For about a week in January, Mike McCarthy and Jason Garrett each held the same job title as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
That was an awkward timeframe between the team’s announcement that McCarthy was hired (Jan. 7) and the official end of Garrett’s tenure when his contract ran out (on Jan. 14).
McCarthy said on Wednesday that he and Garrett never actually crossed paths during that period.
"I was not around him in the building at that particular time," McCarthy said on Wednesday.
On Sunday, though, there is sure to be plenty of overlap. That’s when the Giants will play the Cowboys in what is widely being considered the Jason Garrett Bowl.
Since leaving the Cowboys after 9 1/2 years as head coach and arriving with the Giants as their offensive coordinator, Garrett has sidestepped any talk about his end days with the Cowboys. But it is clear that he left plenty of fingerprints on the players and the coaching staff. That includes Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
"No doubt, there’s definitely a connection there," McCarthy said. "I mean, you have a chance to be in the room and talk scheme and philosophy. You can definitely see the impact of what Jason had on Kellen and his time here as a player and here as a coach. There’s definitely a lot of similarities."
The result is a level of awareness and intimate knowledge between these two teams that goes beyond even normal division rivals.
That might help the Giants, especially on defense, as they spent the entire preseason going up against Garrett’s schemes.
"You definitely see some of the similarities," Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "When they get into their big people, you can see some similarities there. Some of the passing game shows up pretty similar, stuff we have seen.
"Again, it’s the NFL. How many different ways can you run D-slant? I don’t know, everybody runs it. But there are some common threads there. It’s interesting to see. You’re able to go back with the players and say, ‘Hey, remember this route from training camp? Here it is.’ It helps out right there."
That knowledge goes both ways, though. The Giants’ offense undoubtedly is just as familiar to the Cowboys’ defenders. So, too, will be their verbiage. To combat that, the Giants have been adjusting the words and phrases they have used at the line of scrimmage all season.
"Just the fact that there are no fans with the TV broadcast, you can hear a lot of communication anyway," Joe Judge said. "I think on both sides of the ball, that draws awareness into what you bring into each stadium."
McCarthy also has a close familiarity with the Giants’ defense. Graham, who calls the Giants’ defense from the sideline, was an assistant under McCarthy in Green Bay. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who makes the reads and checks on the field for the Giants, began his career with the Packers.
"Patrick is an excellent football coach," McCarthy said. "I enjoyed our short time together. He has strong beliefs on fundamentals and scheme, and you can see he’s put together a collection of his experiences as far as what I’ve seen from the first four games on film. I got a chance to watch his defense schematically back in Miami, too, so I have a lot of respect and I enjoy his personality and his approach to the game."
As for Martinez, McCarthy said: "Blake has total command of the defense. He’s super-productive. I mean, his tackling numbers speak for themselves. But they’re doing a really good job of keeping people covered up up front and he’s doing a heck of a job running it, but he looks very comfortable."
There is one more connection between the staffs of these two teams. A few twists of fate in January and McCarthy might be facing the Cowboys on Sunday rather than coaching them. Before the Giants interviewed and hired Joe Judge, they met with McCarthy.
"It was a great experience," McCarthy said of that interview. "I really enjoyed my time with John Mara and everybody else. But I think it’s like anything else in this business; you’re just thankful for your opportunity and any time you have a chance to sit down and talk football and let people have insight on what you believe in."
This week, such insights will be well understood on both sidelines.