When the final seconds ticked off the clock in Nebraska's 27-23 loss to Ole Miss in the 2003 Independence Bowl, then senior center John Garrison new his Nebraska career couldn't end on such a sour note.
After teaching and coaching at the high school level for four years after college, Garrison made the decision to come back to his alma mater and join the Huskers coaching staff, working as a football intern with the offensive line and also the strength and conditioning staff for the past three years.
Those three years were admittedly some of the hardest the 30-year old Garrison has gone through, as he and his family had to push through long hours and little pay. This winter, however, all that work paid off.
In an effort to help offensive line coach Barney Cotton better handle coaching the unit, the Blue Springs, Mo., native was promoted to assistant offensive line and tight ends coach over the offseason.
"I've been living in a little bit of a dream world the last month and half," Garrison said of coming back to coach at the school were he was a four-year letterman. "Obviously I'm very excited about the opportunity, but with that opportunity is a lot of responsibility. I put in 110 percent, and I love what Bo (Pelini) has been about."
The transition from intern to assistant coach has gone about as smooth as possible for Garrison, as he was already very familiar with Cotton's coaching style and what Pelini was looking for from his offensive line. Along with his help in practices, Garrison also played a key role in weekly opponent scouting reports and breakdowns.
His biggest contribution so far though has been helping take some of the workload off of Cotton, who was the only full-time coach working with the offensive line all of last season. Instead of having to manage the entire unit plus at times two tight ends, Cotton now can focus on one side of the line in practice while Garrison handles the other.
"It's a huge responsibility with the guys up front coming off the ball, and I think with the way it's set up it gives us a lot of people with eyes on the offensive line," Garrison said. "You're looking at seven guys, including two tight ends, and seven out of the 11, that's quite a bit of guys. You've got to have people out there with eyes to be able to watch both sides of it."
Having two offensive line coaches is nothing new for Garrison, as he worked under two coaches his entire playing career at NU in Milt Tenopir and Dan Young. He said he's definitely taken a few pages out of what he learned from Tenopir and Young and incorporated them into his own coaching style and philosophies.
"You often coach how you were coaches before," Garrison said. "Nowhere am I even near Coach Tenopir and Coach Young, but I think my coaching style and some of their theories and philosophies have definitely carried over."
Now more than three weeks into his first spring as a full-time coach, Garrison has already become known by his players and fellow coaches for his fiery style and passion for the game.
For the offensive linemen, they say having another coach to help out each day in practice has made everyone better as a result.
"Coach Cotton can only do so much," senior tackle Marcel Jones said. "He's got to watch all five of us. Now he can maybe focus on two players. He'll say, 'Hey Garrison, you get these two.' It's a lot easier and Coach Garrison is a great young coach and I respect him a lot. Whatever he tells me is just like Coach Cotton's word.
"I think it's great. You have more eyes out there coaching. That's something every player needs. You want more coaching. Especially a guy like me, I want to be coached and I wanted to get better. The more people out there to help me, the better I can be."
First-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he's been very impressed with Garrison's passion as a coach, saying Garrison's style has really translated well to NU's players.
Needless to say, Garrison has been the definition of natural fit at Nebraska.
"I love John and his eagerness and aggressiveness," Beck said. "He's a hungry coach. He's a young guy striving to be his best. He knows our guys, he knows them well, and he works hard. He's a smart guy, and he's learning the game of football as he goes on, but he's a great people person. I think guys that care about kids and love them and coach them hard and treat them the right way are the guys you want."
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