Let's get a few things out of the way about me before we get to Wade Phillips. I was born a Dallas Cowboys fan. My dad is a Cowboys fan, my siblings are Cowboys fans. I am 30 years old, which means I got to watch the last years of the Landry era, Jerry Jones buying the team and the housecleaning that followed.
The hideous 1-15 1989 season. Those amazing 1990s teams with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek, Nate Newton, Leon Lett, Mark Stepnoski, Charles Haley, Ed Norton Jr. and company. You know, the good old days, which started to decline when Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson couldn't see eye to eye.
Barry Switzer won the big one, but you can easily argue that that was more because of the talent already in the house than anything else. Chan Gailey held the fort long enough for the team to make the playoffs, but by the time Dave Campo rolled into town in 2000, the franchise was a mess.
After three 5-11 seasons, Bill Parcells rolled into town and turned the ship around right away. His no-nonsense attitude was just what the team, the franchise and the ownership needed.
Despite his savior status, Parcells couldn't get the team to win a playoff game. When Parcells left at the end of the 2006 season, Jerry Jones surprised everyone by hiring Wade Phillips as the head coach of the franchise.
Phillips came into town with some head-coaching experience (win-loss record in parentheses):
- New Orleans Saints for a brief spell in 1985 (1-3)
- Denver Broncos 1993-94 (16-16, 0-1 in the playoffs)
- Buffalo Bills 1998-2000 (29-19, 0-2 in the playoffs, including the Music City Miracle loss)
- Atlanta Falcons to finish the 2003 season (2-1)
You could argue that Phillips had his best tenure as a head coach in Buffalo. The 1999 Buffalo Bills went 11-5, and had it not been for that crazy lateral against the Titans, Phillips would have won a playoff game and maybe made a run at the Super Bowl. After all, that Titans team ended up losing to the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
Not to belabor the point, but the Bills have not made the playoffs since Phillips left, and the last time they had 11 or more wins besides that 1999 season was 1993.
By the time Phillips rolled into town, he had a great reputation for building good defenses and for being a great defensive coordinator. He also had a reputation, which has not left him, of being soft.
The contrast between Phillips and Parcells could not have been starker. Parcells has always been known for being a hard-nosed guy who would make rookies wear helmets without the star until they earned the right to have it there. Parcells also owned press conferences. In a market where the press is highly critical, a Parcells press conference was a sight unseen. He would stare down reporters and spit back replies loaded with disdain when a question was not to his liking.
Phillips, on the other hand, has been tabbed as a soft coach that gives his players a lot of free reign. When it comes to handling the media, Phillips gets steamrolled, in large part due to his laid-back demeanor. In some ways, Phillips' laid-back persona has hurt him with the media more than anything else. The media have pounced on Phillips and highlighted every wrong step he has taken.
It is interesting that the coach that manhandled reporters is seen as a hero, while the coach that is laid-back and more respectful gets run over by everyone around.
Sure, Parcells gets a lot of credit for having won the Super Bowls with the Giants and having turned around the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys. But despite all the criticism that has been launched at Wade Phillips, he is 34-19 in three-plus seasons with the Cowboys, and he won a playoff game. Parcells went 34-30 in four years—and did not win a playoff game.
Those numbers are somewhat biased because Phillips inherited a much better team than Parcells, but wasn't Parcells the one who was famous for saying that a team is what the record says?
A lot of talk has centered on the Cowboys being heavily penalized because the coaching staff is soft. But during the four seasons that Parcells was in town, the Cowboys averaged 207 penalties per season. During Phillips' tenure (taking into account the five games in 2010) the Cowboys are averaging 207 penalties per season. Oddly enough, the bigger difference in penalties between the Parcells and the Phillips years has been a shift to more offensive penalties during Phillips' tenure.
During the Parcells years, the offense averaged 101 offensive penalties per season while the defense accounted for 107. During the Phillips years, the offense has accounted for 124 penalties per season while the defense only 83. Phillips is greatly responsible for the defense, so if anything, penalties have improved under his helm.
Fans are never going to be happy when a team that had Super Bowl aspirations starts the season 1-4. But at the end of the day, running around blaming Wade Phillips for all of the Cowboys woes just does not seem fair. He is the man in charge on the sidelines, so he needs to take some of the blame. But players and ownership should be held to the same critical standards by both fans and the media.
As a Cowboys fan, I am frustrated by the underachievement from this team. But Wade Phillips is a good football coach that is getting an unfair deal by us fans and the media.