Jon Machota, Sports Day – Dallas News (http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/08/08/cowboys-new-17-inches-slogan-jason-garrett-accountability)
Spend some time around the Cowboys’ training camp facility, and you’re sure to see a player or coach wearing a navy blue T-shirt with 17″ printed in white letters across the front.
In previous camps, head coach Jason Garrett has had similar shirts printed that had FIGHT, WE DO and HAH! written across the chest.
But why 17 inches this year?
After talking with several players, it became apparent that accountability was the common theme.
Home plate is 17 inches wide in Little League, high school, college and pro baseball. The idea is that since the plate never changes, the expectations for players and coaches shouldn’t change, either.
“They don’t widen home plate for anybody,” defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. “That’s kind of what it is on this team. We’re not going to stretch the rules for anybody. We’re holding everybody accountable, making sure we got the right type of guys.”
Garrett introduced the message during organized team activities in May.
So how did he come up with the idea?
Long-time college baseball coach John Scolinos won three Division II national championships at Cal Poly Pomona in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 91, but his 17-inch message from a 1996 speech is still popular in the coaching world today.
If a coach bends the rules for certain players, the reasoning goes, it will eventually lead to negative results for the entire team.
Garrett explained the speech while speaking at a coaching clinic held at AT&T Stadium late last month.
“That story has been an important story for us,” Garrett said. “It illustrates something we think is so important, accountability.
“Seventeen inches is about accountability. Accountability to yourself, to your teammates, to the standards we set for our football team.”
To show his appreciation for the message, Garrett had Cowboys staff members reach out to Cal Poly Pomona in hopes of locating any of Scolinos’ family members.
They discovered that Scolinos’ nephews, Chris and Mike, live near Los Angeles. Garrett extended an invitation to watch a training camp practice.
Before the start of Saturday’s afternoon session, Garrett met with Scolinos family members, presented them with personalized 17-inch shirts and allowed them to watch practice from a designated VIP area. Garrett met with the family again for roughly 10 minutes on the field after practice.
“That was really special,” Chris Scolinos said. “Just to hear him say how the 17 inches affects him personally and how the whole team is embracing it and trying to make it part of the fabric of the team, that’s really neat.”
Chris called it “surreal” that his uncle’s speech is still inspiring people 20 years later.
What would his uncle think of the 2016 Dallas Cowboys adopting his message?
“He’d really just be tickled,” Chris said. “He was a huge fan of coach Tom Landry. I think it would really please him to see that this organization is still first class. This is really special.”
Perennial team captain Jason Witten said he believes the players are embracing the message and the T-shirts.
“It’s either the Cowboys way or no way,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “It’s pretty much a home plate of, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ If you’re not buying into it, you can get out of here.”
But regardless of how many players say the team is buying in, critics will roll their eyes and quickly point to the Cowboys opening the season with Rolando McClain, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence serving suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Defensive captain Sean Lee didn’t seem overly concerned when those suspensions were indirectly mentioned while he was discussing the 17-inch shirts after Sunday’s Blue-White scrimmage.
“You stick out like a sore thumb when you don’t do it the right way here,” Lee said. “If you want to win, you’ve got to have everybody on the same page, and I think we have that this year.”
Sean Lee: “It’s about standards. It’s about all of us living up to certain standards every single day. Working extremely hard every day, understanding how much of a blessing it is to play for the Cowboys and trying to take advantage of that opportunity. … It’s something that we believe in. When you have that shirt on and you see it every day, it reminds us, ‘Hey, we have to find a way to live up to that Dallas Cowboys standard.’ You can’t do it on and off, you have to do it every single day, every practice, every rep.”
Jason Witten: “Coach Garrett does a great job with Day 1 messaging. I think the Day 1 message is, hey, look, 17 inches and it’s a story about home plate. There’s accountability. A strike is a strike within 17 inches, you have to be accountable to that. You have to work your tail off to live within that. Our team is working really hard at that. It’s a great message and example for us as a football team by coach. I think our team kind of embraces that through those shirts. … I think that’s the only way you can approach it. All good teams have accountability. But most importantly, to get better, you have to be accountable. To evaluate it, be able to take coaching, to say I can do better there, this is something I need to add. It all goes hand-in-hand. That’s something I try to do, be accountable and make others around me accountable. That’s why I’m excited about this team, a lot of really good guys that love football. It makes it fun to go out there and work with them every day.”
Dan Bailey: “It’s essentially a standard for accountability, you’re setting the bar. Seventeen inches is the bar. It applies to everybody. Nobody gets a break here or there. This is the standard we’ve set for not only the team but the organization as well. You have to try to keep yourself up to that standard. It’s an analogy of sorts to remind us that we’re all in this together, but we all have high expectations for ourselves and of each other. … I think that’s one of [Garrett’s] greatest attributes is being able to motivate people and speak to them in a lot of different ways. He’s always giving us new information, new things to think about, whether it’s sports related or not. It’s always somewhat thinking outside the box. I think that’s good because it kind of lets’ you think about other things, but then you can always come back to football. It’s no surprising at all.”
Morris Claiborne: “It’s like keeping everything in house. Everybody is on the same thing. Everyone is being held accountable, no matter who you are, what your name is, what your status is on this team, how many Pro Bowls you’ve been to, first-round draft pick, free agent, everybody is being held to the same standard. It’s up to us to uphold that standard and keep everything in the house.”
Charles Tapper: “[Those shirts] mean I better do my job and do it correctly. The plate is 17 inches. You can’t go outside of it, you have to go right through that plate. If I don’t get off the ball every play, low, attacking, first team has got to be mean. If it’s not and I’m too slow, I’m in trouble.”