After receiving notice he'd been named the sixth football coach in Bishop Dwenger history, one of Jason Garrett's first congratulatory messages arrived from his predecessor, Chris Svarczkopf.
“Once it was announced, he congratulated me very genuinely,” said Garrett, who served as Svarczkopf's offensive coordinator. “He said, 'this is yours and I'll help you where I can, but I won't do that unsolicited.' We had a good laugh about I would come on my knee if I need anything. He's been very supportive, and I'm sure he'll be very helpful going forward.”
Garrett didn't enter the decision to apply lightly, first seeking approval from his wife, Sharon, as well as from Dwenger Principal Jason Schiffli and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
As the father of 11, the increased responsibility and workload accompanying the move from offensive coordinator to head coach would necessitate even more limited time at home. But the go-ahead from the home front perhaps proved the swiftest call of the nearly three-month hiring process.
“When I mentioned that Chris was stepping down, she basically said, 'You have to apply,' ” Garrett said of his wife. “She nudged me pretty strongly forward.”
As the campus minister at Dwenger, Garrett works closely with Rhoades to ensure the Catholic faith remains at the heart of the school's educational goals. With Garrett not wanting the football coach position to detract from that effort, Rhoades offered a different, welcomed perspective.
Rhoades “actually had shared that he thought the position would very closely match the pastoral ministry job,” Garrett said. “It was the piece, beyond the blessing of my wife, that propelled me into the position initially.”
Although that initial support arrived without delay, Dwenger's quest to hire a new coach turned into a protracted affair for several reasons.
First off, the Saints advanced to the Class 4A semistate. The school also formed a committee to review each applicant and narrow the field, with those remaining meeting with the interview committee assembled by athletic director John Bennett. With Dwenger hosting a girls basketball sectional, Bennett had to work within those time constraints to complete the interview process.
Ultimately, the school presented their choice to the diocese for final approval.
“(Garrett) impressed the interview committee more than the other ones we interviewed through his enthusiasm for wanting the position, his game plans for putting Christianity and the Catholic faith into the young men on the football team, plus the X's and O's,” Bennett said.
Garrett's success as the Dwenger baseball coach – three SAC titles, three sectional championships and a regional crown in his four years – boosted his résumé. His presence in the school also played a key factor in his receiving the position.
“I had heard some names, but I wasn't sure,” Garrett said of other applicants. “I didn't cross paths when I was interviewed. Given the district, the diocese, the time frame it happened in and the low number of times it's actually happened, it wasn't one thing that led to it. It's pretty inspiring and great for our school to realize how much interest there is.”
Now Garrett faces the immediate task of hiring assistants. Garrett knows he faces an incredible balancing act this spring as he'll still coach the baseball team, but he has confidence in his coaches in both programs to keep things rolling smoothly.
“It wouldn't be possible if I didn't have such a great staff alongside me with baseball,” Garrett said. “The past couple weeks, the greatest challenge has been just filling in some of the new staff members for football. It's been challenging but still pretty exciting. Having Chris still in the building (as the dean of students) and willing to help out, I think we'll be able to weather that process quite well going forward.”
And there's the question of the football program's new direction under Garrett. Having graduated from Dwenger, he holds an intimate knowledge of the school's traditions.
Although he plans to tweak things here and there, there won't be a lot of drastic changes.
“I would just hope that under my leadership, we could continue to play the style that's known as Bishop Dwenger football,” Garrett said. “I think the game serves itself to physical play, and I think that's something that was instilled in me as a player. We want to play the game to be aggressive, to be competitive every play.”