Born: June 19, 1930
Died: February 9, 2018
James William Garrett Jr. was born June 19, 1930 in Passaic and grew up in Rutherford, up the hill from current-day MetLife Stadium. A powerful, rugged six-footer, Jim was a standout halfback and linebacker for Rutherford High and was named All-State as a junior in 1946 and a senior in 1947. In 1948, he also earned All-State honors in baseball as a catcher for the Bulldogs. He accepted a football scholarship from St. Mary’s College in the Bay Area, and then transferred to Utah State after two years. He played football and baseball for both schools. Jim was an all-conference fullback for Utah State in 1950 and earned some All-America mentions. He led the Aggies in batting in 1951 before graduating that spring.
Jim entered the Army after college and played two seasons of service ball for Fort Lee in Virginia. He was named All-Army both years and set a base rushing record in 1953. In 1954, he agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles, but injured his knee in training camp and was cut before the season started. Jim decided to give pro baseball a try and went to spring training with Pirates in 1955 but was released early in camp. From baseball he went back to football, this time with the CFL’s BC Lions, where he played in a handful of games. That was enough to attract the attention of the New York Giants, who signed Jim in 1956. Unfortunately, he was not a part of the team’s championship squad that winter. He shattered his leg in camp. That all but ended his playing career. A final attempt to catch on with another CFL team in 1957 ended with his release.
Fortunately, Jim had already begun his coaching career. He was a player-coach in the Army and also coached a couple of years of high school ball in the mid-1950s. After his playing days, he coached at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, was an assistant for Bill Leckonby at Lehigh, and finally landed the head coaching job at Susquehanna University in 1960. He led the football team to undefeated seasons in 1961 and 1962 but resigned seven games into a winless 1966 season after he lost his cool and swatted a player in the helmet for missing a defensive switch.
Jim’s next coaching gig was his first in pro football, with the minor-league Orlando Panthers—previously known as the Newark Bears. He led them to the 1968 Continental Football League title. From there, Jim joined Alex Webster’s coaching staff on the New York Giants, where he ran the defense for two seasons. He left the Giants in 1974 to be the head coach of the Shreveport Steamer of the World Football League. Shreveport featured a number of NFL veterans, including Don Maynard and Jim Nance, along with an ambidextrous quarterback, DC Nobles, and John Villapiano, brother of Raiders star Phil Villapiano. They finished 7–12. Jim spent a year coaching at Millburn High before joining Hank Stram’s staff in New Orleans. He then moved to the Browns, under Sam Rutigliano. He stayed in Cleveland until 1984, when he was named head coach at Columbia University, where three of his eight kids— John, Jason and Judd—were enrolled. They transferred to Princeton after he was fired.
By this time, Jim was running informal training sessions for young players in the expansive side yard of his home in Monmouth Beach. Among the future NFL players who spent time at the house were Sam Mills and Miles Austin. He also became a full-time scout for the Dallas Cowboys; he had scouted for them briefly in the 60s and 70s. Jason was a backup quarterback for the Cowboys in the 1990s and became the team’s offensive coordinator in 2007. He replaced Wade Phillips as head coach during the 2010 season and held that position through 2019. Jim had already retired by then, but remained active and ran two-and-a-half miles a day until a stroke slowed him down in 2012. He passed away at 87 in 2018.