four years as a wide receivers coach (and later assistant head coach) on Al Groh’s staff with the Virginia Cavaliers.
“In 2004, we had a really good team,” Garrett recalled. “We were ranked as high as sixth in the country.”
And the Cavaliers took that No. 6-ranked 2004 team into Tallahassee in mid-October to face a Florida State squad that was ranked No. 7.
Virginia was undefeated, while FSU’s only loss came in the season opener to Miami. There were more than 84,000 fans in the stands and a national television audience watching.
“I was up in the box,” Garrett said. “And it was Saturday night, ESPN. Prime time. So we come into Doak Campbell, and I go up in the box, and the warchant is going: now. It is packed. It’s 10 minutes before the game. Everybody is getting their stuff together, putting on their headphones.
“And I literally sat there and told all the coaches, ‘Hey fellas … stop what you’re doing. Put your pens down and look at this thing. This atmosphere is freakin’ awesome. I said, ‘Just soak this in .Nothing gets better than this. ‘”
Then the game started. And FSU romped its way to a 36-3 victory.
“We got blitzkrieged,” Garrett said with a laugh. “That defense was fantastic. I think all 11 played in the NFL.”
To this day, Garrett can rattle off the names of the players on that Florida State defense. Guys like Antonio Cromartie, Bryant McFadden and Pat Watkins in the secondary, Ernie Sims at linebacker, Kamerion Wimbley and Travis Johnson on the defensive line.
And it will be his job, as part of FSU’s new scouting department, to help identify players who can help get the Seminoles back to that level.
That will mean constantly evaluating FSU’s own roster – which he focused on this spring – while also evaluating prospects in the high school ranks and potential transfers from other college programs.
“What college football is gravitating toward is the pro football model,” Garrett said. “The necessity to evaluate personnel, at an urgent rate, has significantly increased.”
Garrett is focused on the offensive side of the ball, while Justin Crouse is handling the defensive scouting. (Crouse also has years of experience in college recruiting and NFL scouting.) And they are working hand-in-hand with Darrick Yray, who Norvell named general manager of personnel earlier this year.
All three are new positions.
“The most important thing in any organization – whether it’s sports, business, anything – is talent acquisition,” Garrett said. “You have to operate at a high level, and you’ve got to bring in the right people. And you’ve got to have the resources to evaluate them properly.
“Too much is at stake for it to be a crapshoot.”
While he won’t be permitted to do on-the-field coaching in his current role, Garrett will be intimately involved with several aspects of the program. One of his main tasks will be providing advance scouting of FSU’s future opponents to help Norvell and offensive coordinator Alex Atkins put together their game plans.
And when he gets the chance, he will try to offer words of encouragement and inspiration to players who might be having a difficult time. The way his father did for so many years.
“He was just a guy you wanted to gravitate to,” Garrett said. “The greatest gift anyone can ever give anybody is to instill hope and belief that you can accomplish things far greater than you could ever accomplish. He was such an encourager and such an inspiration to so many people.”
It’s not unlike what Garrett has seen so far from the ever-positive and always-optimistic Norvell. And why he is so excited about this latest step in his career.
“Coach has the attention of the team,” Garrett said of Norvell. “Love his vision. Love the way he’s going about it. He’s compiled a fantastic staff of coaches who are enthusiastic and coach the heck out of the guys. There’s a lot of really good people here.”
Now, he’s got to help them go find some more.
Talk about this story with other Florida State football fans in the Tribal Council: