The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was first printed in the Port Arthur News on Jan. 16, 2008.
Last week on my Sportsrap radio show, Wade Phillips said he always makes it a point to read what sportswriters are saying about his team. In light of the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 playoff flameout against the New York Giants, he would do well to at least temporarily give up newspapers.
While he’s at it, Wade would also be wise to stay away from what the Bill Parcells lapdogs are saying on ESPN.
What is being written and said about him is brutal, especially when you consider the guy won 13 games this season and helped transform Terrell Owens into a model citizen. The 13 wins, by the way, are four more than Parcells managed his last year in Dallas.
Columnists in both Dallas and Fort Worth, meanwhile, have called for Phillips’ firing. They are labeling him a country bumpkin and worse on ESPN. Much of it, of course, is coming from the same people who jumped up and down last spring, ripping Jerry Jones for hiring him in the first place.
For historical purposes, it’s worth noting Phillips is being trashed by some of the same media folks who crucified Jimmy Johnson after he went 1-15 his first year in Dallas. JJ, they said, was an egotistical college coach who was in way over his head in the NFL. They labeled it a sacrilege for somebody like him to be following Tom Landry.
Indeed, things were so ugly toward Johnson that first year, he wouldn’t even let his parents come to games in Dallas.
So now it’s Wade’s turn in the barrel and he needs an asbestos suit to handle the heat. He committed the high crime of exceeding expectations by winning 13 games for a main course, then not delivering a Super Bowl for desert.
They say he’s too soft, his team is not disciplined enough, he doesn’t know how to win in the post season. And the list of supposed shortcomings goes and on and on. You really wonder how Dallas won a game, much less the NFC East.
All that makes any difference, however, is how much attention Jerry Jones is paying to the media firestorm. Jones said last week that Wade would be his head coach next year, no matter what happened in the playoffs.
Jethro reiterated that he’s sticking with the son of Bum after Sunday’s game.
I think I believe him, but that look on his face as he stood on the sidelines watching the Giants celebrate Sunday was scary. And he does have outrageously priced tickets to sell in his new stadium. Plus, he’s going to continue getting an earful about how much he needs a new head coach.
We’ll soon find out how good his word his, how strong his commitment toward Wade is.
In the meantime, as much as I like Wade, there is no denying he cost the Cowboys the game Sunday. Let’s count the ways.
First of all, if he hadn’t insisted on taking Tony Romo’s place on that one series when Owens was wide open on the five, the Cowboys would have had a touchdown. Bum always told me Wade wasn’t all that accurate as a passer. If Romo had been in the game, he’d have hit T.O. for a TD.
Then there was the series in the third quarter when Wade put on Patrick Crayton’s No. 84 jersey and tried to play wide receiver. Romo delivered a perfectly thrown ball that would have been a big gainer, possibly a touchdown and a 10-point lead. Wade dropped it.
The list of Wade’s blunders is certainly troubling. Did you see his feeble attempt at making a tackle on Amani Toomer’s touchdown in the first quarter? Did you see his false start penalties when he was playing in the offensive line?
Maybe his biggest blunder was taking over the play calling in the fourth quarter. We all know Jason Garrett, the boy wizard, the guy the Metroplex media slobbers over, couldn’t have been calling the plays when the Cowboys spent most of the fourth quarter spinning their wheels in Giants’ territory.
Let’s see, the Cowboys ran 24 plays — 10 of them in the Giants’ side of midfield — in the final period. The Giants managed only 9 plays, not counting two punts and a kneel down to end the game. Given the numbers and field position, you can’t tell me if Garrett had been calling the plays, Dallas wouldn’t have scored the winning TD.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m getting a little ridiculous here. But no more ridiculous than some of fire-Phillips reasoning that refuses to let facts stand in the way of an attempted lynching.
So, first, let’s start with the contention that Wade should have told Romo not to go to Cozumel with Jessica. Yeah, right, you are going to tell a 27-year-old guy what he can do with his free time. That’s Romo’s call.
If you’re buying that Jessica distracted Romo, then how about the distractions for assistant head coach Tony Sparano and Garrett? Both spent the Cowboys’ week off running around the country interviewing for jobs. Does anybody believe they were as focused on preparing for the Giants as they might have been if they hadn’t left town?
Why is that not an issue, as far as its possible impact on Dallas’ preparation?
Speaking of Garrett — the guy some of the media wise guys are lobbying for Jones to replace Phillips with — shouldn’t he be more accountable for the offensive meltdown of the last month?
Let’s see now. Dallas averaged 12.5 points in its last four games, while scoring only four touchdowns.
Media experts earlier in the season had proclaimed over and over the Cowboys would go as far as their explosive offensive would carry them. Looks like they were right. Seventeen points won’t win many playoff games.
Garrett is probably going to be a fine head coach some day, but he’s not ready. Or didn’t you notice how discombobulated the Dallas passing game looked? There was no rhyme or reason or rhythm to it. The play calling was really curious, especially on the final couple of series. The two-minute drill at the end was a joke.
Beyond Garrett’s culpability, how about Romo? He played so well for a period of time that a lot of folks lost sight of the fact he hasn’t been a starter two full seasons. He made some good plays Sunday and some really bad ones. He got caught with his inexperience showing? He’s a work in progress.
Could it be that the Cowboys weren’t as good as 13-3 made people think? This team had more flaws than anybody ever acknowledged. The offensive line is overrated, the secondary is vulnerable and they’re stuck with an alleged Pro Bowler back there — Roy Williams — who is a liability.
Speaking of Pro Bowlers, it’s a farce the Cowboys have 12 of them. Much of that is due to the team’s popularity. But the number creates an illusion that the talent is greater than what it really is. That illusion can make the head coach look bad if his alleged Pro Bowlers get exposed.
Wade doesn’t get a free pass here. For whatever reason, the Cowboys weren’t as ready or as hungry as the Giants. He’s the head coach, he takes the hit for that. And the way his defense approached the final minute of the half is wide open to second guessing.
Every coach makes mistakes in every game, with the possible exception of Bill Belichick. But it ultimately comes down to players making plays. Dallas had several chances to make game-changing plays and didn’t do it.
Screaming ‘fire the coach in this case’ is total knee-jerk. Let’s hope Jerry Jones holds his ground.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.