How do you turn around a glamour NFL team with grand expectations that finds itself flailing and playing apathetically?

If you talk to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, the answer is simple.

"The most important thing for any football team is just to come to work every day and work hard in your preparation, both in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. And hopefully that preparation carries to the game," Garrett said Wednesday as he spoke to Philadelphia reporters about Sunday's game against the Eagles.

"You just come to work every day. That's really the most important thing that we try to preach is, be your best each and every day that you come to work and try to put those good days on top of each other, and that will give you a chance to be your best on Sunday," said Garrett, who was born in Abington, and whose father, Jim, once coached for Susquehanna University.

Garrett's team was rarely at its best early this season. The Cowboys, who had openly hoped to play in the Super Bowl their city is hosting, opened the season 1-7 and appeared completely lifeless during consecutive 35-17 and 45-7 losses to Jacksonville and Green Bay.

That's when the team fired Wade Phillips and gave Garrett the head coaching job he has worked toward for years.

Since then, the Cowboys are 3-1 - their only loss a narrow one to the defending-champion Saints - and have a chance to put a significant dent in the Eagles' playoff hopes Sunday night.

"We have great respect for the Eagles," Garrett said. "Anybody who's ever gone against them understands the challenges they present."

Despite being born maybe 13 miles outside of Center City, Garrett has had his fortunes tied to the Eagles' NFC East rivals more than to the Birds. A few months after Garrett was born, his father landed a job with the Giants and moved the family to New Jersey, where the future coach spent much of his childhood.

After graduating from high school, Garrett was a quarterback at Princeton, and then spent professional stints as a backup for the Giants and Cowboys before returning to Dallas in 2007 as offensive coordinator.

Many expected him to eventually become the Dallas head coach, but few predicted before the season that it would come halfway through the schedule.

Garrett has quickly produced results, getting a win against the Giants days after taking over.

"We had to get to work early on a Wednesday morning and explain what was going on and transition quickly and then have a great Wednesday preparation leading up to the Giants," Garrett said. "That was critical. You've got to hit the ground running early on a Wednesday and then make it as normal a practice week as you can."

His team is out of the playoff picture, but, with two games left against the Eagles, can still have a big say in who advances to the postseason.

The Cowboys' victory over the Giants already looms large in the NFC East race. The Eagles are hoping to avoid a similar defeat Sunday.

As an 8-4 contender facing a 4-8 bottom-dweller, the Eagles are clear favorites.

But with the Cowboys much improved in recent weeks, it might not be so simple.

The Garrett File

Here is Cowboys coach Jason Garrett at a glance:

He was named interim head coach on Nov. 8.

The team was 1-7 when he took over.

He spent the previous three seasons as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator and the last two and a half as the assistant head coach.

Under Garrett, the Dallas offense has averaged 24.5 points per game.

Before joining Dallas in 2007, Garrett coached quarterbacks for the Miami Dolphins.

Garrett spent seven years in Dallas as a quarterback, starting nine of the 23 games in which he appeared. He was a reserve quarterback on three Dallas Super Bowl champion teams before serving as a backup to the Giants' Kerry Collins during New York's run to the Super Bowl in 2000.

After four years in New York (2000-03), Garrett concluded his career by splitting the 2004 season with Tampa Bay and Miami.

Garrett got his pro start in 1989 as an undrafted rookie with New Orleans.

He was an assistant coach at Princeton before playing in the World League and Canadian Football League in 1991. He earned a spot on the Cowboys' 1992 practice squad.

Garrett's brother, John, is the Cowboys' tight-ends coach, while another brother, Judd, is Dallas' assistant director of pro scouting.

EndText

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JonathanTamari.